How to improve your relationship, published in the Chiswick Herald - Part Two

19 - Nov - 2015

To read our latest column on couples counselling including a guide to a specific therapeutic approach called Emotionally Focussed Therapy (EFT) used by our Senior Associate, Marybeth Mendenhall please click here. Or read it here:

TITLE: How to improve or even save your relationship - part two

In this editions' column, and following a number of reader’s letters we are writing more about therapy for relationships. It seems to me that there is a great deal of interest in relationship therapy at the moment, just last week I met with a TV production company interested in covering couples going through the therapy process. 

Time and again I hear of people who feel reluctant to go for couples therapy because they have heard often going for therapy results in relationships ending. I’m not saying this is not a common outcome but from my experience it is often because couples turn to therapy as a last resort, when too much has happened, they feel too tired to find the energy for the changes that need making and, when they no longer remember just how good the relationship can be when it did work well. 

I asked our Senior Associate, Marybeth Mendenhall, a Family and Relationship Psychotherapist, to give an overview of a model she uses in her work with relationships. Marybeth writes “Couples distress is the single most common reason for seeking therapy.  It undermines relationships and family functioning and can often lead to feelings of despair, depression, loneliness and anxiety.  

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) is a structured approach to couples therapy that sees adult needs for safety, security and emotional closeness at the core of  loving and meaningful relationships.  EFT has been acknowledged as one of the most researched, empirically validated approaches to working with couples.  

Distress usually occurs in couples when feelings of safety and security are threatened, and then we find ourselves getting into arguments or negative interactional patterns, which repeat themselves over and over again.   Using this approach we focus on helping partners restructure the emotional responses that maintain their negative interaction patterns.  Through a series of steps the therapist leads the couple away from conflict deadlock into new bonding interactions.  

When couples argue over issues, the origins of these arguments are some form of protest from one partner about not feeling connected, not trusting, or not feeling safe or secure with the other partner.  When those we are attached to are not available, or are not responding to our needs to feel close or supported we feel distressed.  We may become anxious or fearful, numb or distant.

Those behaviours can become habitual or rigid modes of reacting to our partners.  Sometimes these behaviours feel toxic, and they take on a life of their own as they cycle into destructive interactions that cause much pain, injury and despair.  When a relationship is in trouble we tend to start a habitual ‘dance’ which Sue Johnson, the founder of EFT for Couples, calls the Demon Dialogues;  one person might start criticising and complaining and the other gets angry and starts defending.  This demon dialogue takes on a life of its own as it gains momentum, and very soon we see the other person as the enemy. In couples therapy we focus on these patterns and work on changing negative interaction cycles in a non-judgemental environment.

EFT helps partners begin to identify where their misunderstandings are and how their negative dance affects the other. In a relatively short time, couples begin to recognise and eventually express their needs for love, support, protection and comfort that are often hidden or disguised.

Once feelings of connection are re-established, you will be better able to manage conflict and the painful or difficult feelings that will inevitably arise from time to time in your relationship.  Furthermore, without so much defensiveness, each of you will be able to send clearer messages and will be better able to hear the other’s perspective, collaborate, problem solve and compromise. In short, you’ll be more of a team, which is the secret of a long -lived, successful partnership”.

In our next column I will be writing about how to help someone you care about when they are struggling.

If you have any questions about this or to book an appointment, please contact us on 020 8996 9551 or send an email to and we will get back to you.