Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.
by Henry Holt and Company
star must reading.
[The following is what I
highlighted during my read of this excellent book -- I recommend it on my List
of Peace resources. My purpose in providing them is to interest you, the
reader, and hope that you will obtain and read the complete work. To
properly understand the highlights, you need to read the book to put them in the
achieved its “promise of passionate friendship”. As we have been
pleased to discover, being in a close and loving relationship is far easier than
being in a strained or distant one.
In addition to having a passionate friendship, Helen and I also have
what we call a “passionate partnership” because we are allies in our
professional lives as well.
I wanted to know why couples were having such a difficult time staying
together and why they were so devastated when their relationship fell apart.
“The way you’re talking about the centrality of relationships brings
to my mind the I-thou of Martin
The she quoted a passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky that she had committed
to memory as a young woman: “The
man who desires to see the living God face-to-face does not seek God in the
empty firmament of his mind, but in human love”.
When others would accept my ideas at face value, she would question my
thinking or, more often, challenge me to deepen my understanding.
The combination of all this talent and energy has transformed Imago into
a movement that should become a significant force for social transformation.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the old notion of marriage
was no longer working for many couples.
But many of the people in
conventional marriages were also searching for a relationship that was larger,
deeper, and more meaningful than their parents and grandparents had.
But the type of therapy that was offered at the time focused on the
psyche of the individual, not on relationship dynamics.
One of the reasons that Getting
the Love You Want and Imago
Therapy had something to offer these couples is that I, too, had experienced the
frustration of being in a relationship that had not lived up to its potential.
One of my main realizations was that the two individuals in a
relationship need to let go of the illusion that they are the center of the
universe and learn to see each other as equal partners. There are indeed two
people in the relationship. When two
individuals surrender their centrality, something unexpected occurs – the
relationship itself becomes the
center. Once that fundamental shift occurs, they can begin to work with the
unconscious purpose of their relationship, not against it. They can begin to
accept the fact that being in an intimate love relationship calls forth all the
unresolved issues of their childhood, and that they can learn how to work
together to resolve them. We are
born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in
relationship. Indeed, we cannot be fully healed outside
of a relationship. This is the idea
that resonated with so many couples.
Transferring authority from the therapist
to the couple. In traditional
therapy, one of the primary healing mechanisms involve “transference”.
Once transference occurs between client and therapist, the therapist can
use that misidentification in a positive way to help the client resolve issues
from the past.
Transference also occurs between couples in a love relationship.
In fact, there’s no way to avoid it.
Later on, as conflict emerges, you begin to project negative
traits onto your partner. This
is typically when marriages fall apart. “You’ve
changed. You’re not the person I
married,” you say to each other. In reality, what has changed is not your
partner, but the nature of the information you’re projecting onto your
Some couples are able to resolve the transference without outside help.
But like most people, you may need to work with a structured set of exercises or
a competent therapist. The exercises
or the therapist help create a zone of safety and provide the step-by-step
instructions to guide you through the process.
The partnership dynamics we described in heterosexual couples applies to
all intimate partnerships, regardless of their sexual preference.
“ The Couples Dialogue,” and
it has been expanded to include two additional steps – validation and empathy.
Your partner is an essential first step in exploring your
partner’s reality. But by
itself, it may not be sufficient to establish a profound sense of connection.
If you can go on to confirm
the validity of your partner’s
view and then empathize with his or her feelings (“I can see why you feel
angry.”) you deepen the bond between you.
Or, as I say to couples, you go beyond mere contact to connection and
then, ultimately, to communion.
“I’ve learned that my view of the world is no more true than my
wife’s point of view. In fact,
when we combine our views, we create something more valid than either one of us
can create alone. We both give
something up, only to gain great deal more.
It’s been a profound change in our marriage.”
Perhaps for the first time in our relationship of almost 28 years, we
feel safe. As you will see, marriage is therapy-provided you honor its
The common solution to an unhappy marriage, the one chosen by nearly
fifty percent of all couples, is to divorce and start all over again with a new
and, it is hoped, better mate. The
problem with this solution is that there is a lot of pain involved in switching
And there is the emotional damage to the other inhabitants of the box
– the children – who grow up feeling responsible for the divorce and wonder
if they will ever experience lasting love.
Marriage is not static state between two unchanging people.
Marriage is psychological and spiritual journey that begins in the
ecstasy of attraction, meanders through a rocky stretch of self-discovery, and
culminates in the creation of an intimate, joyful, lifelong union.
Whether or not you realize the full potential of this vision depends not
o your ability to attract the perfect mate, but on your willingness to acquire
knowledge about hidden parts of yourself.
A marriage relationship introduced a complex set of variables that I was
not trained to deal with.
Time passed, and my despair turned into a compelling desire to make
sense out of my dilemma.
Imago (ih-MAH-go) Relationship Therapy. My approach was eclectic.
