Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT): Is It Right For You?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT): Is It Right For You?

When searching for couples therapy, there are a lot of options out there, including Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). It can be challenging to determine what type of therapy or therapist is right for you and your partner.
Many therapists working with individuals do not have specialized training to work with couples beyond the generalized courses offered in graduate school. And, to be honest, those courses really don’t teach us enough to be truly competent couples therapists. They provide more of a general overview of couples issues but lack the specifics needed to become truly artful and skilled.
Therapists who pursue more intentional advanced training to work with couples, gain experience working with common real-life relationship concerns and develop an advanced skill set that equips them to help couples get to the core of their issues and make lasting changes in their relationship. I (Shawntres Parks, LMFT) am trained in a particular type of therapy called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT).
The couples I work with love EFT because it helps them experience greater feelings of security in their relationship by teaching them how to meet one another’s attachment needs. This is huge when it comes to creating and maintaining a healthy long-term relationship. If you don’t already know about the importance of attachment style, check out our blog on that too. Ok, now back to Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

What is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?


Emotionally focused therapy for couples, or EFT, is a short-term approach to couples therapy typically lasting from 15-20 sessions. You might think that sounds like a lot of sessions but, in the world of therapy, it’s actually pretty brief. Emotionally Focused Therapy was created in the 1980s by researcher/practitioners Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg. EFT pulls from several therapeutic approaches that address how and why people connect with each other. Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples provides steps and language to help couples communicate and experience each other in healthier and more satisfying ways. 
EFT is an attachment-based therapy. Attachment theory was developed upon the understanding that human attachment, beginning in childhood, continues throughout the lifespan and has a huge impact on our romantic relationships. While attraction, shared beliefs, values, and experiences are all important when we look for a partner, creating a secure attachment is what’s truly important if we want to maintain a healthy relationship. 
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy online
A securely attached relationship provides a safe harbor to retreat to when life and circumstances are difficult and a safe base to launch from to help us grow and take risks. Couples experiencing the distress of constant conflict, lose that feeling of security that is necessary for each of them to thrive as individuals and a couple. Not feeling securely attached is intensely painful and scary for both partners. Sometimes, it may even lead to one or both partners seeking attachment outside of the relationship, resulting in various types of affairs that only further deteriorate feelings of security in the relationship. Secure attachment can also be impacted by other types of competing attachments such as over-focus on children, friends, extended-family, work, and electronics among other things. 
Emotionally Focused Therapy seeks to repair injured attachment by first helping couples recognize what they are doing that threatens the secure attachment. How couples handle conflict is one of the major problem areas addressed in EFT by mapping the “cycle” of behaviors and emotional responses that trap the couple in unhealthy conflict. Once they’ve mapped their conflict cycle,  couples are able to unite and fight against it as a team. This mapping process helps the couple become more collaborative, increase positive interactions, and shift away from damaging high-conflict interactions.
Facing your conflict cycle together, rather than facing off against one another, reduces the impact of the conflict and helps it become much more manageable. A therapist trained in EFT will help each partner approach conflict without negativity, criticism, advice, or neglect and respond to each other in a secure and loving way. This different approach to conflict helps repair and strengthen attachment leading to greater relationship satisfaction and safety. 
EFT is broken down into 3 stages:
 
  • Stage 1 – Assess and De-escalate: In this stage, couples will experience an epiphany when their therapist helps them identify the deep-seated attachment needs that are behind their ongoing conflict.
  • Stage 2 – Restructuring the Couple’s Bond: In this stage, couples will learn and practice skills to have more positive communication so that they can share unmet attachment needs with one another rather than getting caught in their conflict cycle and fighting.
  • Stage 3 – Consolidation: In this stage, couples will use their newly learned skills and apply them to any old issues that may still be lingering. They will also look at ways to further integrate their EFT skills and apply them to addressing future fears and concerns. 

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Who can benefit from EFT?

 
Couples who are experiencing detachment from their partner due to loveless relationship, infidelity, lack of trust, difficulty communicating, and high conflict all can benefit from working with EFT counselors. EFT counselors work with couples who are actively considering divorce, experiencing infidelity, and/or struggling with excessive or unproductive conflicts. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy can help to re-engage avoidant, withdrawn, and burnt-out partners by assisting the couple in re-creating enough safety to be emotionally vulnerable with each other. 
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a thoroughly researched and effective form of couples therapy and has been shown to be successful with many couples regardless of race, age, religion, or sexual orientation. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is based in attachment, which is a HUMAN survival need, making it applicable to all of us. According to John Bowlby, the creator of attachment theory, “The need to connect with another human being is the most basic need of the mammalian brain.”  


Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy online

How Can EFT Help?

