Relationship issues often take the form of a repeating pattern of interaction which is distressing to both partners and prevents emotional closeness and security in the relationship. The most commonly seen pattern is ‘pursue – withdraw’, where one partner often expresses emotions like anger and anxiety as a protest at the feeling that their partner is emotionally shut off from them. Other patterns are also possible.
Some key warning signs that a relationship is in distress are:
- Criticism – attacking your partner’s character, trying to make yourself right and them wrong.
- Defensiveness – seeing yourself as the victim, making excuses, not listening etc.
- Expressions of contempt – attacking the other through sarcasm, abuse, body language such as sneering or rolling the eyes.
- Stonewalling – withdrawing through silence, monosyllabic answers or moving away.
When these are present, the relationship has become stuck in a negative, rigid interaction cycle, where both partners experience high levels of negative emotion and both are unwilling to shift from their positions and accept influence from the other.
At Foundation Psychology, our commitment to working only with evidence based counselling treatments has led us to use Emotionally Focussed Therapy (EFT) as well as the Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
Emotionally Focussed Therapy (EFT)
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a short term, evidence based type of counselling for the treatment of couples experiencing relationship problems. It focuses on the importance of emotions and attachment processes in the organisation of interactions between two partners, and uses emotions as the agent of change in these interactions. Research has shown that it produces a 70-73% recovery rate from marital distress, and a 90% rate of significant improvement after 10-12 sessions1.
EFT works by the psychologist expanding on each partner’s emotional responses, re-framing the problem in terms of the negative interaction cycle itself, rather than any individual’s fault, and finally creating new and more flexible interactions between the partners. The goal is that each partner feels a secure and trusting bond form between them.
What will this type of counselling involve
Firstly, your clinical psychologist will work with you to build a strong alliance and bond of trust with each of you. Following this, counselling involves you both starting to understand the destructive cycle at the heart of your relationship distress. This is achieved by slowing the whole cycle down in the session, and focussing on underlying emotions and the needs driving these. Each partner’s experience is seen as valid, and each are allowed to explore their emotions further. Once there is more safety in the relationship, and both of you are aware of your vulnerable feelings when the cycle is in full swing, you will be asked to communicate these vulnerable feelings and your needs to your partner, and to hear your partner do this as well. In this way new interaction patterns are formed, and both of you will be able to communicate in a more secure way in your relationship. Counselling finishes with a consolidation phase, where any remaining problems are overcome and the new interaction patterns are strengthened.