I brought together depth psychology,
the behavioral sciences, the Western spiritual tradition, and added some
elements of Transactional Analysis, Gestalt psychology, systems theory, and
When I began implementing my ideas, my work with couples became immensely
rewarding. The divorce rate in my practice sharply declined, and the couples who
stayed together reported a much deeper satisfaction in their marriages.
“The Conscious Marriage,” a marriage that helps you satisfy your
unmet childhood needs in positive ways.
Mystery of Attraction
The type of human being we prefer reveals the contours of our heart (Ortega y Gasset)
When Couples Come to me for marital therapy, I usually ask them how they
We will also have our first clues to the hidden psychological desires
that underlie marriage.
Some biologists contend that there is a certain “bio-logic” to
Women instinctively favor mates with pronounced “alpha” qualities.
Whether we like it or not, a woman’s youth and physical appearance and
a man’s power and social status do
play a role in mate selection.
Social psychology, and explore what is known as the
“exchange” theory of mate selection.
The basic idea of the exchange theory is that we select mates who are
more or less our equals.
The exchange theory gives us a more comprehensive view of mate selection
than the simple biological model. It’s
not just youth, beauty, and social rank that interests us, say the social
psychologists, but the whole person.
A third idea, the “persona” theory.
The persona theory suggests that we select a mate who will enhance this
What accounts for the emotional devastation that frequently accompanies
the breakup of a relationship.
We seem to have much more discriminating tastes than any of these
theories would indicate.
Most people have been deeply attracted to only a few individuals
If you were to make a list of their predominate personality traits, you
would discover a lot of similarities, including, surprisingly, their negative
It appears that each one of us is compulsively searching for a mate with
a very particular set of positive and negative personality traits.
We need to understand the role that the the unconscious mind plays in
In this book I use the term “old brain” to refer to the portion of
the brain that includes both the brain stem and the limbic system. Think of the
old brain as being hard-wired and determining most of your automatic reactions.
I refer to the cerebral cortex as the “new brain” Your new brain is
the part of you that is conscious, alert, and in contact with your daily
Its main concern is self-preservation. Ever on the alert, the old brain
constantly asks the primeval question: “Is it safe?”
The only thing your old brain seems to care about is whether a
particular person is someone to: 1. Nurture, 2. Be nurtured by, 3. Have a sex
Run away from, 5.
Submit to, 6. Attack.
An important principle about the old brain: it has no sense of linear
time. Today, tomorrow, and yesterday
do not exist; everything that was, still is.
Understanding this basic fact about the nature of your unconscious may
help explain why you sometimes have feelings within your marriage that seem
alarmingly out of proportion to the events that triggered them.
Your old brain is locked in an archaic perspective.
In fact, we appear to be searching for a “one and only” with a very
specific set of positive and negative traits.
Is looking for someone who has the predominant character traits of the
people who raised us. Our old brain,
trapped in the eternal now having only a dim awareness of the outside world, is
trying to re-create the environment of childhood.
The reason the old brain is trying to resurrect the past is not a matter
of habit or blind compulsion but of a compelling need to heal old childhood
You fell in love because your old brain had your partner confused with
your parents! Your old brain believed that it had finally found the ideal
candidate to make up for the psychological and emotional damage you experienced
Freud correctly labelled us “insatiable beings.”
And no parents, no matter how devoted, are able to respond perfectly to
all od these changing needs.
Contains an important clue to the hidden expectations you bring to
Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, put it this way: “in fetal
existence, we were in communion with the universe.”
We enter marriage with the expectations that our partners will magically
restore this feeling of wholeness.
Their failure to do so is one of the main reasons for our eventual
“eros” a Greek word that we normally equate with romantic or sexual
love but that originally had the broader meaning of “the life force.”
We all had a perilous pilgrimage through childhood.
The child experiences a primitive anxiety: the world is not a safe
When our partners are hostile or merely unhelpful, a silent alarm is
triggered deep in our brains that fills us with the fear of death.
Some children grow up with the opposite kind of parents, ones who push
them away when they come running to them for comfort: “Go away, I’m busy.”
“Go play with your toys.”
Their children grow up feeling
emotionally abandoned. Eventually they grow up to become what I call
“fusers,” people who seem to
have an insatiable need for closeness.
Ironically, for reasons I will explore in late chapters, fusers and
isolaters tend to grow up and marry each others, thus beginning an infuriating
game of push and pull that leaves neither partner satisfied.
Like all children, you grew up knowing
the anguish of unmet needs and these needs followed you into your marriage.
Another kind of childhood wound, an even subtler kind of psychic injury
called “socialization,” all those messages we receive from our caretakers
and from society at large that tell us who we are and how we have to behave.
We all have parts of ourselves that we have hidden from consciousness.
I call these missing elements the “lost self.”
In thousands of ways, both subtly and overtly, our parents gave us the
message that they approved of only a part of us.
