Our lovers can be the ones who hurt us; this is the reality of human bonds. When two individuals come together with their own personal histories, hurts, and ways they’ve learned to manage these, it can get complicated. Despite each partner’s best intentions, this complex interplay can sometimes be the cause of great distress.
Stable, romantic relationships can also be the most satisfying connections of all. In fact, when we have the consistent, reliable care and emotional support from at least one other person (who for many of us is our romantic partner), we are often better off than when we don’t have this support. Not only are we are better equipped to handle stress and less likely to struggle with anxiety and depression, we are also happier, healthier, and live longer (Johnson, 2013).
As Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), puts it: “A good relationship is better health insurance than a careful diet, and a better anti-aging strategy than taking vitamins” (Johnson, 2013, p. 6).
The importance of romantic relationships, essentially this “love stuff”, isn’t so nonsensical after all. Recent research in the science of love reveals to us that even as adults, we need loving, secure bonds with another, similar to the connection we needed with our caregivers when we were babes.
Science now tells us that this instinctive, innate need never goes away. Part of being human is to rely on others for support, soothing, and comfort. This is how we’re wired! When we have this, we do better; it really is essential to our well-being. Yet, many of us have not had the modelling or tools to know how to create these kinds of connections.
EFT, an empirically supported approach to couple therapy, helps couples see that it’s the emotional responsiveness between partners that matters most when it comes to predicting a healthy, secure bond. When couples are emotionally disconnected, it is this that results in predictable pain, distress, and risk to the relationship.
Rather than placing blame on one partner for the relationship problems, which is often the fear of many prospective clients to couple therapy, EFT helps partners focus on how they each unknowingly and unintentionally contribute to and perpetuate the distress in their relationship. The action of one partner inevitably affects how the other responds creating the cycles of painful disconnection that can occur in love relationships.
EFT couple therapy can be a powerful and transformative way to not only help couples learn how to get out of these unproductive cycles, but also to support them in creating new cycles that strengthen their emotional bonds. This approach focuses on how to create and cultivate a relationship that is a place of security, comfort, and support for both partners; a place where each partner can depend on each other for emotional support and know that their partner will be there for them in a consistently caring, responsive and accessible way.
I often hear the couples I work with say how valuable it can be to engage in this method, as each partner has an opportunity to learn about their partner’s underlying internal experiences. This content often lays dormant in the muck of a fight or disagreement. In the context of a safe, supportive couple therapy environment, it is often the more tender emotions that surface from each partner inviting the couple to see each other in new and less threatening ways. This can start to shape new possibilities for couples.
So if you’re having a hard time in your relationship, or would like to improve and develop a greater connection with your partner, consider EFT couple therapy as a resource for your relationship.
If you’re not quite ready for this step, or would like to explore this work on your own, below are some excellent resources for couples:
- Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little Brown and Company.
- Kallos-Lilly, V. Fitzgerald, J. (2015). An emotionally focused workbook for couples: The two of us. New York: Routledge.
Johnson, S (2013). Love sense: The revolutionary new science of romantic relationships. New York: Little Brown and Company.
Johnson, S. (2004). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection (2nd.Ed). New York: Brunner-Routledge.