“How Do You Feel?” Why using emotions in couple therapy makes logical sense.

Perhaps you are looking for a relationship “tune-up”—it feels like things have gotten off track, and you and your partner just can’t seem to get back to the place your relationship used to be. Or, maybe, you are seeking couples’ therapy because this is the last attempt to save your relationship. Whatever the reason, as you are looking for a therapist you may find the term “Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy” as the method that many follow. This is for a good reason, as Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, or EFT-C, has been scientifically validated and proven to be effective for many couples.

So what does this method really mean? You may be asking yourself, “Emotionally focused!??! That’s the reason we are in this mess anyways, because we are too emotional”. It may seem like that on the surface, but psychological research has shown, in Jonathan Haidt’s words “Emotions are not dumb….Emotions are a kind of information processing. Contrasting emotion with cognition is therefore as pointless as contrasting rain with weather, or cars with vehicles” (pg. 45). To illustrate this further, a neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio studied patients who had brain damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which caused them to completely lack emotion. While they scored almost perfectly on reasoning tests and had no deficits in IQ, their personal lives feel apart at work and at home. They were unable to make decisions appropriate for the situations they faced. As Haidt states again, “Damasio’s interpretation was that gut feelings and bodily reactions were necessary to think rationally”.

And so, when therapists are focusing on the emotions of the couple, what information are they looking to process? They are looking for information regarding the reason you are in couple therapy in the first place: your bond as a couple. Emotions are the clues that can lead us to understand in what state the connection, or bond, between the couple is in, and also, perhaps more importantly, how to fix it. In relationships, emotions play a large role in telling us where we stand with another person. If our partners respond to our requests for connection, which can often come in the form of emotional responses, it confirms to us that our partner is there for us. If we can elicit an emotional response from our partners, even if it is anger, it must mean that we matter to them. As Sue Johnson writes in her book Creating Connection: The Practice of EFT, If there is no engagement, no emotional responsiveness [from our partner], the message reads as… ‘your signals do not matter, and there is no connection between us.’”

We all have emotions, and more than that, we all have the ability to decide what we would like to do with our emotional reactions. Perhaps your emotional sense is telling you that it’s time to take a closer look at the kinds of information you are sending each other as a couple, and how your emotional messages may be getting mixed. To book an appointment with a therapist who specializes in couple therapy, you can contact our office at Capital Choice Counselling Group here or through this number: 613-425-4257.

Written By: Erika DeSchiffart, a psychotherapist with Capital Choice Counselling Group. You can view her profile here.