What is Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples?

couple doing tango

How we move with our partners creates a very special relationship dance. Sometimes this dance is healthy, with a secure attachment. And other times not so much.  Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples helps partners to hear the music (or emotion) and follow each other’s moves with exquisite attunement promoting a secure bonding with one another.  Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples has a 70-75 % recovery rate and a significant improvement rate of 86- 90%.

I did some training this last week with Dr. Johnson in Tampa, Florida.  EFT is a model used for couples therapy that is backed up by over 25 years of research. This model is a mix of experiential, systemic and attachment theories. I was excited to have the opportunity to do training with this talented  researcher and therapist.


The EFT evidence based interventions are powerful in helping couples to be able to re-establish safe emotional connections. Couples learn how to identify and de-escalate negative circular patterns. This repair is done through bonding, emotionally engaged interactions.

This model of therapy is set up to be done in 8 – 20 sessions. Some circumstances will take a longer course of treatment. But in general this is set up to be a short-term counseling model.

I personally like how this model addresses the core issues for couples and helps them to truly hear each other and address their attachment needs within the relationship. EFT is all about building a strong, safe and loving connection between couples. Dr. Johnson feels “empathic responsiveness” is the essence of EFT.

Below is a 20 minute introduction video presented by Dr. Sue Johnson on Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples.



  • If you want to see a listing of the research studies and summarizes on EFT go to www.iceeft.com.
  • Dr. Sue Johnson’s website is: www:drsuejohnson.com . Her books, dvds, blog, etc are located on this website.
  • Dr. Johnson recommends her book Hold Me Tight for couples to read.

3 Ways To Stay Emotionally Connected

couple biking (2)You want to feel connected. You want to feel like you are being heard and that your loved one is there for you. There are actions that you can incorporate within your relationship to nurture  that emotional connection that you so want.  You can silence the “alarm bells” that ring within your brain’s amygdala when you are feeling distant from your spouse or partner.

In Dr. Sue Johnson’s book, HOLD ME TIGHT – Seven Conversations for a Life Time of Love, she talks about 3 Keys to Emotional Connection that are needed for love to sustain. They are as follows:

A = Accessibility    This is about  you being there for each other. This would be physically and emotionally. It means being willing to be open and share your feelings . You share and listen on a deeper level with one another.

R = Responsiveness     You respond to your partner or spouse’s signals that they need you. When there is a fight or disagreement you make it clear you want to resolve the issue. You are there when your partner or spouse is feeling anxious.  You create a feeling of safety with each other.

E = Engagement    You are emotionally engaged with each other in a positive way. You feel safe enough with each other to talk about anything. You care about each other’s feelings and well-being. There is a sense of connection even when you are not physically with each other.

Dr. Johnson calls this A.R.E. Quoting Johnson, she says you can remember this with the simple phrase, “Are you there, are you with me?”

 Dr. Johnson is a clinical psychologist and researcher and is the founder of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. I have found her research and work immensely helpful in my work as a therapist. She has 30 years of research under her belt and has been focused and adult love attachments and how to repair breaks in love relationships. Her book HOLD ME TIGHT is intended for the public and is excellent.

I wish you the best in finding ways to be emotionally connected to your loved one.

Why Do Couples Feel Emotional Disconnection?

broken heart walking

Why do we feel emotional disconnection with our spouse or partner? Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy feels that when a couple does not feel emotionally safe with each other, they begin to feel emotional disconnection. She asserts that most fights are really about feeling emotionally disconnected.

Attachment theory suggests that when our loved ones are  unavailable or unresponsive to us this can activate an automatic primal fear response.  When we lose connection with our loved one our alarm bells begin to ring in our brain’s amygdala. Our sense of security feels threatened.  The need for safe, emotional connection is wired into our brains.  How severe this may feel and affect us has to do with if this is a temporary disconnect or one that is an ongoing disconnect that has weakened the couple’s bond.

When we feel disconnected with our loved one, Johnson talks about how this can turn into a “primal panic” in which a couple tends to do either of the following:

  1. Become demanding or clingy trying to get reassurance and comfort from their loved one. The message is “I need you. Be with me.”
  2. Detach and withdraw in a move to protect and comfort ourselves.  The message is “I will protect myself. I won’t let you hurt me. I will stay in control.”

These are unconscious in nature. They may appear to work initially, but will eventually become a loop of insecurity within the couple.

The problem is two-fold in that many times we are not tuned into our partner and secondly we are not always clear about communicating our needs to each other.  When we feel disconnected we may begin to demand and this only creates power struggles and withdrawal by our partner.

As couples feel disconnected for longer periods of time they will find their interactions more and more negative.

There are three major damaging patterns that couples can fall into. Dr. Sue Johnson calls these the “Demon Dialogues”.

  • The Protest Polka – These are called Attack – Withdraw or Demand – Distance.  Another name often used is Pursuer – Distancer.  Both are protesting the disconnection.
  • Find the Bad Guy – Both partners attacking and blaming with self-protection being the theme.
  • Freeze and Flee – The dance is silent with this pattern.  The couple is frozen and in denial. With detachment comes leaving. There is a sense of hopelessness.

These are all about attachment panic. Our emotional safety is at risk. These are automatic patterns to try to reconnect.

I will address in next week’s blog more of Dr. Sue Johnson’s work. I will focus on the special kinds of emotional responses that can help with the “Demon Dialogues” talked about in this week’s blog article.

Source:  HOLD ME TIGHT – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson. Her website is: www.drsuejohnson.com

Check out this video from Dr. Johnson on her introductory ideas on love and attachment.