Making Meaning of the Dance: A Journey Through the Couple Cycle


“From the cradle to the grave, humans desire a certain someone who will look out for them, notice and value them, soothe their wounds, reassure them in life’s difficult places, and hold them in the dark.”
The practice of Emotionally focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection by Sue M. Johnson

The Tango, The Charleston, The Swing, and The Cha-Cha. Yes, I know these are famous dances, but I would like to talk about another kind of dance. Within a relationship we all long to move toward our partner. To sway in the rhythm of passion, and desire. We long to feel the power of true connection that comes with being able to say “I need”, and get a loving and empathetic response in return. The dance I’m speaking of is the common relational exchange called the Emotionally-focused Couples Therapy Cycle. Emotionally-Focused Therapy or EFT as it is commonly referred to was the forward and remarkable thinking of Dr. Sue Johnson. In the 1980’s very little in therapy was being done to explore the scientific concept of adult attachment, which is a stark contrast to this same time period when so much emphasis was being placed on the continued study of childhood attachment theories and models. As Sue begun to delve into the attachment science, she began to see a potentially incredible model that could not only address attachment injuries both from childhood, and adulthood, but could systematically uncover relationship fractures, and invoke new and lasting connections. According to the ICEEFT website using the EFT model leads to couples being to move from distress to recovery 70-75% while 90% of couples showed significant improvements.

So how does this beautiful, and empirically proven model work? Well then, let’s begin!!

EFT is made-up of 3 stages i.e; Assessment and Cycle De-escalation, changing interaction patterns, and creating new bonds, and consolidation, and integration.


  1. Ascertain primary concerns, and set couples goals. Then, explore relational history.

  2. Interactions, and patterns are explored, and delineated. Therapist supports and assists in seeing historical interplays that have negatively impacted the coupling.

  3. Partners comprehend attachment-related emotions. Couple first acknowledges covered emotions, and feelings, and discuss those emotions, feelings, and behaviors with their partner.

  4. Couple and therapist with analyze cycle, triggers, and behavior output which results in two defined roles which are pursuer, and withdrawer. Therapist will also be mindful to notice, and name triggers present in the cycle.


  1. Space is created for transparency in order to state attachment needs, for which partner had not received in the past, which cause bond fracture.

  2. Couple develops the ability to compassionately respond to identified needs, and begin to accept the hurt, longing, and emotions that have been impacted by their partner.

  3. As cycle awareness increases, and new cycle, and interactional goals are practiced new conversations and interactions present themselves, which increases likelihood of bonding experiences.


  1. Couple integrates techniques, communication, and transparency, as they discuss the old cycle, and practice the new one. Practice is done outside the sessions in their own environment that exposes them to their domain that has been a potential trigger. Work with the therapist explores issues that came from those practices, and post conversations.

  2. With heightened awareness of skills, and deeper bonds couple and therapist focus on the celebrating efforts, and future methods to enhance new found rituals. To safeguard couples success, and decrease history of emotional breaks safety risks are addressed and prepared for.

Real-life example:

In an EFT therapy session, a wife pursues her avoidant and emotionally absent husband. Her protest becomes a sense of loneliness, abandonment, and sadness that she no longer feels connected to her spouse. In the past she felt that she was assertive, and asking for her needs to be met, by demanding, yelling, screaming, and sometimes becoming violent. Over a period of time, her protests turn to withdrawal, as her pleads go unanswered, and she is tired of getting so big to be seen, but yet still remains invisible. “I want to be wanted, loved, and cherished”, so please stop avoiding me, walking away, and pretending that my yelling doesn’t mean more.

Her husband’s stark hallow shell, becomes empty, but rumbles underneath as a fire, and a quiet storm brews behind a cold and distant face. The separation turns from heartbreak to fury, as he doesn’t understand why his wife hates him so much and just wants to yell at him all the time. “I walk away because it hurts”! “I leave because my space no longer feels safe, and threatens any bit of quiet we have left”. “Why can’t you just see, that you are tearing us a part”.

She has grown, learned, and observed the hurt, and pain that both her and her partner are experiencing. This shared pain has given her a new perspective, and has gotten her closer to a man that she felt was lost. She has discovered that she can still be seen as she quiets the storm of her own pain, and brings her partner closer and shows him that loneliness that brought her right to the edge. He has found the passion, and strength to expose his vulnerability and deep need to be loved, and comforted without fear. His transformation travels from “you don’t care, and your cruelty is just too much”, to “this is really hard, for me, but I want to trust this feeling”. “Please be with me, and make me feel safe within this relationship”.

New cycles of closeness contact interactions appear and dissipate previously established cycles, criticize-defend or pursue-withdraw, withdrawer reengagement, or pursuer softening. As the partners experience the cycles together in safety and empathy these behaviors are reinforces, which leads to a positive and permanent change. Space for healing, and a new sense of having a brand-new safe haven sparks connectedness, and fulfillment previously missing.

