NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Why Does Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples Focus on Emotions ?

I have been discussing Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples in the last several articles (see my articles: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT)?What Happens During Stage One of Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples? and What Happens During Stage Two of EFT Couple Counseling?).  In this article, I'm addressing a common question that couples often have when they are considering EFT couple therapy: Why does EFT focus on emotions?

Why Does Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples Focus on Emotions?

Focusing on Emotions in EFT Couple Therapy
Based on recent neuroaffective research, we now know that emotions occur at least two and a half times faster than thoughts.  Since emotions occur so quickly, it's possible to be unaware of what you're feeling emotionally before you have a thought about whatever you're experiencing.

Emotions also motivate your behavior, whether you realize it or not, both as an individual and as an individual in a relationship.  Emotions also motivate you to change much more than your thoughts.  So, it's important to be aware of what's going on emotionally, especially if you want to make changes.

Understanding Why Emotions Are Important
An important role for the EFT couple therapist is helping each member in the relationship to be able to:
  • Identify emotions as they occur in the present and in the past 
  • Learn to distinguish between primary, secondary and instrumental emotions (more about this below)
  • Understand the positive and negative roles emotions play on a personal level as well as in the relationship
  • Create an emotionally safe environment in couple therapy for each individual to identify and reveal more vulnerable (primary) emotions to his or her spouse or partner
  • Understand whether a secondary emotion is masking a primary emotion (more about this below)
  • Learn to feel and expression self compassion as well as compassion for your partner
Primary, Secondary and Instrumental Emotions:
  • Primary emotions are the emotions that you feel first with a sense of immediacy.  These emotions, which include: fear, anger, sadness, joy/happiness, disgust, contempt and surprise.  They occur in the body, including on a gut level.  These emotions are biologically hardwired into humans.  These emotions are also the most vulnerable emotions that you have, and since you can feel so emotionally vulnerable with a primary emotion, you might shy away or distract yourself from your primary emotions and have difficulty expressing these emotions to your partner.
  • Secondary emotions are reactions to your primary emotions.  They often serve the purpose of masking the more vulnerable primary emotions.  For instance, a wife, who is sad when she feels her husband is ignoring her, might feel anger as a secondary emotion to mask the hurt and sadness (primary emotions) she feels.  Although she feels more comfortable expressing her anger to her husband, her angry communication won't be as effective as compared to her revealing her hurt and sadness.  Chances are that her husband, who might feel an inward sense of remorse for ignoring his wife, will become outwardly defensive rather than addressing the problem between them.  In response to her anger, he might defensively deny that he is ignoring her, dismiss or belittle her concerns, criticize her for some shortcoming that he sees in her or withdraw/stonewall in silence.  No matter which defensive response he gives, the problem isn't solved and it might even become worse.
  • Instrumental emotions are emotions that are often used in relationships, consciously or unconsciously, to manipulate.  For instance, a husband who, on a primary emotional level, is hurt and sad that his wife tends to be late whenever they're meeting for dinner or to go to a show, might try to make his wife feel guilty by exaggerating a headache that developed while he was waiting for her.  Rather than being direct with his wife and expressing his hurt, he tells her that waiting for her caused him to develop the headache.  If he really wants to rub it in, he might portray himself as the victim in the relationship who is "always waiting" for her.  Although the husband might accomplish his short-term goal (assuming he is aware of it) of manipulating his wife into feeling guilty, in the long run, this strategy does more harm than good.  
Changing Negative Dynamics in Your Relationship
Changing negative dynamics in a relationship is challenging, especially if both people have been engaging in these dynamics for a long time.

Becoming aware of the dynamics and the role that each person plays is the first step.  It's normal for both people to feel uncomfortable at first when they're exploring their negative dynamics with their EFT couple therapist.  

But if both people really want to improve their relationship, this is an important step.  And rather than blaming yourself or your spouse for the dynamics, it's important to focus on the dynamic as happening between you and realize that there are no "bad guys."  It's the dynamic that needs to change (see my article: EFT Couple Counseling Helps Couples to Move Beyond Reactive Emotions and Destructive Arguing Cycles).

Rather than blaming yourself or your partner, it's much more effective to become curious about the dynamic and to be willing to take a risk to change (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: New Bonds of Love Can Replace a Negative Dynamic in a Relationship).

More about this in my next article.

Getting Help in EFT Couple Therapy
Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples is internationally recognized as a well-researched and effective form of couple therapy developed by Dr. Sue Johnson.

Rather than continuing to struggle in a negative dynamic with your partner or spouse, you could get help to improve your relationship in EFT couple therapy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, AEDP and EFT couple therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.