In essence, we were told that
we could not be whole and exist in this culture.
Important to know this simple fact:
when you were young, there were many, many times when limits were placed
on your sensuality. Like most
children growing up in this culture, you were probably made to feel embarrassed
or guilty or naughty that you had a body that was capable of exquisite
sensation. To be a “good” boy or girl, you had to psychologically cut off or
disown that part of yourself.
· The way that parents influence their children most deeply, however, is by example.
· Constructs an imaginary parent in his head to police his thoughts and activities, a part of the mind that psychologists call the ‘superego” Now whenever the child has a forbidden thought or indulges in an ‘unacceptable” behavior, he experiences a self-administered jolt of anxiety. This is so unpleasant that the child puts to sleep some of those forbidden parts of himself-in Freudian terms, he represses them. The ultimate price of his obedience is a loss of wholeness.
· Whatever the nature of the false self, its purpose is the same: to minimize the pain of losing part of the child’s original, God-given wholeness.
· Forged out of pain and become a part of an assumed identity, an alias that helps him manoeuvre in a complex and sometimes hostile world.
· But in order to maintain a positive self-image and enhance his chances for survival, he has to deny them.
· The “disowned self,” those parts of the false self that are too painful to acknowledge.
· To keep it hidden, you had to deny it actively or project it onto others.
We cover our wounds with healing ointment and gauze in an attempt to
heal ourselves, but despite our efforts an emptiness wells up inside us.
This becomes a spiritual yearning for completion, and, as in Plato’s
myth we develop the profound conviction that finding the right person – that
perfect mate – will complete us and make us whole.
This person is invariably someone who has both the positive and negative
traits of our parents!
Most people are attracted to mates who have their caretakers’ positive
and negative traits, and, typically, the negative traits are more influential.
“You treat me just the way mother did!”
What your old brain was trying to do was re-create the conditions of
your upbringing, in order to correct them. Having
received enough nurturing, to survive but enough to feel satisfied, it was
attempting to return to the scene of your original frustration so that you could
resolve your unfinished business.
Look around you, and you will find ample evidence that people choose
mates with complementary traits.
What people are doing in these yin/yang matches is trying to reclaim
their lost selves by proxy.
To guide you in your search for the ideal mate, someone who both
resembled your caretakers and compensated for the repressed parts of yourself,
you relied on an unconscious image of the opposite sex that you had been forming
The ones that were most deeply engraved were the ones that were most
The old brain, in its inability to make fine distinctions, simply filed
all this information under one heading: the people responsible for our survival.
If you want to know what kind of person a client is married to, imagine
his or her opposite.
Because they had numerous complementary traits, they had “falle in
The reason that we are such instant judges of character is that we rely
on what Freud called “unconscious perception.” We intuitively pick up much
more about people than we are aware of.
When couples with weak imago matches terminate their relationships,
it’s often because they feel little interest in each other, not because they
are in great pain.
To the biological theory and the exchange theory and the persona theory
discussed in chapter 1, we have added the idea of unconscious search for a
person who matches our imago.
We also have new insight into marital conflict: if the primary reason we
select our mates is that they resemble our caretakers, it is inevitable that
they are going to reinjure some very sensitive wounds.
But before we sink into this quagmire of pain and confusion called “the
Some people felt so good about themselves that for time they were even
able to give up their substitute forms of gratification.
· Lovers are literally high on drugs-natural hormones and chemicals that flood their bodies with a sense of well-being.
· Enhancing a person’s sense of security and comfort.
· Romantic love is a creation of the unconscious mind.
All the words exchanged between lovers since time began can be reduced
to four basic sentences: the “phenomenon of recognition”, the “ phenomenon
of timelessness”. Being together
seemed to put an end to his relentless search for completion.
The “phenomenon of reunification”, the “phenomenon of necessity.”
Someone is going to take care of them; they are no longer going to be
Romantic love is old brain phenomenon.
There is same illusion of safety and security, the same total
The lovers believe they are going to be healed –not by hard work or
They have rediscovered their lost self.
A person who was not allowed to be at ease with his or her sexuality
will choose someone who is sensual and free.
When people with complementary traits fall in love, they feel as if
they’ve suddenly been released from repression.
Lovers unknowingly transfer responsibility for their very survival from
their parents to their partners. This same marvellous being who has awakened
eros is now going to protect them from thanatos, the ever-present fear of death.
By attending to their unmet childhood needs, their partners are going to
become allies in their struggle for survival.
On a deeper level, this sentence reveals the fear that, if the lovers
were to part, the would lose their rediscovered sense of wholeness.
fullness of existence. Loneliness
and anxiety would well up inside them, and they
would no longer feel connected to the world around them.
Ultimately, to lose each
other would be to lose their new sense of self.
They aren’t judging each other.
Lovers seem to divine exactly what their partners are lacking.