“EFT can be thought of as a postmodern therapy in that EFT therapists help clients deconstruct problems and responses by bringing marginalized aspects of reality into focus, probing for the not-yet spoken, and integrating elements of a couple’s reality that have gone un-storied.”
Becoming an Emotionally focused Couple Therapist: The workbook by Susan M. Johnson

Guest post written by Jamie Benson MFT-C, M.Ed, EFCT

Guest post written by Jamie Benson MFT-C, M.Ed, EFCT

Jamie Benson MAMFT, MFT-C, EFCT, M.Ed has been providing therapeutic services to Denver area children, adults, couples and families since 2015. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage, Couples, and Family therapy, as well as a Masters Degree in Education with an emphasis on Applied Behavior Analysis. Jamie currently works at Allhealth Network in Littleton Colorado and her work is centered around at-risk populations, including human trafficking, homelessness, human services, PO/probation, and substance abuse.

Adult Attachment: Creating Connections from Childhood


I panic when I don’t hear from them. I just want to be left alone. I want to reassure them that I’m here for them. These statements may capture several examples of responses from clients in your office engaging in work around their relationships. One powerful perspective on the functioning dynamics of intimate partner relationships is to look through the lens of attachment. In other words, by exploring childhood attachment and how it sets the foundation for interaction within relationships, we can experience an increased sense of awareness on how attachment translates to current relationships from needs being met or ignored in our early childhood experience.


Bonding Background

The study of attachment can first be linked to Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby in the 1970s. Mary Ainsworth devised the Strange Situation, an experiment that placed babies in a lab with their attachment figure/parent and observed reaction in the baby as a stranger entered the room, as well as each baby’s ability to be soothed when the parent left the room and later returned. Based on Ainsworth’s research findings, we were able to identify three types of attachment: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Mary Main, another colleague, later identified a fourth type of attachment called disorganized to capture responses that were inconsistent and unpredictable when exploring a baby and their attachment figure.  


Attachment Attributes

Secure attachment in childhood looks like a distressed infant that is easily comforted when the attachment figure engages them, such as picking them up and soothing them with soft voice, physical touch, and proximity. In adulthood, the secure attachment individual is highly desired for their ability to reassure their partner and present as calm, grounded, and confident in the relationship. Anxious attachment in children can be portrayed as significantly distressed when the parent exits the room, with increased difficulty to receive soothing or reassurance when the parent returns. In adult relationships, the anxious attachment individual’s anxiety prevents them from feeling reassured in the relationship and can drive their behaviors to present as needy, anxious, and sometimes paranoid that the relationship will fail or that they aren’t “good enough” for the relationship to work.  Lastly, the avoidant attachment type in childhood will manifest in a baby as unaffected, cold, disconnected, and unconcerned with the parent leaving the room as well as an inclination to self-soothe, such as engaging in thumb sucking or playing with toys independently. The avoidant attached child has learned to rely only on themselves in not having the parent fully present, which can occur when parents are working long hours away from the child, are inconsistent in their reactions to soothe the child, or can occur in response to a parent’s mental illness such as depression preventing interaction and ability to attach in healthy ways.  In adults, avoidant attachment continues the theme of self-sufficiency and “not needing anyone” in a relationship, preventing them from connecting at a deeper level with others and can be portrayed as reluctance to commit to a serious relationship.


Linking to Literature

With John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory in mind, Amir Levine wrote an insightful book called Attached, that explores intimate partner attachment more deeply and offers examples of adult behaviors that can provide insight or identification of attachment styles. For client use, there are also helpful YouTube videos that can provide a brief overview of adult attachment such as the one found here. Another author, Stan Tatkin, took the idea of attachment a step further by providing symbolic representation of attachment that can also help one identify their attachment style.

Secure Attachment: An Anchor

Anxious Attachment: A Wave

Avoidant Attachment: An Island  

The imagery associated with attachment styles can help a client identify their reactions and resulting behaviors in intimate relationships, as well as assist them in identifying their partner’s attachment style and needs.


Creating Connection

In supporting your clients with exploring their attachment, you may find yourself pursuing additional training, such as Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) that encourages vulnerable connection in couples and supports healing of attachment wounds. Or perhaps you link your attachment work to Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages or communication and connection strategies from John Gottman’s training for couples’ work. Whatever means you choose to further dive into attachment needs, educating your clients on the possibility of positive shifts, such as moving to more secure attachment with their partners, can support movement towards healthier relationships. Levine and Tatkin emphasize that relationship attachment can shift and a person can present differently in each romantic relationship over their lifetime. With this in mind, exploring attachment can support your clients in discovering their own attachment styles as well as assist them in connecting and fostering healthy attachment in their intimate partner relationships.