Breaking the Negative Cycle with EFT in Couples Therapy

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In the intricate dance of relationships, negative interaction cycles can become a frustrating pattern for couples to navigate. It can feel so isolating and downright depressing to feel like the person you love most is the one that hurts you the most by simply not hearing you or worse, dismissing the things that mean the most to you. Sue Johnson has written a number of books on the subject and provided us with a profound framework for understanding and transforming the negative cycle into opportunities for real connection and growth.

Understanding the Negative Cycle

At the heart of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is the concept of a negative interaction cycle – a dance of emotions, reactions, and responses that perpetuate disconnection. It is a critical step in de-escalation to learn to recognize these patterns as they happen. By understanding each partner’s role in the cycle and how it affects each of them differently, a couple can lock arms against the cycle and break free from its devastating grip as a team.

Identifying Emotional Triggers

EFT emphasizes the exploration of underlying emotions and vulnerabilities that trigger the negative cycle. By identifying and acknowledging those triggers, couples can gain insight into the root causes of their interactions. A natural tendency for a lot of people is a quick response to a triggering incident. When something hurts, a person tends to lash out or shut down. The key is to understand all the little things that happen in between the trigger and response and what they mean.

The Power of Attachment

Johnson’s work highlights the significance of attachment in adult relationships. EFT views couples as bonded through emotional attachments, and disruptions in this bond can fuel negative cycles. By understanding unmet attachment needs, couples can rebuild and strengthen their emotional connection even when it feels like hope is lost.

Rewriting the Script

In couples therapy, EFT doesn’t just stop at recognizing the negative cycle, it empowers couples to rewrite their relational script together. By creating new avenues for communication, expressing needs, and responding with empathy, couples can create a whole new narrative around understanding, empathy, and intimacy.

Taking the First Steps

Take a few minutes. Think about how you and your partner are showing up in the relationship. What do you think is your most profound unmet need? What do you think your partner needs? What do you fear most? Is it that you may not be important enough to them? Do you feel like no matter what you do it just won’t ever be enough? Perhaps the thought of being rejected again is just too much to bear. It may be painfully obvious, but then again perhaps it isn’t. A professional therapist trained in EFT can help you and your partner work through those big questions and help you figure out why you keep getting stuck. More importantly, they can help you get unstuck. What would your life be like if this one need was met consistently?


In the world of couples therapy, Sue Johnson’s EFT offers a powerful lens through which couples can understand and reshape their relationships. It is the gold standard for rebuilding the attachment bonds in relationships even when it seems most dark. By shedding light on the negative interaction cycle and providing the tools necessary for change, EFT has become a guiding force and beacon of hope for couples lost in the negative cycle and desperate for deeper connection and lasting intimacy.