 
Emotionally Focused Therapy can help couples by giving them the skills and ability to be more accessible, responsive, and engaged with one another. The goal of EFT is to help couples repair attachment. One of the ways we accomplish this is by teaching you how to manage conflict in a healthier way. 
Sue Johnson, creator of EFT, details 3 types of conflict cycles that couples experience: Freeze & Flee, Protest Polka, and Find the Bad Guy. 
Freeze and Flee happens when both partners are disengaged and avoidant. No meaningful communication or connection is happening and both partners are left feeling helpless and hopeless. When I’ve worked with couples in this cycle they’ll tell me “I’m not sure that I’m in love anymore,” and “I don’t know if there is any hope for this.” It’s intensely painful for couples in this cycle to live with the emotional distance from one another. 
Protest Polka is the cycle that I encounter most frequently in my work with couples. In this cycle, the longing to connect with your partner, and the fear of losing them, causes you to act in critical ways or to shut down, effectively shutting yourself in and your partner out. The way that each partner is trying to get emotional needs met, is the very thing creating and maintaining the disconnection between them. The cycle is so powerful that it easily sweeps the couple away and leaves them feeling more and more helpless and farther away from the love and intimacy that they crave. 
Find the Bad Guy is a mutual attack cycle where each partner is always expecting the worst from the other. By expecting an attack, each partner is in a constantly defensive position and ready to launch a counterattack at a moment’s notice. This emotionally exhausting cycle keeps each partner in opposite corners, like boxers in a ring. They’re looking for a fight even when there isn’t one coming. It’s a perfect recipe for conflict and disconnection. 
Along with helping you identify and heal your conflict cycle, EFT therapy also teaches you to be more secure partners for one another, resulting in greater emotional balance, the ability to safely express emotional needs, greater flexibility and adaptiveness to each other’s needs, and the ability to give and receive comfort.
Secure partners are more supportive and understanding of one another and are able to safely navigate the inevitable challenges of life and relationships together as a team. Working with an EFT counselor provides couples with a relationship blueprint for security that will benefit them throughout the lifespan. 

What to Expect in an Emotionally Focused Therapy Session?


Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy sessions can range from 50 minutes to several hours depending on the needs of the couple. Couples typically participate in EFT therapy once weekly, though there may be cases where couples attend sessions more or less frequently.
Because Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy focuses on recognizing and feeling emotions, you may experience yourself feeling emotions you previously felt disconnected from. Many of us shut down or minimize our own (and our partners’) emotions without even realizing it. This is especially true if we grew up in a family where vulnerable expression of emotions was not modeled or encouraged. 
As you start to reconnect to your emotional self, you might notice some feelings of discomfort and vulnerability. This is completely normal and all part of the process of becoming a healthier and more whole human who is in touch with their emotions. EFT counselors can handle the intensity and complexity of the emotions that couples bring into therapy and will teach you how to handle it too.
EFT counselors are trained to use their emotions to tune into yours. They will use empathy and compassion, alongside their specialized training, to help you and your partner engage and connect in more loving, supportive, and vulnerable ways. This act of gradually ‘turning-toward’ each other creates feelings of attachment between you and your partner that may have felt impossible at the start of therapy.  
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

Does Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Work?


Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a well-researched form of couples therapy used internationally to help couples achieve more connected, attuned, and satisfying relationships. Research studies have found that 70-75% of couples undergoing EFT successfully move from distress to recovery, and approximately 90% show significant improvements. 
Many couples who experience EFT report that it transformed their relationship beyond what they thought was possible. One such couple I worked with shared that it saved their marriage. They were married for 8 years and it had recently come to light that one partner was unfaithful. While infidelity was the impetus to seeking couples therapy, it was clear that their conflict cycle was the primary issue. Together, using EFT, we were able to identify that each partner’s childhood and adolescent traumas had influenced the use of unhealthy attachment behaviors. 
One partner would become emotionally abusive and critical when in distress, while the other would often leave the home for hours, or days when distressed. Over time, these behaviors within their conflict cycle had a polarizing effect, leading one partner to seek out a competing attachment (the affair partner).
Through the use of EFT, the partners were able to establish an agreement that the affair would end, and the marriage would become the primary and only attachment again. Once establishing that safety, we were able to work on turning toward one another in distress and identifying their need for each other, rather than getting caught in the unhealthy conflict cycle. This couple went from having a sex-less and disconnected marriage to establishing renewed and healthy connections emotionally and physically.  



Finding an EFT Therapist


Reading this, you may be thinking about your own relationship and realizing Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is right for you. Perhaps you and your partner struggle with communication because discussions often turn into fights. You may feel like no matter what you do to try connecting with your partner, you can’t seem to say or do the right thing. You struggle to be seen, heard, and appreciated for who you really are. The relationship may feel more like pain than pleasure.
I want to assure you that even in the most hopeless of places, transformation is still possible. Emotionally Focused Therapy goes beyond the visible conflict, frustration, and disappointment to uncover the real problem source: the conflict cycle and the impact on your attachment. Together, we can unite and fight against the cycle that is eroding your relationship in such painful ways. 
I am passionate about helping couples find their way out of the hopeless wasteland of disconnection and into a space where they are able to love, support, and be vulnerable with one another again. If this sounds like something you need, I encourage you to book a free consultation. As an online couples therapist, I provide EFT online as well as in my Upland, CA office. 
Online couples therapy is an incredibly effective and convenient way to fit therapy into your busy schedule and be able to connect with each other from the comfort of your own home. Another great way to start working on your relationship from home using EFT is by reading the book Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson. If you find that or anything I’ve written above resonates with you, I would love to support you in using Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to restore your relationship.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy for online marriage counseling
At Home Activities For Couples During Coronavirus Self-Quarantine

At Home Activities For Couples During Coronavirus Self-Quarantine

If you are feeling anxious and unsure about what to do while you are at home because of the coronavirus self-quarantine, you are not alone! At home activities for couples and families are at the top of everyone’s minds as we hunker down and do our part to help flatten the curve. 

This is the first time in history that something like this has happened, and many of us were simply not prepared for our lives to be turned upside down like this. While, just a week ago you might have been worried about what to wear to a friend’s birthday party, now you are wondering when we might be able to see that friend in person again! Or go to another party for that matter! 