Being in love is like suddenly becoming the favored child in an
For a while, lovers cling to the illusion of romantic love.
“Transference,” taking the attributes of one person and overlaying
them on another. It is especially
easy for people to transfer their feelings about their parents onto their
“Projection” Whenever we take a part of the disowned self or the
lost self and send it out like a picture onto another person.
A mixture of denial, transference, and projection. John was ‘in love
with Cheryl’ because:
Cheryl was not a real person with needs and desires of her own; she was
a resource for the satisfaction of his unconscious childhood longings.
He was in love with the idea of wish fulfilment and like Narcissus –
with a reflected part of himself.
Romantic love does indeed thrive on ignorance and fantasy.
As long as lovers maintain an idealized, incomplete view of each other.
When you and I lit our lamps and took our first objective look at our
lovers, we discovered that they weren’t gods at all-they were imperfect
humans, full of warts and blemishes, all those negative traits that we had
steadfastly refused to see.
When does romantic love end and the power struggle begin? As in all
attempts to map human behaviour, it’s impossible to define precisely when
these stages occur.
Have to satisfy a whole hierarchy of expectations, some conscious, but
most hidden from their awareness.
Their partners are going to do it all- satisfy unmet childhood needs,
complement lost self-parts, nurture them in a consistent and loving way, and be
eternally to them.
People don’t get married to take care of their partner’s needs –
they get married to further their own psychological and emotional growth
The old brain that activates all the latent infantile wishes.
It is as if the wounded child within takes over.
Says the child, “I’ve been good enough long enough to ensure that this
person is going to stay around for a while.
Let’s see the payoff.”
But at some point husbands and wives wake up to discover that they’ve
migrated to a colder climate.
A disturbing revelation. At
some point in their relationships, most people discover that some aspect of
their partner’s character, a personality trait they once thought highly
desirable, is beginning to annoy them.
But as time passed, our
partner’s complementary traits began to stir up feelings and attributes in us
that were still taboo.
The very character trait that had once been so seductive to him was now
perceived by his own brain as a threat to his existence.
Your partner’s negative traits, the ones that you had resolutely
denied during the romantic phase of your relationship, were also beginning to
come into sharp focus.
I was flooded with the awareness that she didn’t have any physical or
emotional energy for me.
I felt like an unwanted child.
At some point in their marriages, most people discover that something
about their husbands or wives awakens strong memories of childhood pain.
She had chosen someone wo resembled her father so she could resolve her
childhood fear of being abused.
People either “pick imago matches, project them, or provoke them.”
· Being to project our denied negative traits!
· I defined these denied negative traits as the “disowned self.”
· People also acquire negative traits by observing their parents.
· But as the children become more self-aware, they recognize that these are the very traits they dislike in their parents, and they do their best to deny them.
· Not only do the children manifest these negative traits themselves –although disowned and thus out of awareness – but when they grow up they also look for these traits in potential mates, for they are an essential part of their imagos.
· People try to exorcise their denied negative traits by projecting them onto their mates.
· Now we have defined the three major sources of conflict that make up the power struggle.
· All of these interactions are unconscious. All people know is that they feel confused, angry, anxious, depressed, and unloved. And it is only natural that they blame all this unhappiness on their partners. They haven’t changed-they’re the same people they used to be! It’s their partners who have changed!
· In despair, people begin to used negative tactics to force their partners to be more loving.
· They believe that, if they give their partners enough pain, the partners will return to their former loving ways.
· The success of this tactic was turned into an “imprint,” a part of our stored memory about how to get the world to respond to our needs: “When you are frustrated, provoke the people around you. Be as unpleasant as possible until someone come to your rescue.”
· Clinging to a primitive view of the world.
· When partners don’t tell each other what they want and constantly criticize each other for missing the boat, it’s no wonder that the spirit of love and cooperation disappears. In its place comes the grim determination of the power struggle, in which each partner tries to force the other to meet his or her needs.
· The death of the illusion of romantic love.
· First comes the shock. “This is not the person I thought I had married.”
· After the shock comes denial. You feel betrayed. You are in pain, and you enter the fourth stage, bargaining.
· The last stage of the power struggle is despair. When couples reach this final juncture, they no longer have any hopes of finding happiness or love within the relationship; the pain has gone on too long.
· A very few, perhaps as few five percent of all couples, find a way to resolve the power struggle and go on to create a deeply satisfying relationship.
· For the sake of clarity, I would like to reduce the discussion in these first five chapters to its simplest form. First of all, we choose our partners for two reasons:
· After a time we realize that our strategy is not working. We are “in love,” but not whole. We decide that the reason our plan is not working is that our partners are deliberately ignoring our needs. They know exactly what we want, and when and how we want it, but for some reason they are deliberately withholding it from us. This makes us angry, and for the first time we begin to see our partners’ negative traits. We then compound the problem by projecting our own denied negative traits onto them. As conditions deteriorate, we decide that the best way to force our partners to satisfy our needs is to be unpleasant and irritable, just as we were in the cradle. If we yell loud enough and long enough, we believe, our partners will come to our rescue. And, finally, what gives the power struggle its toxicity is the underling unconscious belief that, if we cannot entice, coerce, or seduce our partners into taking care of us, we will face the fear greater than all other fear – the fear of the death.
