It was Mike Martin’s affair that finally led him and his wife, Katie, to my office for couples counseling. But the betrayal was a symptom of a deeper problem in their 19-year marriage. “He felt like he wasn’t getting his emotional needs met at home,” says Katie, 45, a teacher in Richmond, Virginia. “Maybe that’s because he was never here! He was a workaholic and didn’t come home until midnight every night–for years.” When Katie told Mike she wanted to spend more time together, he would pull out his calendar and say, “How’s lunch next Thursday?” Katie recalls. “I felt neglected and over time I withdrew emotionally. Between his not being there in person and my not being there in spirit, we just stopped being able to get close.”
The Martins were perfect candidates for EFT, an approach to marital counseling that seeks to re-create a sense of connection between partners. Unlike the traditional cognitive-behavioral approach, which focuses on teaching communication skills, EFT hinges on getting partners to recognize that they’re both emotionally dependent on the other for love, comfort, support and protection, much like a child depends on a parent. In my sessions with couples, we get to the heart of the matter: the need for emotional security. Because without that security, asking troubled couples to trust and confide in each other is like asking people standing at the edge of a cliff and staring down a 2,000-foot drop to use their skills of listening and empathy–they can’t, because they’re too busy feeling afraid.