Relationship and Couples Therapy experts in Northern VA

The EFT approach to couples therapy: Why the fight about the dishwasher is rarely about the dishwasher

Do you feel important to your partner? Strong relationships hinge on the answer to this question.

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Lasting love isn’t a mystery. Weathering storms, differences, and perpetual problems are possible when we feel important to one another. When our emotional connection is strong, our relationship is strong.

However, when our emotional connects erodes, whether over time or all of a sudden, relationship distress sets in. Feeling like we can’t count on one another limits our ability to work through challenges together, even small bumps in the road.

Fights about the dishwasher, finances, and kids, can become minefields when we’re not on the same team. Some couples end up stuck on the minefield, dealing with one explosion after another, while others begin to avoid the minefield, and each other, entirely.

In EFT, we use the latest neuroscience on adult attachment and emotional regulation to help couples rebuild their emotional connection. Couples learn a whole new way of responding and repairing with one another, so their connection stays strong.

But let’s back-up. What destroys the connection between partners? How do we go from feeling loved and important to unsure or convinced that our partner doesn’t care?

In EFT, we believe demon dialogues are to blame.

What’s a demon dialogue? According to Dr. Sue Johnson, the co-founder of EFT, demon dialogues are rigid, negative, relationship patterns that scramble the emotional signals between partners and push them further apart. In moments of hurt, miscommunication, conflict, or stress, we need a way to reach and repair with our partner. If we can’t mend the inevitable rifts—our connection suffers. Love researchers have found that couples with the highest rates of distress and divorce struggle with repair. Unable to quickly and easily get back on track with one another, couples get caught in a painful cycle of disconnection that can actually take over the relationship.

Here are the most common relationship demon dialogues:

  • Find the Bad Guy: In moments of hurt or conflict, both partners will defend themselves by turning up the emotional heat and going on the attack. If there’s a lot of finger pointing, name calling, and never-ending litigation of “who is right and who is wrong”, you might be caught in this cycle. Couples get so caught up in determining who is at fault, they never end up reconnecting with one another.

  • The Protest Polka: In moments of hurt or conflict, one partner turns up the emotional heat, in essence protesting the lack of connection and raising the alarm bell, while the other partner tries to turn down the emotional intensity by avoiding and shutting down. As each partner tries to cope, either through desperate protest or shutting down, they get stuck in a viscous cycle. The more one partner shuts down, the more their partner pursues. The more one partner pursues, the more their partner numbs out and turns away. In their desperation, they actually end up pushing each other away. This is the most common relationship pattern found among couples in therapy.

  • Freeze and Flee: Both partners hate the heat and avoid conflict. As a couple, they excel at brushing things under the rug. Fighting is rare and fleeting when it happens. The lack of outward conflict may seem like a positive thing, but the lack of authenticity limits the emotional connection. Couples can live this way for years, but often a big stressor or life change can suddenly make it clear that all of the “not talking” has them alone and unable to lean on one another.

Even though demon dialogues show up early in a relationship, they do their greatest damage over time. When you and your partner keep getting stuck in the same spot, hurt builds and trust can be lost. Sometimes the pain and hopelessness get so big that partners stop trying all together. They may turn to someone else, throw themselves into their work, or cope with compulsive behaviors.

Most of us will recognize our relationship in one of these demon dialogues. We want you to know that finding the demon dialogue in your relationship isn’t a fatal blow to your relationship, it’s the chance to start anew. If you can learn your negative cycle, you have a chance to stop it.

In EFT (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy) we can help you discover the negative cycle that keeps you stuck. Instead of fighting one another, you can focus on fighting the pattern. You can learn to reach and repair with one another. This is the foundation for a new, positive cycle between you and your loved one. Even if your connection was severely impacted by an affair or terribly painful relationship moment, you can regain trust and move forward together.

There really is hope. You are good folks caught in a bad pattern—let us help you find the way out, together.

Your Questions Answered

Below you will find answers to our client’s most common questions

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what type of therapy is EFT?

EFT (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy) is a comprehensive and empirically validated treatment model based on the neuroscience of attachment and emotion. Created over 25 years ago by Dr. Sue Johnson and colleagues, EFT has countless studies proving that it helps a wide range of couples. In fact, EFT outperforms every other couples therapy model, not only during treatment but even after couples therapy ends. You can read a synopsis of EFT literature by clicking here


What makes Eft special?

