Your early bonds and ability to regulate emotions can affect adult relationships. EFT may be an effective way to work through this.

Whether it’s a romantic partnership or a fun friendship, relationships can be an important aspect of your adult life.

Often, how you navigate the dynamics of these adult bonds depends on your early experiences.

In other words, how you experienced relationships during your first few years of life has an impact on how you experience them now.

If you currently tend to feel anxious or insecure in your relationships, this may translate into specific behaviors. These behaviors, in turn, may further impact your connection with loved ones.

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) can help you identify those relationship patterns that may be causing you friction, so that you can develop skills to manage them.

Emotionally focused therapy is a humanistic approach to psychotherapy that centers around relationships and attachment styles.

Originally developed during the 1980s, EFT focuses on working on meaningful connections in your life and helping you identify behaviors and thoughts that may be impacting those bonds.

Initially intended as a form of therapy for couples, EFT is now used to help individuals and families, in addition to intimate partner relationships.

EFT’s goal is to help you work on your emotions and ability to emotionally regulate as a way to improve your personal relationships. This is based on attachment theory.

Attachment theory proposes that the bond you established with your primary caregivers as a baby impacts how you interact and bond with others as an adult.

But this attachment style you developed from your early experiences can change.

Working on regulating your reactions to intense emotions is one way to do so.

In that case, you could go from insecure to secure attachments, for example.

An insecure attachment style in relationships may lead you to:

On the other hand, a secure attachment style may mean you:

  • trust others and yourself in relationships
  • confront and resolve conflict well
  • openly express how you feel
  • pause before you react when experiencing intense emotions

Emotionally focused therapy could help you move from insecure attachments to more secure ones. If you’re unsure what your attachment style is, you can check out Psych Central’s Attachment Style Quiz to find out.

During therapy, you may be asked to confront uncomfortable aspects of your relationship. This can result in emotionally charged situations and conversations.

But if you or your partner aren’t completely open to the EFT experience, it may not be fully effective.

Is it evidence-based?

Emotionally focused therapy is considered an evidence-based therapeutic practice. This means the medical community accepts it as effective, based on current empirical evidence.

A number of studies support the benefits of EFT. For example, in 2019, a systematic review and meta-analysis explored the effectiveness of EFT over a 19-year period.

The review, which involved a total of 13 randomized control trials, found EFT remains a scientifically backed, effective form of relationship therapy among marital couples.

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EFT sessions can be intense as you become aware of some of your patterns of toxic behaviors in relationships.

You may not realize what drives some of these behaviors. These realizations and deep emotional admissions can be challenging to take in. However, certified professionals are prepared to guide you through the process so you can move forward.

To help minimize any stress related to the experience, EFT sessions are clearly structured and created to slowly introduce you to the process through 3 stages and 9 steps.

The stages and steps of emotionally focused therapy include:

Stage 1: De-escalation

Steps 1 through 4:

1. identifying areas of concern in your relationships
2. looking at unwanted behavioral patterns linked to your areas of concern
3. exploring which insecurities are linked to those unwanted behavioral patterns
4. re-assessing key areas of concern based on what your exploration reveals


During stage 1 of EFT, the emotional root of your relationship behaviors is examined.

You’re invited to see the same behaviors from a different perspective. This new perspective comes from understanding what others (and yourself) may have gone through.

“They don’t trust me” can be restructured into, “My partner experienced trauma in their past and this makes it difficult for them to trust.”

Restructuring or seeing things from a different perspective can help create a sense of empathy between you and the other person. It can also help you both understand there may be room for modifying those unwanted behaviors.

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Stage 2: Modifying interactions

Steps 5 through 7:

5. voicing your emotional needs and deep emotions
6. learning to accept and show compassion for the other person’s feelings and needs
7. learning to openly communicate needs without causing friction or conflict

Improving communication

During stage 2 of EFT, you learn how you can express your needs and respond to the needs of the other person without causing friction.

Instead of expressing distrust and jealousy, for example, you can describe and explain how you feel saying something like, “I’m uncomfortable with you spending so much time with your coworker because… and that makes me feel…”

In turn, the other person can learn how you feel and regulate their own reactions.

For example, instead of becoming angry at you, they can reply with, “I understand what you’re saying, but you don’t need to worry because… How can we make this better?”

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Stage 3: Consolidation

Steps 8 through 9:

8. developing new communication styles
9. practicing what you’ve learned in day-to-day life

Real-life changes

During stage 3, you’ll be encouraged to practice new communication styles and behaviors outside of the therapy setting.

Ultimately, the goal of stage 3 is to help you adopt new behaviors that lead you to build stronger relationships.

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Emotionally focused therapy was developed as a form of couple’s therapy but has branched off into use for individuals only and families, as well.

Couple’s EFT

EFT as couple’s therapy helps partners evaluate and reassess interactions.

You can learn to identify behaviors and emotions in yourself and the other person that may be impacting relationship integrity.

Couples can develop important communication and behavior modification skills that may improve their bond and sense of security.

Family EFT

EFT in a family setting focuses on the identification of behaviors and interactions that impact the family dynamic.

Family EFT looks at relationships from a caregiving standpoint, examining how parental behaviors impact children, how siblings affect one another, and how one parent influences the other parent.

All of these behaviors are then looked at individually and within the family unit as a whole.

Individual EFT

EFT isn’t dependent on multi-person involvement. You may also benefit from EFT as an individual if you want to develop skills to develop a more secure attachment style.

EFT on an individual level can help you identify your undesired behavioral patterns. It can also help you understand the root of your attachment needs and how to communicate better with others.

Can you combine EFT sessions?

Your mental health professional can help you decide what types of EFT sessions are right for your needs.

For example, you may want to start with individual sessions and then transition into couple’s therapy. Or you could start with family therapy and then add a few couple’s sessions.

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Emotionally focused therapy is considered a short-term treatment.

It typically extends between 8 and 20 sessions, depending on the progress made by those involved.

Most of the time is spent on stage 1, the de-escalation stage. How quickly you progress through this stage can depend on many factors, including the root cause of your current attachment style and how prepared you are to face your emotions.

EFT stands for emotionally focused therapy. This is an evidence-based, 9-step therapeutic process that can help you build stronger relationships through behavior modification, emotional regulation, and improved communication skills.

Whether you’re a couple, individual, or family looking to build stronger relationship bonds, EFT may be able to help.

If you’d like to learn more about EFT, or if you would like to speak with a professional EFT therapist, you can visit The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT).

You can also view this informational video on EFT, hosted by the Society of Clinical Psychology.