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Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and Why It's Important?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is an effective approach to addressing relationship issues. Learn more about this approach and how it can help couples.

By Wynona Jugueta on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

What is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy? 

It is not uncommon for couples to experience difficulties in their communication, conflict resolution, and understanding of each other's needs. Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, and when broken down, it can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and frustration.

Conflicts can arise when couples have different perspectives or opinions on specific issues. These conflicts can stem from various sources, including differences in values, beliefs, and expectations. If conflicts are not resolved healthily, they can lead to feelings of resentment and distance in the relationship.

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy can help address these issues by providing a safe and supportive space for couples to explore their emotions and underlying attachment needs. This approach is based on Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, which emphasizes the importance of emotions in human experience.

Drawing upon Attachment Theory and Emotion Regulation Theory, EFT recognizes that individuals, especially couples, need to understand and express their emotions to build strong relationships and foster emotional well-being.

In practice, Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples is an interactive process that starts with assessing a couple’s emotional patterns and interactions. During the therapy sessions, couples focus on recognizing and exploring the emotions that underlie their behavior and interactions. Through this understanding, couples can learn to identify and name their emotions, use emotional language to communicate, and develop strategies for managing emotions.

The Role of Emotions in Relationship Dynamics

Emotions play a crucial role in the dynamics of relationships, affecting everything from communication to conflict resolution.

Emotions shape couples' interactions

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples posits that emotions play a crucial role in shaping couples' interactions and experiences, as Johnson and Greenberg (1987) noted. Within this model, emotions are viewed as an adaptive reaction to shifting relationship dynamics and function as a means of communicating one's needs and desires to their partner.

They affect how couples communicate

Research has shown that emotions can also impact communication styles in relationships. A study by Gottman and Levenson (1992) found that couples who were able to communicate their emotions effectively were more likely to have successful relationships, while those who were unable to do so were more likely to experience conflict and ultimately break up.

Emotions can also impact how couples approach problem-solving, with couples able to regulate their emotions and express them constructively, being better equipped to resolve conflicts (Gottman & Levenson, 1992).

They mold attachment dynamics

Emotions can also play a significant role in shaping attachment dynamics in relationships. Attachment Theory suggests that individuals develop internal models of attachment based on their early experiences with caregivers, which can shape their ability to form and maintain relationships throughout their lives (Bowlby, 1969).

Emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness can signal attachment-related needs, and how one's partner responds to them can either promote or hinder the development of a secure attachment bond (Johnson, Makinen, & Millikin, 2001).

When is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Used?

Emotionally Focused Therapy can help couples better understand and explore the emotions underlying their behavior and interactions. This type of therapy is aimed at identifying patterns of interaction that are not productive and working together to shift them into healthier patterns of communication. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is suitable to:

Improve communication and understanding between partners

Through Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, couples can pinpoint unproductive interaction patterns and collaboratively transition to more constructive modes of communication. It can also help couples constructively recognize and express their emotions, improving their understanding and connection.

Build trust, intimacy, and connection in a relationship

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy can help couples build trust, intimacy, and connection by exploring underlying emotions and attachment dynamics. This type of therapy can also help couples identify the needs and desires of their partner and develop strategies for responding to them with support and compassion.

Reduce conflict and address unresolved issues

This approach can also be used to reduce conflict and address unresolved issues, as it encourages couples to explore their needs, wants, and values. This can help partners become more aware of their triggers and how to respond in a way that is respectful and promotes connection.

Work through difficult emotions

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples can help partners work through difficult emotions to move forward and create a healthier, more loving relationship. It can provide a safe space for couples to express their feelings, explore underlying issues, and work together towards more harmonious relationships.

Apart from being a practical approach to addressing relationship issues, EFT also works for both families and individuals. For instance, Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy uses the same principles of EFT to help individuals explore their emotions, better understand their behavior patterns, and create positive changes in their lives.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Techniques and Examples

EFT aims to help couples shift from reacting to their emotions with defensiveness and criticism to responding in a way that promotes connection and understanding. To do this, EFT uses a variety of techniques, such as:


This technique is used to help the partner who tends to withdraw from the relationship to express their emotions and re-engage. The therapist helps the withdrawing partner to identify the underlying emotions causing their withdrawal and encourages them to express their emotions to their partner instead of withdrawing.

For example, the therapist may ask the withdrawing partner to share with their partner how they feel when their partner doesn't respond to their texts.

Softening Start-up

It helps encourage the couple to use non-critical language when discussing sensitive topics. The therapist may prompt the partner to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements.

For example, instead of saying, "You never listen to me," the partner may say, "I feel unheard when I try to talk to you." This approach helps to avoid blaming and defensiveness.

Attachment Injury Repair

Therapists use this Emotionally Focused Therapy technique to repair past attachment injuries by acknowledging the pain caused and apologizing. The therapist may guide the injured partner to express their hurt feelings and the impact on their relationship.

For example, the therapist may help the partner hurt by infidelity to express their pain and its impact on their trust in the relationship. The partner who caused the injury is encouraged to acknowledge their actions and apologize.

Change Event

This technique is used to identify specific behaviors that need to change in the relationship. The therapist helps the couple to work together to implement the desired change.

For example, the therapist may help the couple to develop a plan to spend more quality time together, such as going on regular date nights.

The Forgiveness Technique

This technique is used to help partners forgive each other for past hurts. The therapist may guide the hurt partner to express their pain and the other partner to acknowledge their responsibility for causing the hurt. The therapist also helps the couple rebuild trust and emotional connection.

For example, the therapist may help the partner who was hurt by a hurtful comment to express their pain and the partner who made a comment to acknowledge the hurt and apologize. The therapist then helps the couple to work towards forgiveness and rebuilding their emotional connection.

These Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy techniques are evidence-based and effective in helping couples to improve their relationships. They can also be adapted for Emotionally Focused Family Therapy, which aims to help families strengthen their emotional bonds and create a secure attachment style, leading to healthier family dynamics and relationships.

Emotional Couples Therapy App – How Can Carepatron Help?

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Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Software


Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(2), 221–233.

Johnson, S. M., & Greenberg, L. S. (1987). Emotionally focused marital therapy: An overview. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 24(3S), 552–560.

Johnson, S. M., Makinen, J. A., & Millikin, J. W. (2001). Attachment injuries in couple relationships: a new perspective on impasses in couples therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27(2), 145-155. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2001.tb01152.x. PMID: 11314548.

Commonly asked questions

Who typically uses Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is typically used by couples who are having difficulty managing their emotions in the relationship and those who feel disconnected and unsatisfied with their relationship.

What risks and issues are associated with Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

The primary risk associated with Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is that it can be emotionally challenging and complex for the couple to express their feelings and vulnerabilities to one another. Additionally, it is crucial to be aware that couples therapy may not always help the couple improve their relationship; some couples may find that the therapy brings up unresolved issues or intensifies conflicts.

How are Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy similar?

Both are approaches to helping couples improve their relationships. Both therapies focus on understanding the dynamics of the couple’s interaction and improving communication. Additionally, both therapies use techniques focused on identifying and expressing emotions, repairing attachment injuries, changing problem behaviors, and promoting forgiveness.

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