All couples have a dance; moves and patterns that follow the music of their relationship. Neither person started the dance, neither person owns the dance, they have built it together over time. The partners move in reaction to each other. Some dances are passionate, loud, quick. Some are quiet, longing, drawn out. Sometimes the dance changes after significant life events, sometimes the dancers are desperately trying to remember how they used to dance. Emotion is the music of the dance. It colors every situation, informs the dancers of how to move, how to respond. When relationships become strained, partners have a hard time hearing the music. The sound becomes distorted with memories of the past, expectations for the future, worries about the present. Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) helps your relationship renew it’s dance, by reworking its emotional patterns of interaction. EFT reorganizes these patterns by healing attachment wounds, shifting the individuals’ inner emotional experience, which changes their presentation in the relationship, which in turn evokes new responses from the partner, creating a new way of engaging, a new dance.
Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT, refers to EFT therapists as “choreographers” or “process consultants,’ meaning that the therapist’s role is to reflect the patterns of the dance to the couple, and help guide the movement of the dancers into their preferred dance (2004). Many other forms of couple therapy are focused on coaching, teaching, or preaching the partners into what is considered an “ideal” relationship. EFT acknowledges that every relationship is unique and only the individuals in the relationship know what is best for them. They are the expert on their relationship and the therapist is there to act as a container, a safe space to restructure and practice their dance. Because the therapist is present, holding and reflecting the patterns of the dance, couples are able to make more conscious, less reactionary, choices about the way they would like to shape their dance.
Although EFT acknowledges and understands that our families of origin (the family we grew up in) play a significant role in determining the way in which we dance in our relationships later in life, EFT is primarily focused on the present. The goal of EFT is not to dredge up everything from the past and perseverate on it, but rather to observe the influence of past experiences in the context of current situations. EFT has found that in doing so partners are able to make changes so that the influence of the past can return to behind them and they can respond to the here and now.
EFT is about creating a secure bond between partners. The aim is to take a relationship from “alienation to emotional engagement, from vigilant defense, and self-protection to openness” and trust, “from passive helplessness” to active involvement, “from desperate blaming” to responsive caring, “from a focus on the other’s flaws” to understanding of “one’s own fears and longings”, and most importantly “from isolation to connectedness” (Johnson, 2004).
Article by Justyne Ortquist, MS, MEd, LLPC
The metaphor of the couple’s dance is taken from The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, Second Edition, by Susan Johnson.