To make matters worse, this is also a really strange time to be in a new relationship. Lots of couples who were not used to seeing each other daily are now having to choose between not seeing each other at all or sharing the same space 24/7 if they quarantine together. This can lead to anxiety, irritability, and even fights if you don’t know how to handle being together during the coronavirus self-quarantine. Ironically, even though you’re being told to practice social distancing, many of you are finding yourselves in closer quarters than ever before! The increased time together along with all of the fear and anxiety that this new disease is causing can wreak havoc on your relationship without the proper tools.

Since our main focus at Couples Learn is helping couples work through all kinds of challenges, we figured it was right up our alley to give you some tips on how to handle being quarantined with your significant other and give you some ideas for at home activities for couples.

First, let’s address the basics. What is social distancing anyway?

What Is Social Distancing?


Social distancing is the act of creating more space between people so that we can slow, or ideally stop, the coronavirus outbreak. Since we don’t yet have a cure for coronavirus, our best line of defense is to try to stop people from getting it in the first place. If we all carry on business as usual, we will all get the virus at the same time. This would completely overwhelm our hospitals and cause a lot of deaths. If we slow the spread, fewer people will get coronavirus at the same time and the hospitals will have a better chance of being able to help everyone who needs it.

Some examples of social distancing measures include:

  • Cancelling events that are likely to draw big crowds
  • Working from home
  • Closing schools or instituting online classes
  • Closing restaurants or offering drive-thru or delivery service only
  • Staying at least 6 feet away from other people in public
  • Cancelling or postponing conferences or large meetings
  • Visiting with people through skype, zoom, or other online platforms instead of meeting in person
  • Cancelling or postponing travel
  • Cancelling large sporting events, concerts, and gatherings



Basically, social distancing involves doing everything that you can to stay healthy, while protecting other people at the same time. This is especially important with this coronavirus outbreak because you can be sick without even knowing it. Since it’s possible for you to have the virus with no symptoms, if you continue to see lots of people, you could be passing the virus on to them without ever realizing it. This means that you could pass the virus on to someone who is more vulnerable, like an elderly person, or someone with a compromised immune system. This is why social distancing is so important for you to be practicing right now, and exactly why we could all use ideas for at home activities for couples.

Fun At Home Activities For Couples


Alright, so you are doing your part, practicing your social distancing strategies and staying home with or without others right now. If you found this article, you might be wondering what are some at home activities for couples that you and your partner can do together to make the most of this time during the coronavirus self-quarantine?

Try A New Hobby Together


Try to think of this time as bonus time that you wouldn’t normally have together. What are some fun things that you would like to do since you have this time? Of course, sex is one great way to pass the time, but you could also try a new hobby together! I’ve recently discovered gardening and painting mandalas are two hobbies I really enjoy. You can do these alone or together. Sometimes, it’s really relaxing to be in the same room with someone else while you are both working on projects. Maybe you and your partner could both work on art projects, or maybe you could work on making jewelry while your partner does a crossword puzzle. It doesn’t matter if you work on the same project or different ones, as long as you are both taking a break from the news and enjoying your down time.


Fun At Home Activities for Couples


Learn A New Skill With Your Partner


You could also take this time to learn a new skill like a card game or a different language with your partner. Part of what will help you feel better about your time in this coronavirus self-quarantine is keeping your mind active and thinking about things other than the virus. Learning something new is a great way to take that pent up energy that you have and channel it towards something good.

Get Cooking


What is one thing many people turn to when bored? Food! I’ve already seen articles calling “The Quarantine 15” the new “Freshman 15” in terms of weight gain. However, this could be a great time to learn new recipes and get creative in the kitchen. Whether you are just learning to cook, cooking interesting meals, or figuring out the most creative ways to use whatever is in your cabinets, cooking and eating together is one of the best at home activities for couples. Plus, not eating at restaurants as much is great for your health and your budget.

Bonding At Home Activities For Couples


Because of the way our brains work, just thinking about doing things can have the same effect as actually doing them. That’s why during this coronavirus self-quarantine, it can be really helpful for you and your partner to do a lot of planning.

What do I mean by planning?

You can create a budget, plan future dates, future vacations, even research recipes and plan things that you want to cook in the future. Get out a calendar and actually write down fun things that you and your partner will do in the next several months. Even if you can’t visit all of the places that you want to go right now, just thinking about doing these things will give your brain a boost of feel-good chemicals. 

Click Here to Download The 52 Best Date Ideas of All Time


When you get tired of thinking about the future, bring yourselves back to the present by asking each other these 82 fun questions to deepen your connection. I also love the free app from The Gottman Institute called Gottman Card Decks. This free deck of virtual flashcards will help you and your partner connect by providing fun conversation starters and helping you learn everything you ever wanted to know about each other but didn’t think to ask.

By the way, this is also a great time to catch up on reading, either alone or with your partner, Try reading a book on relationships together. All my favorites can be found here on my Amazon Affiliate page (if you buy from this page, I will make a small commission but it will not increase the cost for you).


Reading is one of the best at home activities for couples


Isolation And Mental Health


As much as I want to help you have fun with at home activities for couples during this coronavirus self-quarantine, I also realize that it’s just as important for you to keep your own mental health a priority during this time. Being that isolation and depression are closely related, I feel like it’s important to offer you some strategies to improve your mental health while you are at home.

Some of the things that you can do to make this coronavirus self-quarantine more manageable include figuring out how you are actually feeling and then starting a healthy practice to manage or express those feelings.

