Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy and the Facilitation of Forgiveness


  • Leslie Greenberg, PhD, Department of Psychology, York University; Serine Warwar, PhD, St. Johns Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto; Wanda Malcolm, PhD, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

  • This study was supported by a Grant ID# CRF 5202 from the Campaign for Forgiveness Research to the first author.

Address correspondence to Leslie S. Greenberg, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3; E-mail: lgrnberg@yorku.ca


The goal of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of an emotion-focused couple therapy intervention for resolving emotional injuries. Twenty couples acting as their own waitlist controls were offered a 10–12-session treatment to help resolve unresolved anger and hurt from a betrayal, an abandonment, or an identity insult that they had been unable to resolve for at least 2 years. Treated couples fared significantly better on all outcome measures over the treatment period compared to the waitlist period. They showed a significant improvement in dyadic satisfaction, trust, and forgiveness as well as improvement on symptom and target complaint measures. Changes were maintained on all of the measures at 3-month follow-up except trust, on which the injured partners deteriorated. At the end of treatment, 11 couples were identified as having completely forgiven their partners and six had made progress toward forgiveness compared with only three having made progress toward forgiveness over the waitlist period. The results suggest that EFT is effective in alleviating marital distress and promoting forgiveness in a brief period of time but that additional sessions may be needed to enhance enduring change.