Betrayal and injuries in relationships are something we all deal with but rarely talk about. You know, those emotional bruises that come from feeling misunderstood, neglected, or just plain hurt by the person you love most. But fear not, because I want to tell you about how therapists work their magic using Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) to patch up those love wounds.
So, picture this: you and your partner stroll into the therapist's office, feeling a bit like contestants on a relationship reality show. You're armed with your emotional baggage and not feeling too safe or secure. But instead of a judgmental judge, you're met with a compassionate coach—a therapist trained in the art of EFCT.
Step one? It's all about setting the stage for vulnerability. Think of it as emotional foreplay, where you and your partner open up about your deepest fears, desires, and insecurities. No judgment, no shame—just raw, unfiltered honesty. It's not easy in the moment, but the sense of bonding and connection that can create are worth the emotional risk.
Next up, it's time to rewrite the script of your relationship. With the help of your therapist, you'll dig deep into the roots of your attachment injuries, unraveling the tangled mess of emotions that got you here in the first place.
But here's where the real magic happens: repair and reconnect. Armed with newfound insights and a lot of newfound empathy, you and your partner will embark on a journey of healing, through continued vulnerability, apology, and empathy. It's like hitting the reset button on your relationship, wiping the slate clean and starting fresh.
And before you know it, you could find yourselves basking in the warm glow of secure attachment. Trust is rebuilt, intimacy deepens, and suddenly, those old attachment injuries don't sting quite as much anymore. It's like watching your relationship bloom from a wilted flower into a vibrant garden of love and connection.
So, there you have it—a sneak peek behind the curtain of EFCT and how therapists work their magic on attachment injuries. Because let's face it, love may be messy, but with a little help from EFCT, it's also pretty darn magical.
A Guide to Healing Attachment Injuries in Your Relationship with Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)
In the intricate dance of relationships, emotional wounds can sometimes leave lasting scars. I promise, there's hope. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) offers a pathway toward healing attachment injuries, fostering deeper connection, and restoring trust. Let me explain how EFCT can help you and your partner navigate the challenges of attachment injuries and build a stronger, more resilient relationship.
Attachment injuries occur when emotional bonds are ruptured, leaving partners feeling disconnected, hurt, or betrayed. These wounds often stem from experiences of neglect, rejection, or betrayal, triggering fears and insecurities. Left unaddressed, attachment injuries can erode the foundation of a relationship, leading to resentment, conflict, and distance. Over time, it gets harder for couples to find their way back to connection.
The Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) Approach-
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, offers a roadmap for repairing attachment injuries and fostering secure attachments. At its core, EFCT emphasizes the importance of emotional responsiveness, vulnerability, and empathy in cultivating intimacy and resilience within relationships.
Key Steps in EFCT for Healing Attachment Injuries:
Affairs are scary, and no couple wants to end up in that position. It’s even worse when one partner discovers texts or other incriminating information on a phone or computer that they just happened to notice (it often happens by accident). And a notch worse is when the ‘caught’ partner denies the affair when there is clear evidence to the contrary.
At this point, let me hopefully put your mind at ease just a little bit that statistically, about 80% of couples can recover from an affair, especially when they seek professional help.
That stat feels hopeful but when you are in the midst of it, whether as the injured partner or the one with the affair, it can feel very traumatic, scary, confusing, and awful, to say the least when you are in the first stages of trying to heal from it.
For one thing, the injured party will likely be furious, and understandably so. They also tend to feel hurt, betrayed, confused, shocked, and like their world has just been turned upside-down. The partner who had the affair likely feels shocked into reality, afraid of losing his or her partner, guilty and regretful, and generally confused.
Three steps I recommend for affair recovery:
1. The partner who had the affair needs to admit it when confronted, not deny.
2. That partner also should cut all ties with the affair ASAP.
3. The injuring partner needs to listen to the injured partner even if they are angry, be willing to answer questions honestly (there are likely to be many), and understand that the inured partner needs to talk and be listened to.
4. Get professional help in order to understand what led to the affair and fix the issue at it’s root.
Last piece of advice - don’t get defensive!!! You messed up - own it, listen with empathy, and be willing to show regret and a willingness to repair and heal. The injured partner will probably need to share many times over months or years his or her pain and fears, as well as memories of the betrayal - it can feel like PTSD. The injured partner needs to know that they are being listened to and understood no matter how many times they need to talk about it.
If you can do all those things, even with bumps (progress, not perfection), the affair can be healed. The affair is ultimately an ‘affair of the relationship’ because most often, there were difficult relationship patterns that led to disconnection and loneliness for both partners. These patterns need to be unearthed, understood, and healed in order to truly feel secure in a rebirth of your relationship. In the end, not to sound pollyannaish, but a healed affair can create enormous opportunity for a relationship to become more solid and beautifully connected than previously.
Do you get so upset sometimes that you just go to reaction mode in 3 seconds flat? Upset meaning mad, freaked out, or frustrated?
We can get the most upset and stuck in our story about the relationship when we're triggered. it’s during those times that there's not tons of resilience or ability to be flexible and think outside of whatever upsetting experience is occurring.
