Facing the Dragon Together

couple holding hands andrew-welch-229150 (2)

Bad things happen. We struggle. We feel pain. We need our loved one by our side. This is what Dr. Sue Johnson, Creator of Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy would call “Facing the Dragon Together”. As human beings this is one of the reasons we are wired for human connection and bonding, to get us through the tough times. As Dr. Johnson would say, “We are bonding mammals.” It is part of our survival system.

I had the opportunity to obtain some additional training with Dr. Johnson this last weekend in Austin. The focus was on Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy for Trauma Survivors. This kind of therapy focuses on adult attachment. As we are now learning, attachment and bonding is not just for children.  We all need a secure base of attachment with knowing someone is there for us and will respond with helping us to face the dragons we encounter.

Dr. Johnson’s acronym: ARE is helpful in looking at the key points of attachment.


  • Are you ACCESSIBLE? – Do I matter?
  • Are you RESPONSIVE? – Can I depend on you?
  • Are you ENGAGED?

What is NOT helpful when couples face internal or outside the relationship distress is DISCONNECTION. Isolation and withdrawal only fuels our panic and feelings of being over-whelmed. This leading to escalation of helplessness and more disconnection. This is a behavioral cycle that  make matters worse.

The dance of  “attunement, engagement, and responsiveness” leads us to the  “safe haven” we all need. Reaching out and taking a chance and engaging in a “dance of attachment” with our partner is what we need to “face our dragons together”.

When we experience fear, we need a place of safety. We need connection and comfort to sooth our anxiety.  This is what our secure attached relationship can provide.

We all have dragons to face at one time or another. Secure attachment to our partner protects us from trauma. Plus, we cannot forget the “healing power” of our relationships if we must face trauma. So take your partner’s hand and face your dragons together!

Source Material for this Blog Article: Facing the Dragon Together: EFT for Traumatized Couples. Presented by Dr. Sue Johnson. November 3-4, 2017 in Austin, TX.
Professional Disclosure: This blog is offered as educational information and is not offered as professional therapeutic services. This is not intended to serve as treatment. For professional help contact your local mental health professional. Strom Individual and Family Therapy is not liable for any action or non action you take in regard to this article.



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.

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.