· What may not be immediately apparent in this brief summary is this: there is really very little difference between romantic love and the power struggle. On the surface, these first two stages of marriage appear to be worlds apart. A couple’s delight in each other has turned to hatred, and their goodwill has degenerated into a battle of wills. But what’s important to note is that the underlying themes remain the same. Both individuals are still searching for a way to regain their original wholeness, and they are still holding on to the belief that their partners have the power to make them healthy and whole. The main difference is that now the partner is perceived as withholding love. This requires a switch in tactics, and husbands and wives begin to hurt each other, or deny each other pleasure and intimacy, in hopes of having their partners respond with warmth and love.
· What is the way out of this labyrinth of confusion? What lies beyond the power struggle? In the next chapter, “Becoming Conscious,” we will talk about a new kind of relationship, “the conscious marriage,” and show how it helps husbands and wives begin to satisfy each other’s childhood longings.
Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain. –C.G.Jung
· Our unconscious drive to repair the emotional damage of childhood is what allows us to realize our spiritual potential as human beings, to become complete and loving people capable of nurturing.
· Through the marriage of old-brain instincts and new-brain savvy, we can gradually leave the frustrations of the power struggle behind us.
· Because you were willing to risk a creative response to anger, you have suddenly become a trusted confidant, not a sparring partner.
· An important discovery: in most interactions with your spouse, you are actually safer when you lower your defences than when you keep them engaged, because your partner becomes and ally, not an enemy.
· Paradoxically, you do an even better job of satisfying the underlying purpose of this automatic defence, which is to keep yourself safe and unharmed.
· A conscious marriage is a marriage that fosters maximum psychological and spiritual growth; it’s a marriage created by becoming conscious and cooperating with the fundamental drives of the unconscious mind: to be safe, to be healed, and to be whole.
Ten Characteristics of a Conscious Marriage
The psychological term for this tendency to put the source of our frustrations
and the solutions to our problems outside ourselves is “externalization,”
and it is the cause of much of the world’s unhappiness.
All people in the world are strangers.
If you want a friend, you’re going to have to go out and make one!
The specific problem that had plagued Walter in his marriage was that he
was caught up in concepts and ideas, not feelings.
He hid his vulnerability behind his formidable intellect, which prevented
any genuine intimacy.
He wasn’t sharing his feelings, that he was emotionally distant.
I could learn something about myself from listening to her.
When Walter had time to absorb this awareness, he developed more
enthusiasm for the therapeutic process and was able to work on dismantling his
He said, “it took me two years to learn one simple fact: that, in
order to have a good relationship, you have to be willing to grow and change.
We are slow to comprehend that, in order to be loved, we must first
To become a lover, we must first abandon the self-defeating tactics and
beliefs that I’ve discussed in the first five chapters
and replace them with more constructive ones. We must change our ideas
about marriage, about our partners, and, ultimately, about ourselves.
With so many years invested in habituated behaviors it’s only natural
that they should experience a great reluctance to change.
After all, I am asking them not only to risk the anxiety of learning a
new style of relating, but also to confront the pain and fear that have been
bottled up inside them for decades-the reason for their dysfunctional behavior
in the first place.
One of the first truths we can learn is the fact that most of us go
through married life as if we were asleep.
We have forgotten who we are.
We lose sight of the fact that we are whole, spiritual beings. We live
impoverished, repetitious, unrewarding lives and blame our partners for our
We are prisoners of the fear of change.
Rather divorce, break up the family, and divide up all their possessions
than acquire a new style of relating. Like
the Israelites, they tremble in front of the
The enemy is within; it’s the denied and repressed parts of their
being threatening to come to awareness.
We expect life’s rewards to come to us easily and without sacrifice.
And it is only when we see
marriage as a vehicle for change and self-growth that we can begin to satisfy
our unconscious yearnings.
· This chapter marks a turning point in the book.
· I’ve been describing the unconscious marriage, a marriage characterized by old-brain reactivity. In the rest of the book, I will explain how to transform your marriage into a more conscious, growth-producing relationship.
· Chapter 7 explores an old-fashioned idea, commitment, and explains why it is a necessary precondition for emotional growth.
· Chapter 8 shows you how to turn your marriage into a zone of safety- a safe and secure environment that rekindles the intimacy of romantic love.
· The only way to satisfy your childhood needs is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to the satisfaction of your partner’s needs.
All I know with any certainty is that they are mired somewhere in the
They have journeyed past the romantic stage of marriage and become
embroiled in conflict.
