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What Is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

By Valerie Goldberg
Updated May 17, 2024
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Emotionally focused couples therapy is a short-term group of therapy sessions attended by both partners in a relationship. One or both members of a couple may start arguments in a relationship that really stem from something deeper. These arguments, if not dealt with, can put a big strain on a marriage. The turmoil for the arguments does not always come from something a partner actually did wrong, but rather from fears that are rooted in a past traumatic event and live in the other partner's mind. Emotionally focused couples therapy can help get a person's innermost thoughts and emotions out into the open, so the couple can find a way together to work past issues and have a healthier and happier relationship.

Partners may seek emotionally focused couples therapy if one partner is continually acting jealous, refusing to trust the other or emotionally detaching himself or herself from the other. This type of therapy will provide a safe place in which to bring out into the open what is really at the root of a problem. For example, a person may pick a fight about household chores, money or sex to let out anger that really stems from another issue. Once this issue is out in the open, the other partner can be supportive and help the traumatized partner to move forward.

If a partner thinks he or she is at fault for something, it can be normal to get defensive, which will likely make the relationship issues worse. When a person understands why his or her partner is always getting upset, he or she may be less aggressive and more compassionate now that the issue is out in the open. Emotionally focused couples therapy also can provide the troubled partner with more positive ways to express his or her innermost thoughts and fears. The other partner can have a positive, supporting role in helping his or her partner's recovery instead of being a victim of untreated emotional wounds.

Emotionally focused couples therapy also can teach both partners to be vocal about the things they want and need out of the relationship going forward. It can be important for couples to speak openly about needing to talk more, needing to spend more time bonding or needing to be more intimate. Both partners should have the goal of finishing emotionally focused couples therapy with the ability to work as a team to solve any problem — past, present and future — that may come up in the relationship. Open communication, the ability to compromise and compassion are all keys to long-lasting, healthy and happy relationships.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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