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Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy helps couples provide positive emotional support for each other and experience a more fulfilling relationship.

Graeme is trained in using Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT-C).

The EFT-C approach was developed by Clinical Psychologist Sue Johnson. She has written several books on the model including ‘Hold me Tight’ and ‘Love Sense.’ If you are interested in this approach it is recommended that you read one of these books.

Graeme had been trained in other Couple approaches such as Interpersonal Therapy. The focus in such approaches includes  clarifying roles, resolving  conflict, addressing communication skills  etc

These more traditional Couple Therapy approaches are helpful but couples would often report they still did not feel a depth of connection and old issues may still be impacting on the quality of the relationship.

The EFT-C approach appears to address these issues.

The EFT-C model is based on Attachment Theory and a considerable body of research that has evolved since the 1940’s initially championed by John Bowlby.

The model recognises that  from the cradle to the grave we are wired to receive reassurance and support from those closest to us.

When we learn to both give and receive this comfort, a relationship will deepen and flourish.

When couples are not able to reach each other for comfort they have often moved into patterns or cycles of disconnection.

Sue Johnson uses a metaphor of a tango dance. When a couple are in synch they  move well together. But if there is less trust, or safety to share openly the dance is awkward.  These negative patterns gradually develop  a life of their own, become destructive , and limit the emotional comforting options available to a couple.

The emotions that are displayed in the negative cycle can be understood as protests over the lack of connection.

There are several negative dances couples can move into. The most common Sue calls the Protest Polka and  involves one partner pursuing and the other withdrawing.

The theoretical and research basis for the Attachment model is based on our  longings for close connection to the people we love.

When this doesn’t happen we become distressed and fearful.

This fear drives the negative cycle i.e. the pursuing partner  may come across as angry, distressed, critical and negative. When this partner is  able to slow and share their deeper attachment needs, there is often anxiety that they are losing connection, do not feel valued, loved, or acknowledged.

In the same way the withdrawing partner , moving into their shell may feel numb, blamed, distressed, and distant. When they are able to reflect on their underlying attachment emotions they  often report feeling inadequate, unworthy, and  fearful that they are losing connection with the one they love.

There are several stages in EFT-C.

The first stage is called ‘Deescalation.’ Couples are  supported to identify their ‘moves’ in the negative cycle i.e. what triggers the cycle, and what each partner plays out in their negative dance i.e. how each  feels, thinks acts, and the way their actions influence their partners.

The cycle is seen as the ‘enemy’ as it keeps couples from accessing  the safety and closeness of  the bond i.e. to feel acknowledged, valued, understood, ‘loved.’

This first stage can take some time as couples are often stuck in their negative cycle, and it takes courage to understand their moves, and reflect on their fears and needs. It is also empowering as couples learn to understand their cycle and are able to interrupt this destructive  pattern.

In  the second stage the couple learns how to share their needs more clearly and provide signals that allow emotional support for each other.i.e. to be emotionally accessible, responsive and engaged.

The research shows that all couples have stressors  that contribute to relationship distress and place pressure on the bond e.g. children, losses, trauma, finances,  job changes, infidelity etc

But whatever stressors exist, a couples ability to share their  vulnerability, and accept and give  emotional support, is a key strength in a relationship.

The Scientific research on the EFT-C approach is very sound and encouraging for couples.

The considerable research is clear that promoting  a positive bond leads to emotional  closeness, trust and improved intimacy.

The ongoing life issues couples address become more manageable, as does improvement in emotional wellbeing.

Seventy to seventy five percent  of couples report improved relationship satisfaction. The renewed ways of  understanding and relating, once learned  is also sustained.

There are some issues where using EFT-C approach is not appropriate. This includes any level of Physical or Domestic Violence. Safety is a priority and it is strongly recommend that if Violence issues are contributing , that assistance be resourced through Domestic Violence Support Services.

Another area where EFT-C is not indicated is if there is significant addictions e.g. substance use, alcohol, gambling etc. It is recommend that individuals seeks assistance for these issues before accessing EFT-C.

Mood and Anxiety issues are often associated with relationship problems and generally improve as the relationship issues are addressed.

Trauma issues can also be addressed. There is considerable research showing when trauma has been experienced that couples can learn to understand and process these issues using the  EFT Couple therapy model.

If  Mood and Anxiety issues are severe e.g. little energy, general negative world view, sustained generalised anxiety that impacts on functioning it would be prudent to approach your GP to find options to assess these issues.

Graeme has seen over 1200 couples, assisting them with relationship  issues.

If you would like to find  further information on the EFT-C model this u tube video may be helpful

Recent longitudinal research continues to endorse how essential being available and responsive in a loving relationships is to our emotional and physical  health. This reference provides a review:

Should you need advice in this area, call Graeme Clarke on 348-5595 to get his professional help.


  • Unit 10, 35 Riccarton Road
    Christchurch 8011
    New Zealand

    Phone: (03) 348 5595