In order to be effective, marital therapy has to address fundamental
Searching beneath surface phenomena for more primitive issues.
Unless they are aware of the nature of their problems, it’s difficult
for them to resolve them.
One of the first rules is that couples have to agree to come to me for
at least twelve consecutive sessions.
I know from my own experience, and from statistical surveys, that a
majority of couples quit therapy somewhere between the third and the fifth
appointments, which is about the time it takes for unconscious issues to begin
emerge and for people to begin to experience some anxiety, As we all know.
My second order of business with couples is to help them define their
relationship vision. Achieving their
vision is the goal of therapy.
Once the vision is defined, I ask couples to read it daily as form of
A second commitment, and that is to stay together for the initial twelve
weeks of therapy. The reason for
this is obvious: marriage therapy isn’t possible if there is no marriage to
The one who feels relieved is usually the “fuser” in the
relationship, the one who grew up with an unsatisfied need for attachment.
I explain that the no-exit decision tends to make the partner less
invasive. “One of the reasons your partner is so needy of your attention,” I
explain to the isolater, “ is that you’re not emotionally available.
Ironically, by making an agreement to stay within the relationship for
three months, the isolater often ends up with more psychic space than before.
Every day of their married lives, husbands and wives push against an
invisible relationship boundary in an attempt to satisfy their dual needs for
autonomy and attachment.
There’s an invisible force field keeping husbands and wives a critical
This game of push and pull.
To one degree or another, most couples who are involved in a power
struggle follow a similar pattern: they structure their lives in such a way that
true intimacy is virtually impossible.
An obvious question: Why do
men and women spend so much time avoiding intimacy? There are two very good
reasons: anger and fear.
When they come to the realization that their partners are committed to
their own salvation, not theirs, they feel angry and betrayed. A tacit agreement
has been broken. In retaliation they
erect an emotional barricade.
Then they begin systematically to seek pleasure and satisfaction of
their needs outside the relationship.
The wife who spends the entire evening reading to the children while her
husband watches TV-both of these individuals are trying to find pleasure that is
missing from their relationship.
The other reason couples avoid intimacy is fear, specifically the fear
Any person –whether parent or partner or next door neighbour –who is
perceived by the old brain to be a source of need gratification is catalogued by
the old-brain to be a source of pain, and that raises the spectre of death.
If your partner does not nurture you and attend to your fundamental
needs, a part of you fears that you will die, and it believes that your partner
is the one who is allowing this to happen.
The unconscious reason some people avoid their partners, therefore, is
not that they’re scouting for greener pastures, but that they are fleeing
In most cases the fear of the partner is unconscious.
An exit is acting out one’s feelings rather than putting them into
language. It withdraws energy and involvement from the relationship that belongs
in the relationship.
It is important in the initial stages of the healing process that
couples gradually draw their energy back into relationship.
Another reason for the resistance is that, as couples become more
focused on each other, they often have to come face to face with their repressed
disappointment, anger and fear.
To help couples overcome their resistance to becoming more intimate with
each other, I rely on the principle known as “graduate change.” The idea
behind this concept is that it’s easier to tackle a difficult task if it is
divided into manageable units.
Paradoxically, that begins to close the exit, because it restores
connection. One way couples can do this for the partner who is acting out to ask
for dialogue (see the “Couples Dialogue” on p.261).
When I lead couples through these series of commitment-an agreement to:
1. Come to a minimum of twelve
therapy sessions, 2. Define a
relationship vision, 3.
Stay together for a specified period of time, and
4. Gradually close their
exits-I let them know that all of these separate agreements ideally lead to a
larger commitment: a decision to join together in a journey that will last the
rest of their lives.
In order to obtain maximum psychological and spiritual growth, they need
to stay together not for three months or three years or even three decades, but
for all of their remaining years.
Unless they understand the unconscious desires that motivated their
dysfunctional behavior in the first marriage, and learn how to satisfy those
desires with the new partner, the second marriage is destined to run aground on
the same submerged rocks.
I have come to believe that couples should make every effort to honor
their wedding vows to stay together “till death do us part”-not for moral
reasons, but for psychological ones: fidelity and commitment appear to be
conditions dictated by the unconscious mind.
Dedicating two and a half months of your time to improving your marriage
may be all that you need to begin realizing your relationship vision.
Once a couple has made a commitment to stay together and to take part in
a program of marital therapy, the
next logical step is to help them become allies, not enemies.
They need to become friends and helpmates.
Helping them artificially reconstruct the conditions of romantic love.
When two people treat each other the way they did in happier times, they
begin to identify each other as a source of pleasure once again, and this makes
them more willing to take part in intensive therapy.
I would have to play an active role in helping couples redesign their
relationships. Insight into
childhood wounds is a critical element in therapy, but it isn’t enough.
People also need to learn how to let go of counterproductive behaviors
and replace them with more effective ones.
