Western culture views independence as a virtue. Weve been taught that a truly strong person doesnt need anybody to survive and thrive. But being attached to your partner is actually a good thing.
In fact, a secure attachment underlies the strongest relationships. And both partners in such relationships tend to feel calm, connected, centered and safe, Emotionally Focused Therapy. Also, a secure attachment helps partners as individuals, too. Good secure bonding helps you be bolder in the world and feel more empowered.
Founded by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg, emotionally focused therapy or EFT draws on attachment theory, which asserts that humans are hardwired for strong emotional bonds with others. According to EFT, couples have relationship problems when theyve experienced emotional disconnection with their partner at key moments, which then leads to struggles with negative cycles of criticism and anger (among other emotions and reactions). Therefore, the aim of EFT is to help couples overcome these negative cycles, re-establish their connection, and strengthen their emotional bond.
Research has shown that EFT is highly effective. Seven out of 10 distressed couples [who seek EFT] show marked improvement, move out of distress and stay there,. (The International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy website lists several noted research publications.)
What It Means To Be Securely Attached
A secure attachment signifies a successful relationship. So what does a securely attached couple look like? According to EFT, both partners in a secure relationship are able to tune into, identify and accept their own emotions and needs. Theyre able to recognize when theyre feeling disconnected and distant from their partner and to speak candidly about their needs and emotions.
Take the example of a wife whos working on several big projects at work, which take her away from home more and more. Her husband understands and supports his wife. The first week hes perfectly OK with the situation. The next week, though, he starts to get uncomfortable. By the third week, hes angry and prickly toward her. At this point, he considers his feelings and behaviors. He realizes that hes feeling lonely and like work has become his wifes number one priority over him. Hes able to tune into his feelings, identify them and accept them.
(On a side note, many people, especially men, feel ashamed about feeling lonely or needing their partner. Again, theres an expectation in our society that we shouldnt need anyone. But remember that were hardwired for closeness. So dont put yourself down for these thoughts and reactions.)
Trust is another part of a secure relationship. Both partners must be able to reach out to each other and trust that theyll respond sensitively. Again, take the above example. The husband knows that when he talks to his wife about his feelings, she will care and listen to his needs and feelings. Hell be able to be vulnerable with her and reveal that he misses her and ask her to make more time for their relationship.
In response, the wife may apologize and thank her husband for being honest. She also might suggest they hire a babysitter and enjoy a night out. In other words, she responds compassionately and appreciates that he can articulate his needs and emotions. As a result, hes then comforted by her response and able to move on. So after such a conversation or series of talks, the bond is restored and strengthened,.
For many couples, the interaction goes awry when one partner becomes angry at having to ask for attention or care. And one or both of them puts on the armor,. Instead of discussing their concerns and needs, they lash out. For instance, the husband in the above example mightve said: You havent been around for weeks. Im taking care of the kids and you have yet to thank me. Do you think you dont have a family anymore?
With this approach, his wife only hears anger and an attack, which causes her to defend herselfmissing his hurt and then not able to respond sensitively to his need,. Other times, partners will withdraw. The same husband might think, I dont need her. I can be an independent person. Im going to make plans with my friends. I dont care if I dont see her for another month. He then pulls further away from her and the rift between them widens,.
A Sample EFT Exercise
Therapist described EFT as giving couples a new language and lens to understand their relationship, and offers a map for getting back on a closer, more connected course. Distressed couples get caught up in a negative dance, where each reacts to the other, both perpetuating the negative spiral.
Therapist highly recommend founder Sue Johnsons book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. It helps couples dissect their debates and dig deeper beyond dirty dishes and financial spats. Thats because, according to EFT, repetitive arguments are really about either one or both partners not feeling securely attached. Johnson calls these repetitive fights demon dialogues. The first step to getting out of the negative spiral the demon dialogueis to chart out whats happening.
In one of the exercises in Hold Me Tight, Johnson helps couples see how their negative dance unfolds and how both are responsible for the arguments. Each partner describes their steps in the dance: The more I _______, the more you _________. Take the example of a husband who gets upset every time his wife invites her mother over to their house. The husband might say The more I tell you that Im mad about your mother coming over, the more you pull away from me, go into the office and shut the door and refuse to talk to me, then the more I demand you talk to me. You get angry and tell me what a terrible husband I am for not wanting my mother-in-law around.
The wife might say: The more I dont include you on the decision to have my mom over, the more you feel angry and upset with me and give her the cold shoulder and then the more I just want to leave you in the dust and not even engage with you.
According to EFT, This mutual description gives both partners a chance to see whats happening to them when they get caught in the negative dance and begin the process of changing the music.
Johnson, S., Hunsley, J., Greenberg, L. & Schindler, D. (1999) Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Status & challenges (A meta-analysis). Journal of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 67-79.
Dan and Lily Vignette:
Dan and Lily were referred to therapy after Lily had started individual treatment with another therapist. She and her husband had begun to argue frequently, and the therapist thought that a couple’s evaluation was indicated.
In the first session, each partner expressed anger and disappointment with the other. Dan complained that he had lived with Lily’s anxiety symptoms for 15 years of marriage, and yet, almost immediately after she began therapy to get help for “her problem,” she stopped talking to him. She responded that throughout their relationship, he had never spoken to her about his thoughts and plans. She had just become frustrated with “having to figure everything out by myself.”
Although both partners were angry, they also had many positive elements in their relationship. Divorce had been discussed, but neither seemed to want this. Dan was skeptical about therapy and resentful that he had to participate. Lily seemed more hopeful about therapy but worried that Dan might not commit to the process.
Dan was a busy engineer who traveled a lot in his work. Lily was a middle-school teacher who shouldered most of the responsibility of caring for their three young children. She felt overwhelmed much of the time and had been on Paxil for depression and anxiety for several years. Although she loved and respected Dan, she was hurt that he often failed to follow through on commitments that he had made to the family. Despite his protestations to the contrary, she questioned his real caring for her.
Describe marital patterns that contributes to conflict within the marriage using Emotionally Focused Therapy, approach (hint: I am asking you to conceptualize).
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