Comparing the Effectiveness of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy and Self-Regulation Couple Therapy in Cognitive Flexibility in Couples on the Verge of Divorce

Document Type : Original Article


1 Assistant Professor, Department of Consultation, Faculty of Humanities, Islamic Azad University, Abhar Branch, Iran

2 PhD Student, Department of Counseling, Abhar Branch, Islamic Azad University, Abhar, Iran.

3 azad univerity

4 Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, Abhar Branch, Islamic Azad University, Abhar, Iran


Objective: The present study aimed to compare the effectiveness of emotionally focused couple therapy and self-regulation couple therapy in the cognitive flexibility of couples on the verge of divorce.

Methods: The quasi-experimental study consisted of pretests and posttests with a control group, followed by a three-month follow-up. As of 2019, the statistical population included all divorce-adverse couples in the Motahari Family Judicial Complex in Mashhad. Sixty couples who were referred to the Bahar Divorce Counseling Center in Mashhad were selected through the sampling method and randomly assigned to two experimental groups (emotionally oriented couple therapy and self-regulation couple therapy) and a control group. Each group consisted of 20 couples. A cognitive flexibility questionnaire was included in the instrument (Dennis, Vander Wal, & Jillon, 2010).

Results: The intervention was effective in increasing the cognitive flexibility of couples on the verge of divorce (P < 0.0001); however, the effectiveness of both methods did not last long. In addition, there was no significant difference between the effectiveness of the two methods.

Conclusion: According to the results of the study, counselors and psychologists in couples and families use the two methods of emotionally focused couple therapy and self-regulation couple therapy to improve the cognitive flexibility of couples with challenges.


Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developments. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 650-660.  Doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00723.x
Arianfar, N. & Hosseinian, S. (2018). Comparing the effectiveness of solution-oriented narrative couple therapy and short-term self-regulation couple therapy in the vitality and emotional control of disturbed couples. Women and Family Studies, 7(3), 51-82. Doi:10.22051/jwfs.2019.23541.1951
Beasley, C. C., & Ager, R. (2019). Emotionally focused couples therapy: A systematic review of its effectiveness over the past 19 years. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 16(2), 144-159.  Doi:10.1080/23761407.2018.1563013
Clement, E. (2022). Cognitive Flexibility: The Cornerstone of Learning. John Wiley & Sons.
Dajani, D. R., & Uddin, L. Q. (2015). Demystifying cognitive flexibility: Implications for clinical and developmental neuroscience. Trends in Neuroscience, 38 (9), 571–578. https: / / doi. org / 10. 1016/j.tins.2015.07.003
Dennis, J. P., & Vander Wal, J. S. (2010). The cognitive flexibility inventory: Instrument development and estimates of reliability and validity. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3, 241–253.
Furrow, J. L., Johnson, S. M., Bradley, B., Brubacher, L., Campbell, T. L., Kallos-Lilly, V., ... & Woolley, S. (2022). Becoming an emotionally focused therapist: The workbook. Routledge.
Goudarzi, A., Keykhosrovani, M., Deyreh, E., & Ganji, K. (2020). The effectiveness of emotion-oriented treatment on cognitive flexibility and social commitment in divorced couples. Razi Journal of Medical Sciences, 27, 64-73.
Greenberg, L. S., & Goldman, R. N. (2008). Emotion-focused couples therapy: The dynamics of emotion, love, and power. American Psychological Association.
Greenman, P. S., & Johnson, S. M. (2022). Emotionally focused therapy: Attachment, connection, and health. Current Opinion in Psychology, 43, 146-150. Doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2021.06.015
Haghighat, F., Tehranchi, A., Dehkordian, P.,& Rasoolzade-Tabatabayi K. (2013). The role of psychological factors and pain-related variables in emotional distress in patients with multiple sclerosis]. Journal of Research in Psychology, 6(4), 1-11. Doi: 20.1001.1.20080166.1391.
Halford, W. K. (2003). Brief therapy for couples: Helping partners help themselves. Guilford press.
Hardy, N. R., Soloski, K. L., Ratcliffe, G. C., Anderson, J. R., & Willoughby, B. J. (2015). Associations Between family of origin climate, relationship Self‐Regulation, and marital outcomes. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(4), 508-521.  Doi:10.1111/jmft.12090
Hosseinzadeh Taghvaie, M. (2022). The effect of emotion-focused couple therapy on increasing marital adjustment of incompatible couples. Psychological Methods and Models, 12(46), 163-172.
IBM Corp. (2016). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 24.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp. (Released 2016)
Ionescu, T. (2017). The variability-stability-flexibility pattern: A possible key to understanding the flexibility of the human mind. Review of General Psychology, 21, 123–131. 10.1037/gpr0000110.
Jafari, M. (2019). The effectiveness of short-term self-regulation couple therapy in forgiveness, the reduction of the desire for divorce, and psychological toughness in married women who are dissatisfied with their marriage. Master's thesis, Mohaghegh Ardabili University.
Johnson, S. M. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. Guilford Publications.
Khairolahi, M., Jafari, A., Qumri, M. & Babakhani, V. (2019). Modeling styles of coping with marital conflict based on the analysis of life cycle changes in couples applying for a divorce. Policewoman, 14(33), 264-239.
Kian, F., Etemadi, O. & Bahrami, F. (2019). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couple therapy in the attachment and marital happiness of couples. Knowledge and Research in Applied Psychology, 21(1), 72-83. Doi:10.30486/jsrp.2019.559412.1147
Knapp, D. J., Norton, A. M., & Sandberg, J. G. (2015). Family-of-origin, relationship self-regulation, and attachment in marital relationships. Contemporary Family Therapy, 37(2), 130-141.  Doi:10.1007/s10591-015-9332-z
Lawrence, B. J., Jayakody, D. M., Henshaw, H., Ferguson, M. A., Eikelboom, R. H., Loftus, A. M., & Friedland, P. L. (2018). Auditory and cognitive training for cognition in adults with hearing loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Trends in hearing, 22, 2331216518792096. DOI: 10.1177/2331216518792096
Maddio, S. L., & Greco, C. (2010). Flexibilidad Cognitiva para Resolver Problemas entre Pares ¿Difiere esta Capacidad en Escolares de Contextos Urbanos y Urbanomarginales? Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 44 (1), 98–109.
Mansouri, N., Kimiaei, S. A., Mashhadhi, A. & Mansouri, A. (2015). The effectiveness of self-regulation couple therapy in marital satisfaction, identity styles and family problem-solving. Clinical Psychology and Personality, 14(1), 60-51. Doi:10.22070/14.1.51
Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive flexibility. Conscious and Cognition, 18 (1), 176–186. 1016/j.concog.2008.12.008.
Navarro, M. C., Quiroz Molinares, N. & Mebarak, M. (2022). Psychometric Study of the Cognitive Flexibility Inventory in a Colombian Sample. International Journal of Psychological Research, 15(1), 42–54.
Nweze, T., Agu, E., & Lange, F. (2020). Risky decision making and cognitive flexibility among online sports bettors in Nigeria. International Journal of Psychology, 55 (6), 995–1002. https : / / doi . org/10.1002/ijop.12663
Qiu, S., Hannigan, B., Keogh, D., & Timulak, L. (2020). Learning emotion-focused therapy: Certified emotion-focused therapists’ perspectives. Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, 19(4), 310-330.  Doi:10.1080/14779757.2020.1717989
Raley, R. K., & Sweeney, M. M. (2020). Divorce, partnering, and stepfamilies: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 82(1), 81-99.Doi: 10.1111/jomf.12651
Saberi, S. (2019). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couple therapy in improving marital coping styles and empathy of women on the verge of divorce. Master's thesis, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad.
Sands, A., Thompson, E. J., & Gaysina, D. (2017). Long-term influences of parental divorce on offspring affective disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 218, 105-114. Doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.04.015
Timulak, L., & Keogh, D. (2020). Emotion-focused therapy: A transdiagnostic formulation. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 50(1), 1-13.  Doi:10.1007/s10879-019-09426-7
Turner, J. J., Kopystynska, O., Ferguson, M., Bradford, K., Schramm, D. G., & Higginbotham, B. J. (2022). The effectiveness of online divorce education for Latinx parents. Journal of Latinos and Education, 1-11. Doi: 10.1080/15348431.2022.2026224
Webler, R. D., Fulton, S., Perera, T. D., & Coplan, J. D. (2019). The maturational phase of hippocampal neurogenesis and cognitive flexibility. Neuroscience Letters, (711).
Welch, T. S., Lachmar, E. M., Leija, S. G., Easley, T., Blow, A. J., & Wittenborn, A. K. (2019). Establishing safety in emotionally focused couple therapy: A single‐case process study. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 45(4), 621-634.  Doi:10.1111/jmft.12398
Wittenborn, A. K., Liu, T., Ridenour, T. A., Lachmar, E. M., Mitchell, E. A., & Seedall, R. B. (2019). Randomized controlled trial of emotionally focused couple therapy compared to treatment as usual for depression: Outcomes and mechanisms of change. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 45(3), 395-409.  Doi:10.1111/jmft.12350
Yousefi, N. & Karimipour, B. (2017). Comparing the effectiveness of metacognitive therapy and couple therapy based on self-regulation of coping strategies and self-control of couples. Research in Clinical and Counseling Psychology, 8(1), 52-72. Doi:10.22067/ijap.v8i1.62302
Zaitov, E. K., & Teshayev, D. M. (2022). Family conflict and divorce as a social problem. Eurasian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 5, 1-5.
Zarbi Qala Hamami, M. (2019). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couple therapy in emotional abuse and cognitive regulation of emotion in conflicted couples. Master's thesis, Hekmat Razavi Institute of Higher Education.