Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) for couples can help even when there is extreme conflict, but sometimes couples wait so long before seeking help (or find "help" that ends up being ineffective or making things worse) that tremendous damage has already been done to both partners and to the relationship.
It's understandable, although unfortunate, as emotionally-focused therapy for couples is still in the process of becoming better known, and many couples don't realize how different various approaches to working with couples can be.
EFT has strong foundations in attachment research, which focuses on the basic human need to feel safe and secure in close relationships. When we have had the experience of parents and/or partners who were not attuned to us, we develop coping strategies that both protect us and get in the way of successful, close relationships. It makes perfect sense, yet can get in the way of close and safe simultaneously.
Therapists trained in emotionally-focused therapy for couples learn to "put on the brakes" when things start to heat up in therapy sessions, so that it becomes possible to slow down and look at the patterns that get in the way of more effective communication and greater closeness. We also learn to create an environment where it becomes safe to expose the more vulnerable feelings that often are difficult to see beneath tendencies to get angry or to pull away and disengage.
Looking at close relationships through the lens of safety, security, and feeling understood and valued, it becomes clear why more behavioral approaches such as "go out on a date together" or "trying giving one another a back rub" are, in many case, unlikely to help.
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