In order to figure out how you are feeling, try assessing your happiness, on a scale of 1-10 in the following areas:

  • Sexual
  • Spiritual
  • Health
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Psychological
  • Relationships



If you find that you are less happy than a 6 in any of the above areas, make a list of concrete things that you can do to raise your number. Even raising it to a 6.5 is progress!

Start A Daily Practice


One thing that helps when things feel out of control is to have some kind of routine. Making sure that your basic needs are met is a great place to start. Get out of bed, shower, get dressed, try to eat healthy and get some movement into your day. Just doing these basic things will make a world of difference!

There are many online apps, for working out and meditation that you can access for free. I love Insight Timer for free guided meditations. Be sure to check out my favorite teacher, Sarah Blondin. She has the most soothing voice!

This is also a powerful time to start a journal or create a relationship vision. Having places to write down what is happening and to reflect on how you are handling things can be very therapeutic. There are even online journaling apps like Day One, that allow you to keep photos and text together in a way that looks really cool! 

Don’t Go It Alone


Lastly, remember, you are not in this alone! If you find that the way that you are feeling, either individually, or as a couple is too much for you to handle, consider starting online therapy. Our therapists are here and happy to help you through this difficult time. I believe that there are opportunities in all of life’s challenges and this one is no different! Together, we can get through this.


at home activities for couples to pass time in self quarantine

Imago Therapy: Is This Couples Therapy Right for You?

Imago Therapy: Is This Couples Therapy Right for You?

When you are searching for a couples therapist, it can be challenging to know if a therapist is good and what modality of couples therapy would be a good fit for you. To find a skilled therapist, I recommend seeing someone who has advanced training in a specific couples therapy method like Imago Therapy, PACT, The Gottman Method, or EFT. 


Many therapists say they offer couples therapy or marriage counseling but if they don’t specialize in it, the odds of them being really good are not great. Couples therapy is much more complicated than individual therapy with a lot of moving parts to consider so it truly does take a higher level of training to do it well. 


My (Dr. Sarah Schewitz) preferred modality is Imago Couples Therapy and I am a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. That means I went through extensive training and supervision to learn everything there is to know about using Imago Therapy. The whole process takes about a year and a half (this is in addition to the 7 years spent getting my doctorate in psychology) and is a major investment in time and money. The certification process is no joke but neither are the results this method of couples therapy produces.


Many couples who have participated in Imago Therapy swear by it, Oprah Winfrey being one of them. She credits Imago Therapy for the long-term success of her relationship with Stedman. She has done over 17 shows promoting the modality because she feels so passionate about it. In fact, the first Emmy she ever won for her talk show was for the episode where she interviewed Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy.


Ok so, if you have never heard of this type of therapy before you are probably wondering what the heck is it?!


Imago therapy can be done as online couples therapy.

What is Imago Therapy?


Imago Relationship Therapy is a modality designed to help couples go from having an unconscious to a conscious relationship. Created by Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980, it’s based on the premise that our unconscious mind is driven to heal childhood wounding and trauma through our romantic relationships.


We all have an “Imago” (meaning “image” in Latin) which is imprinted in our unconscious mind as a conglomeration of the positive and negative traits of our caretakers from childhood. Each one of us is unconsciously searching for a partner with this very particular set of positive and negative personality traits in order to heal the wounding inflicted on us in childhood.


Our unconscious drive is to get our partner, who is similar to our parents, to change and give us love in ways that our parents never did. Most of this occurs behind the scenes in your unconscious mind so it’s not something you are actively aware of unless you’ve been taught to look for the patterns.

Your Imago Match


Consciously, you will probably be aware of and attracted to the positive similarities your partner has with your family of origin when you first fall in love. You might think, “(s)he’s a great provider and hard worker like my dad” or “(s)he is kind and nurturing like my mom.” You know you’ve met your Imago match when you get that feeling you’ve known someone forever when you hardly know each other at all. The comfort can be immediate and the attraction intense. They kind of just feel like home.


What you won’t see in your Imago match (until you’ve gotten past the romantic love stage) are the negative qualities that are also just like your family of origin. Sometimes these even turn out to be the same qualities you loved in the beginning. For example, you might have loved that your partner was outgoing, talkative and confident in the beginning but now you view him/her as an attention hog who never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise (much like your older sibling).


Or, perhaps you were focused on your partner being a hard worker and good provider in the beginning but you missed the fact that (s)he has the ability to be unreasonably irritable just like your father was with you when stressed with work. Or perhaps now you resent the fact that (s)he is never home and you don’t feel like a priority, much like you felt as a child when your dad didn’t come home for dinner.


Note that the childhood “wounding” I mentioned above doesn’t seem like anything major. You don’t have to have had major trauma like abuse or abandonment by a parent to have childhood wounds. We all have them, no matter how great our childhood was. What your adult mind can rationalize away as “no big deal” might have felt like a very big deal to your 4-year-old self.


Part of the process of Imago Relationship Therapy is helping you become aware of these wounds from the past and their impact on your child self so you can understand why you feel triggered with your partner when they do certain things. Your childhood wounds are usually the key to understanding and diffusing your recurring fights with your partner.


Imago therapy for couples

Who Does Imago Therapy Work For?


Imago Therapy is great for couples and individuals seeking to have more connected, conscious relationships with a high level of healthy communication. Imago Relationship Therapy helps you gain a deeper understanding of the childhood wounding stored in your unconscious that is often the source of hurt in your romantic relationships. Thus, it is helpful for couples or individuals that keep having the same fights and patterns show up in their relationships over and over again.

