February 10, 2024

Stages of emotionally focused therapy.

A couple hugging



  • Stage 1: De-escalation and engagement 
  • Stage 2: Restructuring negative patterns
  • Stage 3: Consolidating and integrating new patterns

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a type of couples therapy that has proven to be highly effective in helping couples improve their communication, get out conflicts with both people feeling understood, and developing a deeper emotional connection. EFT was developed by Dr. Sue Johnson in the 1980s, and it currently the gold standard for treatment of relationship problems (Learn more about it’s effectiveness here.)  At its core, EFT focuses on understanding and addressing the emotional needs that underlie relational issues. The counseling process is structured around a three stages that guide couples through a journey of self-discovery, vulnerability, and healing. In this blog post, we’ll cover the stages of Emotionally Focused Therapy and explore how they contribute to building stronger, closer relationships.

Couple Cuddling on the Couch

Stage 1: De-escalation and Engagement 

As with all counseling, EFT couples therapy starts with creating  a safe environment for both partners. The therapist’s role is to stay neutral and create an atmosphere where open communication can thrive. The therapist will learn about both you and your partner, your relationship history, and the goals you both have for marriage counseling. Both partners are encouraged to express their emotions and concerns, and the therapist will work to  provide a non-judgemental atmosphere where both partners can feel understood.  During this stage, the therapist helps couples identify negative communication patterns that contribute to conflict, tension, and feeling disconnected. By knowing the pattern that keeps them stuck, couples are able to start understanding and changing the emotional triggers that lead to that negative pattern.

Stage 2: Restructuring Negative Patterns

Once the negative communication pattern is identified, the focus shifts to understanding the underlying causes of the pattern and how it functions. Couples learn to recognize their own emotional triggers, emotional responses, and underlying emotional vulnerabilities that contribute to that cycle. The therapist will explored with both partners the deep-seated relationship fears that drive their behaviors. This stage helps couples understand each other a deeper level, and through mutual vulnerability, start developing a deeper emotional connection as well.  As empathy and compassion for each other’s deeper feelings grow, couples start to replace negative cycles with positive cycles that lead to understanding and closer emotional connections.

Young Asian Couple

Stage 3: Consolidating and Integrating New Patterns

This phase involves practicing the new communication patterns of vulnerable sharing and empathic responding. Couples experiment vulnerably going to each other and seeking comfort from one another. The therapist continues to guide and support the couple as needed, while helping them refine their new communication skills. Throughout this process, couples continue to strengthen their emotional connection. 

As the couple build confidence to do this on their own, they get ready to end therapy. Ending marriage EFT couples therapy involves reflecting on the journey and celebrating the progress made. The therapist makes sure that both partners feel confident in their ability to keep using the new skills moving forward, and while therapy sessions may end, the tools gained during EFT couples counseling continue to help the couple build a strong relationship foundation and a strong emotional connection. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy offers couples a path to healing, relationship repair, and connection by addressing the emotional challenges and emotional needs in the relationship. The stages of EFT help couples discover insights about each other, build empathy, and develop new communication skills. By de-escalating conflicts, restructuring negative patterns, and consolidating and integrating new patterns, couples can leave EFT couples therapy with a deeper understanding of each other and the skills needed to maintain a loving, secure relationship. 

Looking to start Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online EFT couples therapy, as well as weekend-long EFT Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consult.

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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