Although partners may provide each other with safety and comfort, they may also be a source of substantial amount of stress.
Today, couple’s therapists have advanced the understanding of the importance of close relationships and how they become distressed. Our ability to specify effective interventions and outline the process of change that define adult love, have now reached a point where we can talk about couple’s therapy as fine mixture of an art and a science.
Among the provocative new findings confirmed by research are:
-The first and foremost instinct of humans is to seek contact and comforting connections.
The man who first offered us this vision of what we now call attachment or bonding was an uptight aristocratic British psychiatrist John Bowlby, not at all the kind of man who you would expect t to crack the code of romantic relationships! Bowlby proposed that we are designed to love a few precious others who will hold and protect us through the storms of life. Physical or emotional separation from the attachment figure results in a predictable sequence of response: Protest, clinging and seeking, depression and despair and finally detachment.
-Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother and child.
Our need to depend on our precious other-to know that when we “call” he or she will be there for us-never dissolves. In fact, it endures as Bowlby put it “ from cradle to grave”. As adults we simply transfer that need from our parents to our lover.
- Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength.
Bowlby wished to depathologise dependency, which seems to be the dirty word in Western society. He stressed that identity and the sense of efficacy are formed and maintained by the nature of our interactions with those who are closest to us.
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a short therm, structured approach to the repair of distressed relationships and it is used with couples as well as with families. It’s theoretical base is experiential-humanistic, systemic and at its core is Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.
Our early attachment bonds are models for our adult relationships. How we perceive ourselves (lovable vs. unlovable) and others (responsive and accessible vs. unresponsive and inaccessible) that are first formed at a young age help to guide adult relationships.
Four patterns of child attachment (the way we perceive and engage with others) have been identified and applied to couples:
1. Secure, 2.Preoccupied (anxious), and two avoidant styles: 3.Dismissive and 4.Fearfull.
EFT stance on relationship distress. EFT delineates attachment insecurity as the most important factor in couple’s distress. It complicates the process of emotional engagement and responsiveness and creates negative patterns of interactions where usually one partner tends to criticize and complain, while the other takes a defensive and distancing stance. These behaviors have been identified in research on divorce prediction.
For example if, from the attachment perspective, a partner perceives himself as undeserving of love and his spouse of undependable, small disappointments can trigger major hurts and injuries and disproportionally reinforce relationship distress.
EFT Therapy -Proces of Change. There are 9 steps in three stages of therapy. The first four steps include the assessment and delineate the negative cycle of reaction between spouses. At the end of the first stage the couple’s reactive emotions are deescalated and the couple is able to see the cycle as the enemy rather than each other.
In the second stage, the couple, not any more overwhelmed by their reactive emotions, is able to access their primary emotions to better guide their needs and communicate these needs in a way that maximizes responsiveness. Withdrawn partners are becoming more emotionally engaged, while the hostile partners are able to express their hurts and explore their more vulnerable feelings and take new risks with the other partner.
At the last stage the couple is able to bond in a way that each can risk, share and find a safe haven in each other. This is a powerful antidote to the negative cycle and defines relationship as a safe attachment. In this stage they acquire a new ability to communicate clearly about crucial issues and solve pragmatic, ongoing problems in the relationship.
Alexandra Kovacevic Konstantatou,
EFT Couple ‘s Therapist
MSc Stratchlyde University, Glasgow, U.K.
Tel. 6947520063, Agios Stefanos, Attiki, Greece