The exercise instructs husbands and wives to write down a list of
positive, specific ways their partners can please them.
The behaviors were to be gifts. They were to view as an opportunity to
pleasure each other, not as a bartering tool. And, most important of all, they
weren’t to keep score.
“Reromanticizing” because it effectively restored the conflict-free
interactions of romantic love.
“Painful injuries are overlaid with positive transactions, and the
partner is no longer categorized as a bringer of death but as wellspring of
It helps people erode the infantile belief that their partners can read
Another consequence of the exercise is that it defeats the tit-for-tat
mentality of the power struggle.
This need to be “gifted” comes straight out of our childhood.
It helps people see that what pleases them is the product of their
unique makeup and life experience and can be very different from what pleases
“Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”
This turns their random caring behaviors into “target” behaviors,
behaviors that are designed to satisfy their partners’ unique desires.
This simple action is re-creating the vital parent-child bond.
I feel secure again, and the injury of my childhood is repaired in an
adult relationship that has become a zone of love and safety.
Random reinforcement, one of the principles of behavioral science, is
the idea that a pleasurable stimulus loses its effectiveness if it’s repeated
with predictable regularity.
The reason routine gifts aren’t as exciting is that the
“psychoneurological system has become desensitized to predictable, repetitive
I created the idea of the Surprise List exercise.
These were caring behaviors above and beyond those requested by the
spouse. A person generated the list
by paying close attention to the partner’s wishes and dreams.
When couples added unanticipated pleasures like these to their daily
regimen of caring behaviors, the beneficial effect of the exercise continued on
a gentle rise.
To engage in several high-energy, fun activities a week.
“Adult” activities; they had forgotten how to have fun together.
When couples have exuberant fun together their identify each other as a
source of pleasure and safety, which intensifies their emotional bond.
The only way to lower this automatic resistance to change is to repeat
a new behavior often enough so that it begins to feel familiar and
We told ourselves, “My parents limited my pleasure, so I must not have
been worthy of it.”
Gradually we developed a built-in prohibition against pleasure.
People who grew up experiencing a great deal of repression tend to have
a particularly hard time with the Reromanticizing exercise.
His lack of comprehension was a cover-up for his inability to ask for
It was also a way for his wife to learn how to become a more loving
person – which happened to be true. When
it was put in this less self-serving context.
Isolaters often have a difficult time which this exercise.
….doing is hiding behind the psychic shield they erected as children
to protect themselves from overbearing parents.
They discovered early in life that one way to maintain a feeling of
autonomy around their intrusive parents was to keep their thoughts and feelings
After a while, many isolaters do the ultimate disappearing act and hide
their feelings from themselves. In
the end, it is safest not to know.
The fact of the matter is that both individuals have the identical need
to be loved and cared for. It’s
just that one of them happens to be more in touch with those feelings than the
Given enough time and repetitions, the brain can adjust to a different
person with low self-esteem can gradually carve out a more positive
identity. The isolater has a chance
to discover that sharing secret desires desires does not compromise his or her
…insight and behavioral change make powerful allies.
As you learn more about your unconscious motivations and transform these
insights into supportive behaviors, you can create a more conscious and
ultimately more rewarding relationship.
Although we all agree in principle that our partners have their own
points of view and their own valid perceptions, at
the emotional level are reluctant to accept this simple truth.
“implementing the therapeutic balance”
…that each of you has a valid point of view; second, that reality is
larger and more complex than either of you will ever know.
If you respect each other’s point the view and see it as a way to
enrich your own, you will be able to take clearer, more accurate pictures.
…binocular, not monocular vision.
Marriage gives you the opportunity to be continually schooled in your
own reality and in the reality of another person.
You need to become more aware of the hidden agenda you bring to
marriage, of your disowned character traits, of your partner’s inner world,
and of the healing potential of your
An specially good area to mine for this hidden information is your
spoken and unspoken criticisms of your partner.
…the truth of the matter is that they are often descriptions of parts
..the pain of hearing a criticism is largely due to its accuracy.
Principle 1: Most of your
partner’s criticisms of you have some basis in reality.
How do I feel when my partner acts this way?
Did I ever have these thoughts and feelings when I was child?
Principle 2: Many
of your repetitious, emotional criticisms of your partner are disguised
statements of your own unmet needs.
“In what way is my criticism of my husband also true of me?
…“owning” and “withdrawing” her projections.
Principle 3: Some
of your repetitive, emotional criticisms of your partner may be an accurate
description of a disowned part of yourself.
When partners criticize each other for being too energetic, too sexy,
too playful, too dedicated to their work, they are often identyfing undeveloped
or repressed areas of their own psyches.
Principle 4: Some
of you criticisms of your partner may help your identify your own lost self.
· In order to deepen your understanding of your partner’s subjective reality, you need to train yourself to communicate more effectively.