It's a proven couples therapy model, not a mashup of different skills and theories randomly thrown together.

It decodes love. The latest neuroscience on attachment and emotion make the mystery of love less mysterious. Using this science, we have a whole new understanding of why couples get distressed and a clear way to help foster relationship repair. We get to the heart of the matter.

It doesn't just help with one type of problem. EFT helps a wide range of couples dealing with all types of relationship issues.

It's humanizing. We believe all human behavior makes sense, if you're willing to linger and be curious. For too long, therapy has focused on pathology, instead of our humanity.


What makes your practice special?

We are passionate about what we do and focused on doing it well. We’ve spent years training and practicing in couples therapy, and couples work makes up the bulk of our practice. We are both Certified EFT Couples Therapists and Supervisors. Only a handful of therapists in Virginia have achieved both of these rigorous certifications. Melissa is the former Assistant Director at The Washington Baltimore Center for EFT, where she trained hundreds of therapists in EFT couples therapy, and Jill has been leading the development of EFT with individuals in the Washington Baltimore metro area. When other therapists want to learn EFT couples therapy, they come to us for help.

Beyond certifications and training, we are most proud of our authenticity and tenacity. We work hard and have big hearts. We don’t know how to do therapy without being transparent and real. Our couples know we’ll fight for them. We are pro-relationship, and we want you to succeed. Through the years, we repeatedly hear from our clients that being in therapy with us is like, “sitting with a real person” instead of a stiff professional. We believe this makes a huge difference.


Do you have experience with affairs?

Yes. We regularly guide couples through the recovery process. Our clients have taught us, that although the pain of an affair is devastating, it’s a potential starting point, too. Couples can do more than rebuild; it’s possible to end up closer, stronger, and more connected than you were before the affair. The depth of the pain you might be feeling right now does not have to determine the hope for you relationship.


The couples at our practice are dealing with all sorts of issues: infidelity, chronic conflict, grief and loss, discrete trauma, the stress of raising children, the loss of physical intimacy, developmental and layered trauma, infertility, depression and anxiety, and addiction, just to name a few. We work with couples on the brink of separation, as well as couples just looking for a relationship tune-up or pre-marital check-up.

Our first goal, no matter what you are dealing with, is to understand how that problem impacts your relationship. We could know everything there is to know about problem “X”, but if we can’t help the two of you learn how to deal with “x” together, all of that expertise is wasted. Let’s face it—some problems can be worked though and put behind us, but other relationship problems tend to be perpetual in nature. We want to help the two of you learn how stay connected to one another, no matter what life throws at you.

Do you specialize in specific relationship issues? Do we need an expert in our specific problem area?


How do you know if you can help us?

We believe successful therapy starts with a thorough assessment. Without assessment, it’s hard to know if we can help; it’s like flying blind. Ensuring a fit between what we do and what you need is important to us. We take the time to learn your story. Using both joint and individual sessions, we’ll talk about what hasn’t gone well, what you’ve already tried, your relationship’s strengths, what worries you, your own personal relationship history, and what you really want to get out of therapy. You’ll have the time to make sure that you’re comfortable with our personal style and way of working. If our help feels relevant to you and you’re comfortable sharing with us, your are more likely to benefit from therapy.


I want to save our marriage, but my partner isn't so sure. Can you help us?

It’s great if both partners come with the goal of working on the relationship, but this isn’t always the case. If you or your partner are feeling ambivalent, it doesn’t mean you’re beyond help. Being able to explore and share about the ambivalence, in a safe and structured space, can help you both feel clearer. Sometimes, it leads to working on the relationship. Although this isn’t always the case, we encourage couples to explore every option because we believe love relationships are worth another look. 


My partner hates therapy. They hate talking about emotion. How could you possibly help?

We actually have pretty good results with clients who have not always had the best experience in therapy. Clients that self-identify as being focused on “problem-solving” rather than “emotional sharing” do well in EFT. It’s why we love the model so much!


How do we get started?

Just contact us! Call us at 703-687-6797 or complete our new client inquiry form online by clicking here. One of our therapists will get back in touch within 1-2 business days. If you have been referred to a specific therapist, you can contact her directly through our main phone line.