Enactments in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: An Evidence-based Intervention to Heal Your Relationship

Enactments in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: An Evidence-based Intervention to Heal Your Relationship

If you’ve worked with an emotionally focused therapy (EFT) couples therapist, you might be familiar with enactments. It’s that moment when the therapist asks you to turn to your partner and tell them something that you’ve just told the therapist. For many people, this feels a bit silly or awkward at first. At times, clients will often say, “I just said that, so she knows. Why do I have to say it again?”

And they are right–it makes sense that it seems unnecessary! It’s common for clients to say that it feels uncomfortable or annoying to turn to their partner and share a version of what they’ve just said to the therapist. Some clients even say that they dislike doing it. So, why do we do it over and over again? 

Research shows that enactments are one of the most effective, evidence-based interventions in EFT. Enactments create second-order change. It’s a change that shifts you to a new way of doing things. 

Distress and the Negative Cycle

Couples seek therapy because something in the relationship isn’t working. In their worst moments, they are caught in a negative cycle in which they end up hurting each other. Usually, the very thing that one is doing to try to help the relationship is the very thing that drives the other away. 

For example, John might read every relationship book he can find and then tell Ellen all the ways that she needs to change. On the inside, he might be feeling desperate and alone. But, on the outside, what Ellen sees is reactive emotion (anger and frustration) and behavior (constantly prodding her to change). She doesn’t see that he is trying to fix the relationship and be close to her. Instead, she hears, “You’re not good enough.”

When Ellen hears this, she thinks, “He’s judgmental, he doesn’t see all the things I do to try to make him happy”. Then, she withdraws or shuts down because that’s the way she’s learned to cope when she’s overwhelmed. The more that Ellen shuts down, the more desperate John feels. The cycle goes around and around.

This negative cycle looks different for each couple, but the outcome is the same: distress. Often, the parts of the negative cycle remain the same, whether you are arguing about the dishwasher, intimacy, money, or something else. So, you might be arguing about the dishwasher, but there’s something deeper going on. It’s really about the feelings underneath and unmet attachment needs, longings, and fears.

EFT therapists work with you to map the negative cycle that occurs between you and your partner. They help you to understand the primary emotions that are happening underneath the reactivity and behaviors. 

There are good reasons why you react and behave the way that you do! John is probably great at fixing things. It likely serves him well in his workplace and other areas of his life. However, in his relationship with Ellen, the negative cycle twists his attempts to fix the relationship. Instead, his actions send a hurtful message to the person he loves the most.

How Emotionally Focused Therapy and Enactments Help You and Your Partner

Enactments are a way to send a clear signal to your partner, step out of the negative cycle, and practice a different way of communicating. In EFT couples sessions, therapists are on the lookout for something new/different, something soft, or something vulnerable to shape into an enactment. If John tells his therapist, “I’m just so lonely and all I want is to feel close to Ellen”. That’s a perfect moment for the therapist to help John share this with Ellen using an enactment. 

During the enactment, John has an experience of sending a clear message. Ellen gets to have a different experience with John, one where he’s sharing something vulnerable directly with her. It might touch her heart and cause her to reach for him. Or she might struggle to take it in, feel angry that he hasn’t shared this before, or have another reaction. That’s okay. 

The therapist is there to help process the enactment so both partners feel safe, seen, and held. It’s a process of learning and growing that we undertake together. The more enactments we do, the more likely lasting change will happen.

Enactments are an Important Evidence-Based Intervention

Enactments don’t have to be perfect to be effective. A 2022 study by Julia Conroy et al. at the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas measured the heart rates of couples during EFT sessions as a biometric indicator of synchronicity and emotional co-regulation. They found the couples were most biometrically in sync and able to co-regulate when sharing enactments more than at any other point in the sessions. 

In EFT, our goal is to replace the negative cycle with a positive one. To teach you to safely share your attachment longings, fears, and hurts and for you and your partner to be able to hold space for each other. We want you to experience bonding moments. Enactments are the secret sauce in the EFT recipe.

So the next time your therapist asks you to turn to your partner and share something via an enactment, what have you got to lose? Go for it! You might just start to gain exactly what you long for…

Experience transformation in your relationship with Lukin Center’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Our expert therapists use enactments to help couples break free from negative cycles to nurture positive change that enhances emotional intimacy and understanding. 

Don’t let distress and misunderstandings hold your relationship back. Join us at Lukin Center. We provide personalized, evidence-based interventions designed to heal and strengthen bonds.

Ready to revitalize your connection? Contact Lukin Center today to start your journey towards a healthier, more fulfilling relationship. Let’s heal, grow, and thrive together.