What is an emotional trigger? Triggers are moments in the relationship where we go into accelerated 0-60 upset. Why? Because we are suddenly ‘triggered’ into an old story that usually comes from earlier times, most often from growing up.
Let’s say you are trying to tell your partner about something important that happened to you but your partner is preoccupied. He or she then comes in with advice or feedback after you’ve shared something hard about your day. Anyone might be upset by that but let's say you grew up with a dad that never really listened and didn’t take a huge interest in you, tending to make things about himself.
Then you might get ‘triggered’ - like really upset - by your partner’s lack of listening.
Now let’s say that your partner had a long day, learned that a favorite colleague was getting laid off, and is reeling in his quiet way. He might not be so available to hear about what you wanted to share because of difficult feelings he's wrestling with.
But because you are triggered, you interpret his preoccupation as disinterest and chronic self-involvement like your dad. Suddenly you get hijacked by your feelings and you are in 0-60 mode. That's when you might begin blaming your partner without asking where he's at or why he seems not able to listen.
When you are hijacked, you usually make an assumption and go with it.
It’s fight or flight. And that’s where a negative cycle between you can get started.
It’s at that point that you have a choice: you can stay with the story you are telling yourself or you can ask your partner why he wasn’t able to listen (with an open mind). Sound hard? It is, and it takes lots of practice. Short-circuiting your nervous system is super difficult but can be learned with practice and patience.
What you want to work towards goes like this: You share with your partner what you are afraid of or how it felt to worry that he wasn't listening. You say it in a vulnerable way. You take a breath, before and after. You take five breaths. And remember that your partner is usually not wanting to hurt you or not listen or not love you.
If you know where your triggers come from, you will have more understanding when they come up, and from that, an increasing power to slow them down.
Sex is not an entity all by itself. In long term relationships, sex and intimacy are influenced by the level of closeness and connection in the relationship.
If you are feeling disconnected emotionally from your partner, and not having sex as much as you would like to, there may be a connection issue. The complicated thing is that the dance around intimacy can become a vicious cycle.
For example, one partner tries to initiate sex and the other is too tired. Or that partner doesn’t feel connected enough to engage intimately. The first partner can then feel rejected or pushed away and may become angry or, conversely, shut down. The second partner then can feel rejected emotionally and feel less safe and increasingly shut down around future intimacy. You can see how the vicious cycle goes. Couples can get discouraged by these patterns and feel hopeless. One partner will often blame the other - especially the one who is not wanting to be intimate.
I see it more as a cycle between both partners, and while one partner may not be feeling sexual or connected enough to engage in sex (and thus seem like ‘the problem’), both partners are actively (or quietly) involved in the cycle that creates disconnection.
Because of this, it becomes necessary for each partner to look at their part in this negative pattern and re-connect emotionally first. Emotional connection and safety inevitably lead to more connection and safety (positive cycle!) and that means the possibility of more sex and intimacy.
That’s a good deal. The catch is that both partners need to admit there is a disconnection issue and be willing to look at their own part. The blame can be put aside, and responsibility taken. Only then can connection and emotional safety be re-established.
It's hard to get past blame and focus on yourself but it's worth it - life is short, and connection is what gives us true joy, meaning, and satisfaction.
What are the components of a successful relationship? What do couples who have been married for over 50 years have to say about what kept them close? The simplicity of their answers may surprise you. They compromised, were able to put their needs aside, admitted mistakes, accepted their partner’s more challenging sides, and communicated vulnerably.
Being able to put your own needs aside for your partner does not imply that you are codependent. It means that you are flexible. When you know how to take care of yourself, then you can distinguish what a healthy dose of giving is for you. That is often an intuitive call. You simultaneously feel taken-care-of and you are able to bend - be flexible to the needs of your partner. Even when - especially when it requires you compromise or give up on something you want. That doesn’t mean you do it all the time or martyr yourself to someone else. It simply means being willing to adjust to your partner. Being resilient and flexible as well as clear about your own needs.
Being humble means being wiling to admit mistakes. It means pushing past your drive to defend yourself. It means recognizing when you’re angry because really you feel ashamed after you’ve screwed up or hurt your partner (even when it wasn’t intentional). It means taking a couple of deep breaths, taking the time to really consider what upset your partner, what actions you took and why that hurt. Being willing to come back, admit your mistake, and apologize with sincerity are all key to repair. There are often small ways we hurt one-another, or even bigger ones. Nobody is perfect and no relationship goes without injuries. But to be able to repair them is critical. Repair allows for reconnection and enables you and your partner to process hurts that might have driven you apart or led to unnecessary resentment.
Lastly Acceptance and vulnerability. Accept your partner the way they are. They are not a project to be changed or worked-on. We all evolve over time and hopefully, with self-reflection, into more compassionate, mature people. But we should never expect our partner to change their basic personality or temperament. You can of course ask your partner to change behaviors that are hurtful to you or disconnecting to the relationship.
