What is Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples? 

How It Can Help

couple connected after Emotionally Focused Therapy on rock

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is a highly effective and evidence-based approach to couple therapy that aims to help couples develop deeper and more fulfilling connection.

EFT was developed in the 1980’s by Dr Susan Johnson (Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology at the University of Ottawa, Distinguished Research Professor at Alliant University, San Diego) and Dr. Leslie Greenberg (Professor Emeritus at York University, Toronto) and was further developed by Dr Johnson, who drew on attachment theory to deepen our understanding of relationships and how to help couples create the closeness and connection they desire.

Understanding Attachment and Emotions

EFT is based on attachment theory, which recognises our innate need to seek and maintain connection with others, particularly with our intimate partners. As children, our attachment figures are usually our parents, and as adults, our partners often become our primary attachment figures. We have expectations of emotional responsiveness, accessibility, and availability from our partners, relying on them to be there for us when we need them. Relationship distress arises when we feel disconnected, perceiving our partner as inaccessible and unresponsive, leading to feelings of hurt, loneliness and isolation.

Unfortunately, each partner’s attempt to get their emotional needs met inadvertently provokes defensive or protective reactions from the other, leading to emotional distance and pain rather than closeness and security. This recurring negative cycle feels so familiar to partners that they can predict how it will play out but feel unable to shift it.

Why Emotions?

Emotions play a crucial role in our relationships. They serve as signals, highlighting our significant desires, needs, and what matters to us the most. Unmet attachment needs – such as the need to feel loved and that we matter deeply, and attachment fears – like the fear of abandonment or that one’s partner does not care, contribute to emotional distress within relationships. It is often these intense emotions that drive the negative cycles in which couples find themselves caught.

Improving Connection - Key and Heart

What Does the Research Show About EFT?

EFT has been validated by over 30 years of empirical research. It has shown positive outcomes, with 70-75% of couples experiencing a shift from distress to recovery, and approximately 90% reporting significant improvements in relationship satisfaction. EFT has also demonstrated long-term effectiveness, with studies showing these improvements are sustained over time as evidenced by follow-up assessments conducted at three month and two year intervals. EFT has successfully helped couples experiencing a broad range of issues such as mental health conditions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic illnesses, and couples struggling with forgiveness.

EFT is a based on a systematic and research-based theory of how adults build and maintain close bonds. This means we have a clear roadmap for understanding and addressing relationship issues.


How EFT Helps Couples Experiencing Relationship Difficulties

Couples often seek therapy because they feel they are unable to effectively communicate with each other. They find themselves caught in repetitive, negative patterns of interaction that cause pain and distress, leaving them feeling emotionally disconnected and alone within their relationship. These patterns become increasingly entrenched, leaving both partners stuck and unable to exit this reactive cycle.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) provides a way out of these destructive cycles. It delves beneath the surface-level issues and addresses the core concerns that couples are truly fighting about – the security of their emotional bond, their partner’s emotional accessibility and responsiveness, and whether they matter to their partner. By identifying the deep attachment longings, needs, and fears underlying the negative cycles, EFT offers a roadmap for couples to clarify the emotional signals they send and receive from one another and to respond in ways that meet each other’s deepest needs.

The primary goal of EFT is to help each partner express their emotional needs clearly and effectively, fostering new and positive responses from their partner. For example, instead of responding with reactive anger or withdrawing in silence, partners learn to express needs for closeness, support, or appreciation, which elicit a different emotional response. This new way of interacting begins to redefine the relationship as secure, safe, and a source of comfort for both individuals.


Benefits of EFT for Couples

In addition to addressing negative cycles and emotional distress, EFT offers a range of benefits for couples looking to improve their bond and create a more fulfilling partnership.

1. Breaking Negative Cycles:

EFT helps couples identify and break free from negative interaction cycles that perpetuate distress and distance. These cycles often manifest as patterns of blame, criticism, defensiveness, or withdrawal. Through EFT, couples gain understanding of the underlying emotions and attachment needs that drive these cycles. By replacing destructive patterns with healthier, more adaptive ways of connecting, couples can experience a positive shift in their interactions. Breaking these negative cycles fosters emotional safety, promotes mutual understanding, and opens the path for creating new, positive relationship dynamics.

2. Enhancing Communication:

In EFT, the therapist works with the couple to go deeper than just developing better communication skills, which can often feel like a Band-Aid to the situation. Couples learn to express emotions, needs, and desires in a way that fosters deeper understanding and connection and a level of emotional responsiveness to each other that leads to an increased sense of security in their relationship.

3. Resolving Relationship Traumas:

Past relationship traumas and emotional injuries can significantly impact a relationship and become a block to connection and intimacy. These traumas may include instances of betrayal, abandonment, or moments of need where one’s partner was not there and did not respond with emotional support, availability, or care.

EFT provides a safe space for couples to address and heal these wounds. By working through these traumas together, couples can rebuild trust, heal emotional pain, and foster forgiveness. Resolving relationship traumas allows for the restoration of a secure and resilient bond.

4. Creating a Secure Emotional Bond:

EFT focuses on creating a secure emotional bond between partners. By exploring attachment needs and fears, couples gain a deeper understanding of their own and their partner’s emotional landscapes. Through this process, they learn to create a safe and supportive emotional environment within their relationship. This secure emotional bond becomes the foundation for trust, intimacy, and increased feelings of closeness and connection in their relationship.

5. Improving Relationship Satisfaction:

Research consistently shows that couples who undergo EFT experience significant improvements in relationship satisfaction. EFT helps partners develop a deeper sense of emotional intimacy, allowing for vulnerability and authentic connection. As couples understand and meet each other’s emotional needs, they develop a stronger sense of closeness, support, and validation. This enhanced intimacy creates a more satisfying and fulfilling partnership, enriching the overall quality of the relationship.

For more information on EFT, please visit the following websites:

International Centre for Excellence in EFT    www.iceeft.com


If you are looking to strengthen your relationship and create a more secure emotional bond with your partner, contact Olivia Shorten, a trained and experienced psychologist and EFT therapist to schedule an appointment and take the first step towards building a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.

Get in touch to find out more about how I can help