When you get into an argument with your romantic partner, it can feel like life or death—unless you have the tools to navigate the conflict.
One of the best tools is simply being present to your partner’s emotions and validating them.
But when your partner isn’t speaking to you, isn’t acknowledging what you’re going through, and isn’t validating what you feel, this can cause stress and anxiety—not only on the relationship but on YOU. Life is stressful enough as it is. The last thing anyone wants is relationship problems that add drama to one’s life.
Emotional Drama In Relationships
Negative behavior is often a cry for more intimacy or more understanding. When you and your partner aren’t communicating, connecting, or bonding well, your nervous system can start to feel “on edge.” Romantic partners often tend to gloss over any difficult emotions or try to fix them, rather than stay fully present to them. This creates stress for the other person. They don’t want their emotion “fixed” or “solved”—they want it to be validated, seen, and heard. And this validation is what allows them to fully release the negative emotion.
When you have drama with your romantic partner, it’s often because one or both partners has a deep emotional pattern or feeling that’s being triggered. But instead of leaning in closer, you or your partner may pull away emotionally, shut down, attack, or get defensive—and this creates more stress. This is where Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can be extremely helpful.
EFT is About Going Deeper into the Feeling to Find Out What’s Underneath It
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a type of counseling that helps couples stay with intense emotions to find out what’s really underneath them. EFT is based on the work of Sue Johnson and her thesis advisor, Les Greenberg.
In her book Hold Me Tight, Johnson says there are certain “emotional rhythms and patterns” that take place in a relationship, which she refers to as a “dance.” One partner takes steps that lead to conflict—and the other partner takes steps that escalate the conflict. Usually, these steps are carried out unconsciously, until an EFT therapist helps the couple identify them and navigate through them.
In her work as a couple’s therapist, Johnson observed couples arguing with each other, yelling, and shutting down emotionally during therapy sessions. But below the surface-level reactions, she observed that there was always something deeper going on.
EFT Helps You See the Patterns and Rhythms in Your Relationship
As humans, our behaviors are largely governed by our emotions. EFT goes deep into the feeling of why we get triggered, why the feeling is there, where it came from, and how each partner can validate the other’s emotions, simply by being present with them.
An EFT-trained therapist can guide both partners in how to stay present with difficult feelings that are being expressed in the moment so that you can see the pattern and rhythm of what’s driving conflict in your relationship.
Calming the Nervous System By Validating Your Emotions
EFT helps couples go deeper into the emotions—rather than pulling away—so that they can understand why a negative pattern is happening in themselves and their partner. Understanding WHY something “happens” can be very calming on the nervous system.
For example, if you know your partner gets triggered by your harsh tone of voice because it reminds them of something traumatic that happened to them as a child—and you understand the pain and fear they felt at that time—it makes you see them in a more compassionate light.
When your partner understands that feeling “controlled” scares you—based on something painful that happened to you as a child—then your partner can feel safer, knowing that when you raise your voice, it’s not them you’re angry at; it’s the painful feeling that happened in childhood.
By understanding each other’s feelings at a deeper level, you can experience greater intimacy and bonding. This increases the feeling of connection and improves the relationship.
When you feel a healthy, strong bond with your partner, you start to trust that your relationship is strong. You know that no matter what you’re going through, or what your partner is going through—you’re there for each other. Not just physically, but emotionally present, and fully engaged.
When you know that you and your partner can navigate any difficult circumstance—and you always have a place to land every time—this is incredibly soothing to the nervous system. You can relax, even when there’s a conflict taking place.
Your Relationship Should Be a Pillar of Strength—Not a Source of Tension and Stress
Your relationship can and should be something that provides stability and emotional comfort in your life. Your partner should understand how to make you feel emotionally safe, and vice versa. EFT is a great resource for creating this stability or safety. Through sessions with a trained EFT counselor, you and your partner can learn to lean into each other (instead of pulling away) during difficult moments.
Being present with your feelings and your partner’s feelings is what leads to greater intimacy, deeper connection, and a stronger emotional bond—all of which strengthen the relationship and serve as a great coping strategy for life in general.
Whether you’re single or in a relationship, I recommend finding and working with a certified EFT therapist in your area who can help you better understand your own emotional patterns.