There are various methods that can be used such as: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Behavioral Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), created Dr. Sue Johnson, is an effective form of couples counseling because it looks at the role attachment plays in relationships.
Attachment is an important component of interpersonal relationships because it involves a person’s ability to trust; initially their caregivers and eventually their partners. Healthy attachment in relationships creates a comforting feeling of safe haven and stability. Dr. Johnson suggests relationships have inherent questions that healthy attachment can answer, such as: “Are you there for me?”; “Will you respond when I need you?”; and “Can I depend on you?”
In a long-term relationship, sex acts as a form of attachment for couples, helping them feel safe and connected.
The article “Integrating Sex and Attachment in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy”, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy in 2009, explores how Emotionally Focused Therapy can address and treat sexual problems in a relationship.
There are the three key take aways from this article:
Each Partner’s Response to the Problem Can Prolong the Problem
Each partner experiences their own individual distress from a sexual problem in the relationship which results in patterns of “critical demand” or “defensive withdrawal.” One partner becomes focused on their performance, while the other focuses on wanting reassurance and affection. This results in both partners feeling alienated and distant so that they cannot discuss the sexual problem without anger, anxiety and silence. As this pattern continues, the couples cannot find a way out, and the sexual problem has no solution.
The first step in EFT would be to help the couple recognize this pattern and how the partners are contributing to it. The therapist would create a pathway for the couple to discuss how the pattern has affected their relationship and help create positive emotional responses.
Securely Attached Partners in a Long-Term Relationship Can Avoid Sexual Boredom
Familiarity and routine in a long-term relationship can cause partners to feel a longing for the passion they experienced in the beginning. Quite often couples blame the longevity for the reduction in the excitement in their sexual live. But sexual satisfaction should not be attributed to techniques or to frequency. Instead, satisfying sex and a feeling of relationship security reinforce each other. A goal of EFT is to help couples be accessible, responsive and engaged.
Attachment theory can help reignite the security in a relationship. An EFT therapist teaches partners how to speak their deepest emotions and how to respond empathetically. When couples feel they can fully express and fully listen to these emotions they become more attuned to their partners and more responsive. The intimacy they create through communication extends to the couples’ love making.
There is an Aspect of Self-Protection in a Relationship’s Sexual Problems
Two of the most common sexual disorders are Interest/Arousal Disorder in women and Erectile Dysfunction in men. Both of these disorders have the potential to cause feelings of rejection, feelings of inadequacy and performance anxiety. A man or woman can become preoccupied with protecting themselves from these negative feelings, and develop strategies to defend themselves. They may avoid sex, or try to finish quickly, which can cause premature ejaculation in men. A preoccupation with self-protection inhibits a secure attachment between partners and interferes with the relaxation needed for satisfying sex.
EFT dismantles defense strategies to help re-establish the secure attachment in the relationship. This can be done by tracking and reflecting the sequence of interaction between the couple. Couples learn of the maladaptive patterns that are being triggered and reinforced in the relationship and how to diffuse them.
Normalizing the sexual disorder is also recommended in the article, to remove feelings of inadequacy contributing to self-protection. It is quite common for a man to lose his erection after a 40 minute love making session. It is also common for the majority of women to not reach orgasm from penetration alone. Validating the partner in this way helps them feel safe to sexually engage with their partner.
EFT is effective because it is designed to look at the conflicts and distance interfering with feelings of closeness in the relationship. No more is this more important than when couples struggle to be sexually close and satisfied. The strategies couples learn from EFT help them create “in-synch” responses to navigate the frustrations and maintain a stable safe haven.
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