Imago counseling is also very helpful for couples who have trouble communicating calmly and kindly when in conflict because it gives you tangible tools for how to communicate respectfully to resolve conflict. It’s excellent for couples who want actual tools and exercises they can use at home to improve their relationship as well as those who want to use therapy to process and create a deeper connection.

Imago Therapy is recommended for couples at any stage in the relationship – from those that have been dating a few months to married for decades. You don’t have to be having huge problems in your relationship to see an Imago Therapist (though you can be) because it can also be used to improve romance, connection, and knowledge/understanding of each other’s world. A key component of Imago Relationship Therapy is developing empathy so it’s very helpful for couples that have a hard time seeing each other’s perspectives.

Imago Therapy for Individuals

Though it was developed as a couples therapy modality, Imago Therapy can also be adapted for individuals. In fact, there is a book called “Keeping The Love You Find” by Harville and Helen that is written for singles interested in using Imago Theory to improve their love lives. Imago Therapy for individuals can help you recognize the source of unhealthy relationship patterns such as dating unavailable or abusive partners and change your love template to start choosing healthier partners. 

Imago Theory is based on several different psychological theories, one of which is attachment theory. Understanding your attachment style can be very helpful and enlightening as an individual looking for love and Imago helps you do that and more.

Imago Therapy for individuals can also help you understand and become conscious about parts of yourself you may have repressed in childhood due to the way you were socialized by your family and society. This is important because we tend to be attracted to partners that bring out our repressed or lost self but this later triggers us as the relationship progresses. Uncovering and loving those parts of yourself will allow you to attract a partner from a more whole and conscious place.

What to Expect in an Imago Therapy Session

Every Imago Therapy session will follow the same structure but have different content. For starters, you will be placed in chairs facing each other, not the therapist. In Imago Relationship Therapy, the goal is to foster communication and connection between the two of you not between you and the therapist. 

An Imago Therapist acts as more of a guide to facilitate communication rather than someone you communicate with directly. An Imago relationship therapist will be present as a coach and guide but will not actually be part of the conversation between you two.

Each Imago session will open with both partners sharing something they love and appreciate about their partner. Next, you will have an Imago Dialogue. The dialogue is the only way couples will communicate in a session and it is honestly pure magic.

imago therapy can help heal childhood experiences

Imago Dialogue: How it Works

The dialogue is a very structured way your Imago Therapist will teach you to communicate that allows you to get to the deeper layers of what is underneath the conflict you are processing. It requires that one of you be the sender and the other the receiver. Then you’ll switch once you’ve completed all the steps. 

The Imago Dialogue consists of 3 steps:

  1. Mirroring. Mirroring involves repeating back what you heard your partner say. 
  2. Validating. Validation requires putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and explaining why their point of view makes sense. You don’t have to agree with it but you do have to stretch to understand why it makes sense to them.
  3. Empathy. Empathy in the dialogue means guessing what your partner might be feeling based on what they just shared with you.

Click here to see a video of a couple using the Imago Dialogue.
Most Imago sessions are 80-90 minutes long and will allow you enough time to communicate about one topic or conflict in-depth using the Imago Dialogue. You will begin with appreciations and end with appreciations and/or a hug.

There are many components that an Imago Relationship Therapist will help you work on in your relationship using the dialogue as well as homework assignments for you to work on together and independently.

The 5 Processes of Imago Therapy are:

  1. Re-Imaging: Starting to see your partner in a positive light again.
  2. Re-committing: Many Imago Therapists will request that you commit to 12 weeks without any threat of breakup or divorce because it is so de-stabilizing to the safety of a relationship to threaten to leave. It’s hard to truly connect without safety and commitment.
  3. Re-visioning: You’ll create a shared vision of your ideal relationship so you know what you are working towards.
  4. Restructuring Frustrations: In order to have healthy love, you have to heal the wounds from your past. You’ll use the dialogue to reprocess some of the major wounds inflicted by your partner as needed. You’ll also use it to process current conflicts as they arise.
  5. Re-romanticizing: You’ll discover what makes each other feel loved and cared about and start focusing on more fun and romance in your relationship.

Finding an Imago Therapist

If this all resonates with you so far, you’re probably wondering how to find an Imago Therapist to work with. As I mentioned earlier, I am a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. As an online couples therapist, I provide online couples therapy for couples all over the world using Imago Relationship Therapy. I’ve found that Imago Therapy translates really well in the online format and my clients love being able to meet with me from the comfort of their own homes.

Unfortunately, I’m not always accepting new clients so you’ll need to check our scheduling page to see if I have any available consultation times. All new clients are required to book a free 30-minute consultation before booking a full session just to make sure working together is a good fit. If you don’t see any available consultation times with me on the schedule, it means I’m full.

If my schedule is full or if you’d prefer in-person sessions, you can find an Imago Therapist or workshop almost anywhere in North America and in many other parts of the world as well.

There are also Imago Therapy weekend workshops for couples called “Getting The Love You Want” and Imago workshops for individuals called “Keeping the Love You Find.” Both are excellent ways to get introduced to Imago Therapy and to deepen your understanding of yourself and your partner. 

Lastly, reading Harville and Helen’s book Getting The Love You Want and working through the exercises in the accompanying workbook is a great way to learn more about Imago Therapy and work on your relationship without the help of a therapist or workshop.

Age Gaps In Relationships: How Much Is Too Much?

Age Gaps In Relationships: How Much Is Too Much?

What do Beyoncé, Blake Lively, and Amal Clooney have in common? Besides being wildly famous, successful, and impeccably dressed, they are all also married to men who are at least ten years their senior.

While age gaps may have been a big deal thirty years ago, they are much more socially acceptable now (especially with A-list celebrities). Still, even if you aren’t likely to get as many judgy looks from strangers these days, are relationships with large age gaps really a good idea?

Do Big Age Gap Relationships Work?

Like many relationship issues, the answer is, “it depends.”

One thing that matters in relationships with age gaps is how much of a gap there is. For example, 5 year age gap relationships are quite different than 20 year age gap relationships. Five year age gap relationships say, “We just missed each other at UCLA” whereas 20 year age gap relationships say, “Were you in class with my mother?”

Of course, merely focusing on a number doesn’t take into account the really important factor; People’s personalities and maturity level. We all know forty-somethings who act like teenagers and teenagers who are as responsible as Mother Teresa. A 40-year-old, unemployed man who still lives with his parents is quite different than a guy who started his own company at age 25, owns his own home, and has traveled the world. No shade to the 40-year-old living at home – we all grow at our own rate. However, that guy might not be compatible with someone who has been living independently since college; regardless of age.

So, sometimes, it’s not so much the age difference that makes or breaks a relationship, but rather the MATURITY LEVEL of both partners.

Can A Big Age Gap Relationship Work? 

So, what happens if you are much more mature than your partner? How will things turn out? Here are some pitfalls that might occur if there is too much of a maturity gap in your relationship:

  • You might feel frustrated, like the relationship isn’t going anywhere
  • You might feel like you are always making the decisions
  • You could feel like an emotional garbage disposal – your partner looks to you to solve all of his/her problems
  • You might feel like your partner never takes things (including you and the relationship) seriously
  • You might feel like you don’t have much in common with your partner’s friends and maybe even that they are a bad influence
  • You might feel like you will never get the type of commitment from your partner that you want
  • You might feel like you take on the bulk of the responsibility and planning for your lives
  • You might feel like it’s impossible to have a productive argument with your partner
  • You might feel like you are always taking care of him/her financially
  • You might feel like you are watching a train wreck, as your partner makes the same mistakes over and over again

On the same token, if you are the less mature member in the relationship, things might be tough for you too. For example, you might:

  • Feel like your partner is always telling you what to do
  • Feel like your partner talks down to you
  • Feel like you are being pushed into a serious commitment before you are ready
  • Feel like your partner never wants to just relax and have fun
  • Feel like your partner sees you as a child instead of as a companion
  • Feel like your partner doesn’t trust you to complete tasks but then resents you for not contributing
  • Feel like you and your partner are in different life stages and want different things
  • Feel like you have to rush your timeline for things like marriage and kids to accommodate your partner’s timeline
  • Feel like you are missing out on crucial years of fun and freedom

So, you see, problems can arise from both sides of the fence. 

wider age gap in a relationship

Still, I’m not saying that age gap relationships can’t work. They can, as long as both partners are willing to put in the work. 

Age Gap Relationship Advice 

Here are some tips to help make your age gap relationship run as smoothly as a summer’s breeze.

Relationship Age Gap Rule: Recognize Your Partner’s Worldview

In couples therapy, one of the things I help couples with in sessions is recognizing that each person has a completely unique view of the world that is largely colored by experience, culture, and upbringing. However, this worldview can be very different when there is an age difference between each partner of a decade or more. The societal culture one experienced growing up in the 80’s, for example, is completely different than the societal culture of someone who grew up in the 2000’s. 

Someone born after the year 2000 probably won’t get many 80’s movies references, or know the hardship of having to find a book in the library to research a project rather than Googling it. By the same token, someone born in the 70’s might have a hard time understanding what Snapchat is and why people use it. 

Instead of coming down hard on your partner for what he or she doesn’t know, treat your different worlds like an exotic adventure. Have fun introducing your boo to new things, (like the word boo!) Recognize and honor your generational differences and take time to understand how each of you views the world.

Communication Gap In Relationship: Communicate As Equals

Nothing ruins a relationship like a power gap. Just because there is an age difference between you doesn’t mean that one of you should have all the power or have the responsibility of making all of the decisions. Talk to your partner as an equal. Don’t talk down, or up, to him or her. Believe it or not, age does not make one of you better or wiser than the other. It’s life experience that brings wisdom and that is not always gained with age. Someone of 23 who has traveled the world can have way more life experience and wisdom than a 45 year old who has never left their home state. 

Read: Physical age does not equal spiritual age. Someone who is an “old soul” could have far more intuitive knowledge than someone who is more advanced physically. Try to see your partner in spiritual years rather than chronological ones. Notice what makes your partner light up with passion. That’s what makes them who they are, not the year that they were born.

Large Age Gap Relationships: Talk Openly About Life Goals

Don’t assume your partner wants the same things as you without asking. Older partners may be more ready for a serious relationship than younger partners or may have a more clear picture of what they want their life to look like in 5 years. They may have accomplished more of their career goals and be ready to get married and start a family sooner than their younger counterparts. Be specific about your intentions when dating and make sure you are on the same page from the get go.

This advice really goes for any relationship, but especially those with a significant age gap. If you are dating just for fun, without looking for anything serious, it’s best to let your date know that right off the bat. If one person is ready to settle down and the other is just looking for some company for now, the relationship isn’t likely to work out. And PLEASE, if he tells you that he doesn’t want a relationship, BELIEVE HIM! And if he tells you he’s not sure what he wants out of a relationship yet, take that as a clue that you aren’t on the same page. You don’t need to be the one who turns him around. Instead focus on finding someone who is at the same psychological place that you are.

big age gap in relationship

 

Do Some Research: TV Shows With Age Gap Relationships

Sometimes, when you are wondering how to make this age gap relationship work, it can be helpful to do some research. You’re reading this article so clearly you’ve already started that process. Good work! If you know couples who have a similar age gap to you and your partner, I’d suggest chatting with them about how they are navigating the differences. Every couple is different but you may find some similarities and helpful suggestions. At the very least, It’s nice to talk to someone who understands your situation.

Don’t know anyone like that in real life? There are lots of TV shows that depict age gap relationships that you could watch as research too. Many focus on older men dating younger women after some kind of major life change. (Mid-life crisis, anyone?)

A great example is Modern Family. In the show, Jay is a man in his 50’s or 60’s married to a beautiful younger wife named Gloria. Sprinkled throughout the show, the couple has sporadic discussions about common concerns such as Jay feeling insecure that Gloria will leave him for someone closer to her age as he gets older. 

A new-ish kind of age gap relationship to watch on TV is one where the woman is older and the man is younger. A classic version of this happens in “Gossip Girl” when Nate, one of the main characters, has an affair with a beautiful, older, married, woman. As you probably expected, this doesn’t end well, but it’s definitely entertaining!

Another show featuring an older woman and a younger man is appropriately called “Younger,” starring Sutton Foster and Hilary Duff. Not only does this show have an awesome cast and incredibly witty writing, but it also plays with the idea of age in a really big way.

The main character is a 40 something housewife from New Jersey who pretends to be 26 in order to land a New York City job in publishing. Her lie takes her all kinds of crazy places, including dating a hot, young 20 something guy who couldn’t be sweeter. Watching her pretend to be in a same age relationship, while really being in a 20 year age gap relationship is filled with hilarity.

Watching shows like this together with your partner will not only lighten the mood, but it might spark important conversations between the two of you about what your age gap means to you. Plus, it will help you remember that you aren’t alone in this world of age gap relationships. 

Age Gap Relationships: Find Common Ground

The truth is, there is no ideal age gap in a relationship. Whether it’s a 20 year age gap relationship or a 5 year gap, there will be both challenges and benefits to your situation. 

My age gap relationship advice?

Make the most out of the benefits! 

You aren’t obsessing over your own age every minute of the day (hopefully), so why would you obsess over your partner’s?

While you may have some difficulty getting movie references or pop culture jokes from your partner, find something that you do have in common. Even better, make up your own private jokes and laugh your way into relationship bliss. Laughter is good for the soul and laughing together can make you feel, well, ageless. 

If you would like to talk about how to improve your relationship, with or without an age gap, contact me. I’m here to help!

Signs of a Codependent Relationship & How To Fix It

Signs of a Codependent Relationship & How To Fix It

Do you worry more about your partner than you do yourself? Do you find yourself trying to control his or her behavior by manipulating him or her? Are you constantly making excuses for things that he or she does? Do you hide the things that your partner does from your friends, because you know that they would tell you to get the heck out of there if they knew the truth?

 

If so, you may be suffering from codependency.  

 

What Does It Mean To Be Codependent

 

What Does It Mean To Be Codependent

 

Codependency, or being codependent occurs when you are so consumed by what your partner is doing that you forget to focus on yourself. Many times, codependency happens in response to being with a partner who has some kind of addiction or a mental illness. The addiction could be to alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, food, the internet, or video games. It doesn’t matter what kind of addiction it is, only that the addiction takes your partner away from you and makes him focus only on themselves. The types of mental illness that often attract or create partners with codependency are personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and others.

 

Signs of a Codependent Relationship

 

Codependency can show up in many different ways. If you aren’t sure if you are in a codependent relationship, here are some checklist items to consider:

 

  • Do you often cover for your partner so that he/she won’t face negative consequences of his/her behavior?
  • Do you make excuses for your partner’s behaviors?
  • Are you in denial that your partner has a substance abuse problem or mental illness?
  • Are you aware that your partner has a substance abuse problem or mental illness but you are afraid to ask him/her to get help for fear they will get mad or leave you?
  • Do you tell yourself things like, “Well, he only drinks after 5pm, so he’s fine,” even though he has to drink every night? Or downplay the fact that he watches porn everyday and there is a lack of intimacy between the 2 of you?
  • Do you make excuses for your partner’s verbally, physically or emotionally abusive behavior towards you and others?
  • Do you clean up after his/her messes, both literally and figuratively? 
  • Do you walk on eggshells so as not to upset your volatile partner?
  • Do you find yourself worrying about your partner often? Wondering what he/she is doing but afraid to ask? Or snooping to find out.
  • Do you feel unable to function and obsessing about your relationship when you and your partner aren’t getting along?
  • Do you put your partner’s needs before your own?
  • Do you have trouble setting boundaries with your partner?
  • Do you find yourself giving your partner ultimatums that you never intend to follow through with because you are so desperate to get him/her to change their behavior?

 

signs of a codependent relationship

 

Over Dependence In Relationships

 

If you are in a relationship with someone with an addiction or a mental illness, chances are you’ve experienced some of the behaviors above. You probably feel like your world revolves around your partner and their emotions and you are constantly walking on eggshells trying to manage their reactions. Just as the addicted person is addicted to alcohol, so the codependent person is addicted to the addict.

 

Let that sink in.

 

Being codependent means that you are addicted to your addicted person. Just like alcohol (or drugs or porn or video games) temporarily takes him away from his problems, focusing on him, temporarily takes you away from yours.

