What is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy?

As an Orlando Marriage and Family therapist I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of couples to repair connection, improve communication, and reignite passion.  I found when working with couples on their relationships that for many the process went fairly smoothly with each partner able to make the necessary changes in behavior, gain insight into the relationship dynamics, and develop a feeling of compassion and understanding toward their partner.  For other couples this process was much more difficult and so I set out to learn more about the dynamics that create discord in a couple relationship.  What I found was Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT).  I  have over 100 hours of post graduate training in this therapy and I continue to work to increase my skills.

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is the brain child of  Dr. Sue Johnson and was developed in the 1980’s.  Dr. Johnson and her colleagues have done numerous studies and the results are remarkable.  70-75% of couples recover from what started as a distressed relationship and 90% show significant improvement.

The International Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) provides specifics on both the strengths and the goals of this therapy:


  • EFT is based on clear and explicit conceptualization of adult love which are supported by empirical research on the nature of marital distress and adult attachment.
  • EFT is collaborative and respectful.
  • EFT has been validated by over 20 years of empirical research on the therapy, change process and predictors of success.
  • EFT has been used with many different problems and populations.


  • To expand and re-organize key emotional responses – the music of the attachment dance .
  • To create a shift in how partner’ interact.
  • To foster a secure bond between partners.

EFT therapists are trained in the science of attachment originally  developed by John Bowlby in the 1960s and understand that our attachment styles are formed in childhood through the emotional bonds created between a primary caregiver (usually the mother) and a child.  There are  3 basic attachment styles which set the stage for how we will interact with friends, family, and lovers through our lifetime.  Secure attachment is created when the primary caregiver can be consistently relied upon for physical and emotional support. When a child is insecurely attached they may develop either an Avoidant or an Anxious attachment style.  Avoidant attachment occurs when the child learns that they must self-soothe because their primary caregiver cannot be relied upon to offer physical and emotional comfort.  When the child learns that best way to get their primary caregivers attention is by being fussy they form an Anxious attachment style.

The reason that our attachment style is so important is that it forms our working model of self and others. Our working model of self is our deeply held and often unconscious belief about whether or not we are loveable and if others are available to help, protect and support us.  A couple that is made up of two securely attached partners will fairly easily resolve conflict and stay in connection as each partner is guided by a working model that intuitively knows when to offer and ask for emotional and physical connection.

As adults, when things are going well in a relationship our attachment style does not show up as a challenge.  It is when a stressful event occurs-not rapidly responding to texts, arriving home late, spending time with friends apart from partner-that attachment behavior can begin to show up.  Someone who tends toward Avoidant attachment is less comfortable with forming close, intimate connections with others due to a fear of being vulnerable. They experience themselves as self sufficient and independent and when the relationship becomes stressful they withdraw from their partner.  On the other end of the spectrum are those who tend toward Anxious attachment. Anxiously attached individuals fear abandonment and have a high need for affirmation from their partner due to a core belief that they are unworthy.  They have difficulty trusting their partners love and commitment and get triggered by events that they perceive as reinforcing this distrust.  The response to fear about the relationship is behavior that the partner perceives as suffocating and causes them to withdraw which only serves to reinforce their fears.

EFT therapists do not see any of this behavior as abnormal or pathological, instead they see it as a normal response based on attachment history.  The EFT therapists initial goal is to help the couple understand their “cycle”, which is how they each respond in a manner that further reinforces disconnection.  Ultimately a couple will begin to recognize when they or their partner has been triggered and make a different move that creates connection and soothes the attachment system.  Sue Johnson wrote a book called Hold Me Tight to help couples better understand how this cycle shows up in their relationship.

Would you like to learn more about how Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy can help improve your relationship? Cindy Fabico and Kelli Skorman are Orlando Couples Therapists who are trained in EFT .   Give us a call  to set up a free phone consultation at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378, we will talk to you about how one of our Orlando Relationship CounselorOrlando Individual Counselors, Orlando Life Coaches, Orlando Teen Counselors, or Orlando Child counselors can begin to help you, a family member, or a friend work on changing your life.