If you do ask for a behavior change, it’s most effective to say it from a place of vulnerability, not blame or finger-pointing. Let your partner know what hurt and why, and give your partner’s motives the benefit of the doubt (this can be hard to do but very helpful). They may not have intended to hurt you or behave the way it seemed to you. Simply express your hurt and sadness in an open way, and your partner will more likely be drawn to you and want to be close to you. Your vulnerability creates compassion and natural empathy in your partner. We are drawn to each-other’s openness and sharing when we don’t blame. True vulnerability creates bonding, closeness, and safety.
Sure, there are many more components to lasting love, but these are the most basic, the ones highlighted by long-term partners. They are also qualities that can be developed. I see them in couples that I work with - and oftentimes it took a lot of hard work to get there. But it’s worth it because increased connection is like a magical elixir that increases contentment and joy not only in our relationship but in our everyday lives.
You might be surprised to know that a lot of couples deal with an affair at some point in their relationship, and it’s really hard. Sometimes divorce is an understandable reaction, but when the offending partner is able to feel and show deep remorse and empathy, there is lots of hope. When there are kids in the picture and years of history and positive connection within the relationship, it can be really worth putting in the sincere and hard work that it takes to recover.
There are phases of what the injured partner will be feeling: disbelief, anger, betrayal, a feeling of complete distrust, renewed hope, as well as ‘I don’t know how I will ever recover from this’. These are all understandable and normal reactions to this kind of shock and betrayal. You can feel completely blind-sighted, like you can never trust the person you thought you could trust again. Like your world has just been turned upside down.
You think, 'even if my partner is apologizing and taking responsibility, how do I know this won’t happen again in six months? How could the person I thought I knew so well lie to me?'
These thoughts are normal but hard to reckon with at first. It’s like - this just doesn’t make sense, and it’s hard to organize in the brain and heart.
There are things that can be done. One is working through the intense hurt and sense of complete betrayal that you are feeling together with your partner. I know that sounds crazy, but research shows that if your partner is wiling to do what it takes to mend what has been broken, he or she being available to listen, empathize, be with you in your pain, your sense of connection and trust can heal.
Research shows that empathy and emotional connection are the key to healing betrayal.
In order for that to happen, the partner who had the affair has to be wiling to listen completely and often while putting aside explanations and defensiveness. There often need to be countless rounds of listening to the hurt partner’s justified rage, despair, sadness, and distrust.
The hurt partner also has a task - he or she has to be willing to come out of the licking wounds alone phase, and to vulnerably share how bad it feels, how horrible and awful it feels to be betrayed that way.
The listening partner needs to not only listen, but be able to reflect and empathize, to allow him or herself to be moved by the hurt partner’s emotional experience and show the inevitable regret and remorse.
This scenario needs to happen repeatedly and often.
When you are feeling listened to and joined in your pain, you will feel less alone and like something is healing, something is changing. This can take a long time. As annoying as this sounds, this kind of life-changing situation can be an opportunity. A chance to reconnect at a level sometimes never experienced between the you, a closeness maybe you have rarely felt before. It is also a chance to pay attention to what was wrong before the affair.
After the healing begins and a sense fragile trust begins to come back, it’s important to heal underlying patterns that led to this imbalance in the first place. The affair was a symptom of a sense of disconnection between you, the negative pattern that was driving you both apart. This is an opportunity to heal that negative cycle, to find a way to come closer and be able to talk to each other in ways usually not experienced in a long time, if ever before.
Do you ever feel like you're living with a stranger rather than the person you married? Or like you are fighting an endless battle over nothing in particular with increasing disconnection?
I promise that you are not alone - those feelings come up for many people in long-term relationships and marriage. We try to talk about the stuff in life that needs to be ironed out - content like finances, kids, or extended family, but we get derailed not because of the subject matter, but because of the feelings that come up underneath.
It's normal to go through phases of feeling like you can't connect - where everything feels like an effort.
The truth is, most of us can get into 'negative cycles' in our relationships that are exacerbated during stressful times. By negative I mean that we begin to misread each other, make assumptions based on the body language or tone of the other, and end up feeling unsafe and shut down as a result.
We sometimes create just what we don't want, increasing disconnection. This is because we can begin to experience our partner as a scary tiger based on what we see on the surface. Ironically, we are often surprised to find out what is happening for our partner underneath: their unspoken fears, hurts, and misunderstandings. So we react - based on what we initially see as a growling tiger, without seeing the scared bunny rabbit underneath.
The goal is to learn to talk with each other from the bunny place, the place that is soft and vulnerable. The catch is that you need to feel safe enough to dare to do that. Ironically, the closer you feel with your partner, even though it can feel scary, the safer you actually are.
We tend to create disconnection and hardened defenses (anger and withdrawal) in order to feel safe, but it actually makes us feel more alone and less resilient. It also feeds the 'negative cycle'.
Coming to know that cycle like a team investigating a phenomena, working together to understand and defeat it, is a bonding experience in itself. The immediate result is that we tend to feel more bonded and supported, with a common goal. The more transparent and safe we feel, the less assumptions we tend to make about the other. Starting to see the world through our partner's eyes and thereby daring to give them the benefit of the doubt.
From there the results are plentiful: we can find our way back to one-another more easily and swiftly. This closeness and safety inevitably brings with it less effort in communicating, and most importantly, a secure and lasting connection.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT