To love and be loved in return is essential for an individual’s happiness. In accordance with many other aspects of life, marital status as been linked to influencing ones life in a positive way; making it happier (Stack, Eshleman, 527). The problem with this is that not all marriages stay healthy and good. With divorce rates raging from 40%-50% in the United States, there ends up being a gap in the happiness of many (Marriage and Divorce, 1). One path that some pairs choose is couples therapy. Unfortunately, generalized couples therapy can be tricky in the way that there is not enough empirical data and it proves difficult for a therapist to know what to do, when to do it, or how to do it properly.
As Greenman and Johnson point out, “Research done in the past 30 years would suggest that between 25%-30% of couples who receive therapy do not demonstrate significant improvement and that there are substantial rates of relapse (close to 40%) among those who do” (Greenman, Johnson, 46). This being said, they continue on to talk about an exception to this rule. It is an experiential-humanistic, systemic intervention that has plenty of empirical support and linked evidence between client outcome and the therapy process. This intervention is called Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT).
To introduce this type of therapy is it important to know about Attachment Theory. This theory was developed in great part by a British psychiatrist named John Bowlby in the 1950’s (Peterson, 258). This theory has since been studied vigorously using the Strange Situation technique, which measures infant-parent attachment. It will observe infants reactions to their mothers leaving, and also to their return. What has been found is that children at a very young age develop one of three possible attachment styles. The first of the possibilities is to become securely attached. This is the case for around 70% of children (Peterson, 258). When the mother leaves the room, the infants will become upset, but upon her return the infant will reach out in some positive way including smiling, touching, or speaking to the mother.
The second outcome is known as Avoidant (about 20%) (Peterson, 258). In this case, the child will not become upset when the mother leaves, or will the child show enthusiasm when the mother returns. The third possibility is called Ambivalent (about 20%) (Peterson, 258). These children will cry when their mother leaves, and will not be comforted when she returns. In some cases, the child will actually punish the mother for leaving in the first place. These different outcomes have been linked directly to how a mother interacts with her infant. If the mother is affectionate and caring, the children will often develop secure attachments. On the other hand, if the mother is rejecting and judgmental, this could result in the child being ambivalent or avoidant (Peterson, 258).
The importance of Attachment Theory is the fact that data shows these attachments, developed in infancy, can stay with an individual throughout the rest of their lives. Avoidant and ambivalent children often grow up to be less sociable than securely attached children. Once these children grow into adulthood, their attachment stops being to their parents or caregivers and are replaced by romantic partners (Peterson, 50). It is common that someone who grew up being avoidant or ambivalent may find it hard to express their basic emotional needs to another individual.
It is also common that marital problems can come down to a lack of positive communication. Being critical, defensive or stonewalling, which is often the case with people unable to express themselves, can absolutely effect a marriage negatively (Stack, Eshleman, 528). If a married couple find they are struggling through their marriage, it could be possible that one or both of them were not securely attached in infancy. This is where Emotionally-Focused Therapy can aid significantly to a couple.
With around 40% of children growing up either avoidant or ambivalently attached, it is not surprising that divorce rates are as high as they are (Peterson, 260). In addition, with standard couples therapy not being as successful as one would hope, Emotionally-Focused Therapy is a refreshing, and supported way to get the help many couples may need. Peterson defines EFT as, “An approach for troubled couples based on attachment theory that directly teaches a more-flexible approach to the expression and satisfaction of needs” (Peterson, 272). The goal of this technique is to be able to send and receive accurate affective messages with their partner which helps each of them achieve the comfort and connection they desire. This therapy is separated into 3 stages, with different sets of therapeutic goals for each.
The first stage of EFT is called Cycle De-Escalation (Greenman, Johnson, 47) . This is where the couple can identify the main difficulties in their marriage and begin to understand their problem-cycle. This can often include loneliness, dejection or the fear that that can be associated with not being close and connected to their spouse. This is often when attachment styles are most notable. The second stage involves two main ideas being, Withdrawer Re-engagement and Blamer Softening (Greenman, Johnson, 47). This is a very important stage because it involves restructuring the way the couple interact with each other.
The therapist will use many different methods including reflections, enactments, and empathetic restatements to guide the conversation. It is also important in this stage that the individuals turn to one another and portray their true affect. The therapist will help to teach them to control their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice when speaking to each other. After stage two, the couple should be able to provide and ask for comfort from their partner, coming from a place of vulnerability (Greenman, Johnson, 47). In the third stage the therapist will act as a facilitator. The couple will be redirected and asked about major longstanding conflicts they had. They can then incorporate their new way of interacting with each other into their problem cycle, successfully minimizing it (Greenman, Johnson, 48).
This form of therapy is important in showing individuals, who may not have ever expressed themselves thoroughly, that it is okay to recognize their need for emotional closeness. It is also important that they are aware of their avoidance toward speaking vulnerably. Once individuals can obtain a safe haven in their relationship and participate in problem solving effectively, most couples have reported a significantly higher satisfaction with themselves and in their marriage (Greenman, Johnson, 50).
When learning about Attachment Theory, some may find themselves in the avoidant or ambivalent categories. This can be daunting, due to the fact that these attachments stay with us throughout our lives. It is discouraging to look into the future and assume you will still not be able to express yourself to your loved ones, and all of this because we did not become securely attached in infancy? This hardly seems fair. Emotionally-Focused Therapy gives an opportunity to those, who perhaps have never been in a secure relationship, to express themselves securely. It allows them the opportunity to build on their relationships in a healthy, productive way. Also allowing them the weight lifting feeling of being vulnerable, heard, and responded to with positivity.
Greenman, P., & Johnson, S. (2013). Process Research on Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples: Linking Theory to Practice. Family Process, 52, 46-61. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.dml.regis.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid[email protected]&vid=3&hid=110
Marriage and Divorce. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2014, from http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/
Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stack, S., & Eshleman, R. (1998). Marital Status and Happiness: A 17-Nation Study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(2), 527-538. (Stack, Eshleman, 527)