 

Think about it: If you are always focused on what your addicted person is doing or feeling, you can’t focus on yourself. You avoid having to be conscious of your own behaviors. Sure, you might be neglecting your own needs, or “not having time” to work on your own goals, but it would be selfish to focus on yourself and your problems when your partner is so much worse off, right?

 

Wrong.

 

The energy that you are spending trying to “fix” your alcoholic-addicted-liar-narcissistic-partner is going nowhere. Whatever problem your partner is having is not something that you can cure or control. In fact, the more you do for him or her, the less they will do for themselves. That’s why we call it enabling when a codependent person makes excuses or cleans up metaphorical (or literal) messiness for an addicted or mentally ill person. Even though you think you are helping, you are actually making it easier for the addicted person to continue his behavior without experiencing the natural consequences that should be happening.

 

 

Why Are People Codependent?

 

Many people who find themselves in a codependent relationship grew up in a home with a parent with an addiction or mental illness. They learned to tune in to that unhealthy parent’s emotions in an effort to predict when interacting with the parent was safe and when it was not. Addict and mentally ill parents are often unstable and unpredictable, both emotionally and physically. As a result, children of such parents learn to walk on eggshells and make their needs scarce in order to keep the parent calm and happy. This was an adaptive response as a child and often helps a child survive or stay out of danger in an unstable home.

 

Someone who grew up like that often becomes codependent. A codependent is the ideal partner for an addict or someone with a personality disorder because they have a much higher tolerance for abusive or unstable behavior, they are used to ignoring their own needs to cater to a difficult person, and they are often attracted to the familiar (albeit unhealthy) feeling of living with an unstable person. Recreating the environment of childhood in our romantic relationships is our unconscious mind’s way of trying to heal our childhood wounds

 

How To Fix a Codependent Relationship

 

How To Stop being Codependent In My Relationship: Focus On Your Own Self-Esteem

 

Pay attention to the way that you talk to yourself. Replace negative self-thoughts like, “I am not good enough,” with positive ones like, “I am worthy of love just as I am.” Focus on your strengths instead of your limitations. Try to see failures as opportunities for growth, and for the love of llamas stop blaming yourself for what your partner does!! You are not their keeper. 

 

If you find that it is a pattern for you to get involved with people with addictions, it’s okay to explore whether you might be a “fixer,” but do it with self-love. Try to be curious, rather than judgmental about your patterns. Most likely this is something that started in your childhood (as described above) and it’s not your fault. I know it can be scary to look at your own patterns, but it’s well worth it. If you want to start that journey, it’s definitely something that we can work on in therapy.

 

One of the things that I like to do with my clients is to help them learn to “re-parent” themselves. Basically, you learn how to relate to yourself as if you were the responsible, loving parent that you never had. It might sound kooky, but it really works.

 

How Do I Stop Being Codependent In A Relationship? Let Consequences Happen

 

If your partner is going to be late for work because he’s been pulled over for a DUI, don’t lie to his boss for him. Let the natural consequences of his actions take place. Sometimes, the only way an addict can get better is by hitting “rock bottom,” and that can’t happen if someone is always covering for them. 

 

Sometimes, it will feel extreme to let these consequences happen. For example, if you have to kick your spouse out of the house, you might feel like a horrible person. You aren’t! I’ve even known mothers who have had to stand by and watch while their children go to jail. This isn’t easy, but the alternative is to continue to block the lessons that the addicted person desperately needs to learn to feel motivated to change.

 

How To Stop Being A Codependent Enabler: Know Your Boundaries

 

Realize that “NO.” is a complete sentence. Recognize what your limits are and stick to them. One way to do this is to scan your body for your own feelings. Know when something makes you uncomfortable and give yourself permission to put a stop to it, even if it might make your partner upset. Learn to give priority to your own feelings of comfort, instead of constantly trying to please your partner.

 

Setting healthy boundaries is one way of truly loving yourself. Many times people who tend to ignore boundaries are drawn to those who don’t know how to set them. Don’t expect your partner to know when your buttons are being pushed. You have to be willing to say “NO,” and mean it.

 

Stop Being Codependent: Focus On Yourself

 

This is a big one. Get to know yourself better. Find out what you like and what you don’t and take steps to fill your life with more of what you like. Make plans with friends and don’t wait until you know your partner is unavailable to make plans! Make sure that you are practicing self-care (eating well, exercising, getting enough rest, etc.) and allow time to find hobbies that you enjoy that don’t involve your partner.

 

It’s very healthy to have interests outside of your romantic relationship. Some people worry that this could ruin their relationships, but the opposite is actually true. Having individual interests makes each person in the relationship feel better about themselves, and this helps to make a healthier couple. Plus, when you have your own jam, you have more exciting things to talk about when you do spend time with your partner.

 

 

How To Stop Codependency: Reach Out

 

Above all, know that there is help available! Try reading one of Melody Beattie’s works like her groundbreaking book, “Codependent No More,” which has helped millions. Or, find an Al-Anon meeting, which is a sister meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, for partners and loved ones of those suffering with addictions.

 

Knowing that you aren’t in this situation alone is a very powerful tool. It can help you to feel less isolated, and it might even help you recognize others who do the same things that you do. This will help you become aware of why you think and feel that way that you do. It’s extremely healing to realize why you act the way that you do; this is what we call “becoming conscious,” and it’s the pathway to emotional freedom.  

 

If you think that you may be in a codependent relationship, contact me. I’m here to help!