Vulnerable Emotional Expression in Emotion-Focused Therapy for Couples: Relating Process to Outcome
Mercier McKinnon, Jacqueline
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The purpose of this study was to examine whether levels of vulnerable emotional expression and supportiveness related to forgiveness and other measures of outcome in a sample of 32 couples presenting for Emotion-focused Therapy for Couples (EFT-C) with unresolved emotional injuries. For each couple studied, the two best examples of vulnerable emotional expression made by each partner were identified and rated on a measure of vulnerability. Each partner was then rated on the degree of supportiveness exhibited in response to their partner’s two best examples of vulnerable emotional expressions. Outcome in injured partners (i.e. those identifying as the victim of the emotional injury) was assessed with self-report measures of forgiveness, unfinished business, trust, and relationship satisfaction. Outcome in offending partners (i.e. those identifying as having perpetrated the emotional injury) was assessed with a measure inquiring about the degree to which one feels forgiven, and a measure of relationship satisfaction. For each outcome measure, two hierarchical regression models tested the relative contributions of vulnerability and supportiveness to outcome in a stage wise manner. In Model 1, the injured partner’s mean vulnerability score was first entered, followed by the offending partner’s mean supportiveness score. In Model 2, the offending partner’s mean vulnerability score was first entered, followed by the injured partner’s mean supportiveness score. Model 1 significantly or marginally significantly predicted improvement on all outcome measures. Model 2 significantly or marginally significantly predicted improvement on all outcome measures with the exception of the measure of relationship satisfaction. Of the 4 predictors examined, the offending partner’s level of supportiveness was the most consistent in providing a statistically significant and unique contribution to the outcome variance, followed by the offending partner’s level of vulnerability. Based on these findings, it is recommended that therapists working with couples seeking to heal their relationship following an emotional injury attempt to draw out the offending partner’s more vulnerable emotions. Moreover, it is recommended that at times when the injured partner expresses vulnerable emotion, the therapist be directive in coaching the offending partner to listen and respond supportively if he or she does not do this instinctively.