I first learned about Dr. Harville Hendrix, a marriage therapist and pastoral counselor, when I saw him on Oprah. I was intrigued by the perspective that you draw to yourself the person who most brings up all of your stuff and the idea that you marry that person to heal those wounds! In his book Getting the Love You Want – A Couple’s Guide, Hendrix says that endless arguments and power struggles are really about unresolved childhood pain. A close relative I know said doing the exercises with her husband saved their marriage (they both had been divorced before).
Hendrix’s theory is that we are naturally attracted to people who have the strengths and weaknesses of our parents, but it is the negative traits that are more influential. When we fall in love, the lover is always similar to the parent with whom we had the most difficulty and will frustrate us just as that parent did. The part of your brain that searched for your mate was not logical, It was the "old brain” trying to recreate the conditions of our upbringing in order to connect them. "It is trying to repair the damage done in childhood as a result of unmet needs with an image of a partner who can "make (you) whole again”. Hendrix calls this image "imago (ih-MAH-go)”. Dr. Hendrix says that intense and reoccurring arguments are a good indicator that one or both partners have unresolved childhood pain such as abandonment, rejection, smothering, shame or helplessness.
In the first section, Hendrix explores the haphazard way most of us choose our mates and why these "unconscious marriages" do not work. When the power struggle stage takes over the romantic stage, conflict ensues. He talks about a possible third stage "the conscious marriage”, where each partner consciously works to meet the other’s needs. "In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner. In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner. As you gain a more realistic view of love relationships, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.” The goal of a conscious marriage is a relationship that will "activate our deepest wounds, arouse our strongest defenses, and catalyze our maximum growth”. It means enlisting the help of our "new brain”, the part of us that makes choices, exerts will, and knows that our partners are not our parents. We need to take the rational skills that we use in other parts of our lives and bring them to bear on our love relationships. To do this we must accept the limited nature of our own perceptions and become more receptive to the truth of our partner’s perceptions. Hendrix says that the divorce rate is at 60% because couples rupture their connection by invalidating each other over and over again.
The final part of the book describes a ten-step process and contains 16 step-by-step exercises that couples can use to work through their relationship issues toward a "conscious marriage”. These are the same exercises you would be given if you were to attend a couple’s workshop or another therapist trained in Imago Relationship Therapy. Chances are good that if you simply abandon the relationship and try again with someone else, the same unresolved issues are bound to surface once again. Even though you may be completely incompatible in your present relationship, simply think of it as designed for maximum personal growth! This book will help you to recognize and move through the patterns of your past that keep you from getting the love you want.
Review written by Karen Knorr. She is a True Colours Facilitator and resides in Errington with her husband and two sons, aged six and ten.