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Emotionally Focused Therapy homework while you are participating in couples counseling

The primary goal of Emotionally Focused Therapy is that it leads to a second order change which eventually results in a bonding

event and eventual secure attachment. The bonding event doesn’t occur until later in the therapeutic process. Before bonding occurs, couples still experience their negative cycle often which is fueled by anger, fear, and unmet attachment needs and it can limit their ability to communicate and reach for each other.

Given that distressed couples have an active negative cycle, they can be limited in their ability to communicate about basic things, let alone be playful, creative and have fun.

Many couples enter therapy quite escalated with a lot of emotional distress and giving homework might fuel the negative cycle or negative interactions which is simply not helpful.

Your Emotionally Focused therapist will not give you homework that you can’t do. We don’t want to create more feelings of failure or blame in our couples. So if you haven’t been able to “turn and tell” partner something in session, it is unlikely that your therapist would give you homework that involves talking through a difficult content area at home.

Some therapy disciplines offer homework as part of their process. Given that Emotionally Focused Therapy is an experiential model, it means the major interventions occur the during the couple therapy sessions. In fact, change happens early on through attunement, responsiveness, and empathy from your therapist, not your partner. We call this co-regulation which is part of attachment theory.

Given that Emotion-Focused Therapy is an experiential therapy co-regulation is experienced in real time right in session with your partner. The therapy actively engages you both to help change negative patterns within the relationship. The eventual goal is to have you co-regulate with your partner, but early in therapy it is not expected that couples will be able to do so.

Another important tool that you will learn and experience is deeper and more meaningful conversations. These create connection between partners.

Homework in Emotionally Focused Therapy is usually meant to bring about self-awareness.

Early in the therapeutic process your therapist might ask you to pay attention to the physical sensations in your body when you are caught in your negative cycle and feeling distressed. Then to contrast that with how you feel when you are getting along well.

Sometimes couples have a hard time noticing how they feel when they are distressed or even remembering to think about it. This will provide valuable information about whether it is worthwhile to continue this type of homework.

Understanding your part of the negative cycle:

The focus isn’t on assigning blame to one person. You and your partner each play a role in the relationship dynamic. It is helpful to understand your side rather than focusing on your partner. These questions are meant to create more awareness:

Self-Reflection Questions:

Please give these questions some thought and write down your responses.

  • When you’re in this awful place of disconnection, how do you cope?

  • What do you do when you’re thinking these things about self/partner/relationship?

  • If you feel like you must defend/protect yourself, how do you do this?

  • Do you pull away? Do you try to close the gap?

  • Do you get blaming and critical? What emotion do you bring to your reactions?

  • When you’re caught in this negative place, it’s common to lose touch with what you really need to feel connected with your partner. What do you long for in your relationship?

  • How do you wish you felt with your partner?

  • Do you share these longings and needs in a direct, clear and open way?


Often when couples don’t know how to come together to address pain, problems, attachment injuries or needs in the relationship, they default to a negative inner dialogue/story. This story isn’t just made-up; it comes from real and painful experience.

When you’re feeling disconnected and triggered, what do you tell yourself about your partner, yourself, and your relationship?

  1. What I think/tell myself about my partner:

  2. My inner dialogue about myself and my part in the problems:

  3. What I think/tell myself about our relationship:

  4. Triggers or reminders:

    1. What are your triggers?

    2. What alerts you to a sense of distance, disconnection, or lack of trust in your partner?

  5. Emotional and felt reactions:

    1. What emotions come up first for you when you feel triggered?

    2. What happens to you physically when you feel this distance, disconnect, or tension in your relationship?

    3. How do you feel in your body?

    4. Where do you feel the feelings? In your chest? In your stomach? Is your face flushed?

Some final thoughts on homework, as you reflect and become accountable, these answers can help you make sense of what you feel, what you think, and why you react in the ways you do when you’re feeling disconnected in your relationship.

Remember that your feelings, thoughts, and reactions likely have an unintended negative impact on your partner and your relationship.

Be aware that your reactions if they are defensive, withdrawing, attacking, critical, explaining, or justifying are likely triggering to your partner into a further state of disconnection and distrust.

Consider how might your reactions, thoughts, and feelings contribute to the lack of emotional safety and connection? How do they perpetuate the problem?

Bring these thoughts to your next therapy appointment and share them with your couples therapist.

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