· …semantics….language, each of you dwells in an idiosyncratic world of private meanings.
· What he did wrong was assume that he and his wife shared the same language.
· …is denial: you simply refuse to believe what your partner has to say.
· …an arsenal of weapons
· In all of these responses, what we are trying to do is diminish our partners’ sense of self and replace it with our own, self-serving illusion.
· Instead of helping our partners repair this emotional damage, we are adding further injury.
· First of all, it focuses your attention on the actual words your partner is saying.
· Second, when you engage in dialogue with your partner and really listen to the words and search for their meaning, you discover that you live with another person whose inner experience is different from yours much of the time.
· …you realize that you live with another person who is not an extension of you.
· …creates a deep emotional connection between you and your partner. When talking together reaches this profound level, it becomes a spiritual experience.
· The three parts of the Couple’s Dialogue are called mirroring, validation, and empathy.
· When one of you has something important to say, you begin by stating that thought or feeling in a short sentence beginning with “I.”
· Your partner restates the sentence in his or her own words and then asks if the message was received correctly
· “Is there more?”
· You continue with this process until you feel satisfied that you’ve conveyed your full message and that your partner has received it accurately.
· It is such an unexpected luxury to have your partner’s full attention.
· …affirm the internal logic of each other’s remarks. In essence, they are telling each other, “What you’re saying makes sense to me. I can see why you would think that way.”
….Rita wanted more than to be heard.
She wanted her thought processes to be validated.
She wanted her husband to tell her that her worldview made sense.
….suspend his view of the world for a moment and make an honest effort
to see hers.
“That’s all that I wanted to hear!” she said. “I haven’t heard
that before, from you or from anybody! I’m not crazy! I make sense!”
Finally, someone was affirming her truth.
…you and I have our experience with connection.
“Given the fact that you see things the way that you do, it makes
sense to me that you would feel hurt.”
Once someone affirms their raw emotions, they begin to feel loved and
…women tend to value empathy more than men.
…they’ve had to live with men who are relatively devoid of feeling.
….gender differences begin to
It is always surprising to me to see how quickly anger will dissipate
once it’s been received and fully acknowledged.
…if you want to move beyond communication to communion, then you need
to include all three steps.
…once you learn to open your eyes, every interaction between you and
your partner, whether spoken or unspoken, can become a valuable source of
of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do
Now is the time to talk about the healing of deeper childhood wounds.
Just as they grow accustomed to this more intimate, nurturing
environment, however, a disheartening event occurs: conflicts begin to emerge…
…they are once again turning to each other for salvation.
And once again they make the unpleasant discovery that neither of them
has the necessary skills or the motivation to meet the other’s deeper needs.
In fact, many people come to the sobering conclusion that what they want
most from their partners is what their partners are least able to give.
….unwilling to let go of my unfinished business.
The part of me that hurt couldn’t accept love from within
myself because I had externalized my source of salvation.
I concluded that the love we are seeking has to come not just from
another person within the context of a safe, intimate relationship, but from a
imago match –someone so similar to
our parents that our unconscious minded has them fused.
If people were going to be healed. I conjectured, their partners would have to change.
…it also happened to be the precise area where that partner needed to
….In others words, in his
efforts to heal his partner he would be recovering an essential part of himself!
The unconscious selection process has brought together two people who can
either hurt each other or heal each other, depending upon their willingness to
grow and change.
…the requests would be for potentially difficult changes in behavior…
In essence, they would be asking them to overcome their most prominent
…not because they expected love in return but simply because their
partners deserved to be loved.
….to examine their criticisms…
This list of positive, specific requests would become the ongoing
curriculum of their relationship.
The purpose of the exercise was to educate their partners, so that if
their partners wanted to stretch into new behaviors they would have some
The only legitimate power she had in the relationship was to inform
Stewart of her needs and to change her own behavior to meet Stewart’s needs
love that they are sending out to each other is touching and healing their own
….a desire to be more intentional in his relationship.
…most husbands and wives have identical needs, but what is openly
acknowledged in one is denied in the other.
Love of the self is achieved through the love of the other.
1. The partner who requested the behavior changes was able to resolve
some childhood needs.
2. The partner who made the
changes recovered aspects of the lost self.
3. The partner who made the
changes satisfied repressed needs that were identical to the partner’s.
…underneath every wish is a fear of having that wish come true.
…a part of you feels that you don’t deserve it
To silence this voice, you find ways to undermine you spouse’s
The way to overcome this fear, once again, is to keep on with the
…until their anxiety becomes more manageable.
…if he were to continue to change his behavior, he would feel anxious
from time to time, but he wasn’t going to die.
He was not going to disappear, because he was not his behaviors, his
values, or his beliefs.
…he would become more fully the person he was – the whole, loving
spiritual being he had been as a child.
Ultimately the fear of death will no longer be an inhibiting factor in
your campaign for self growth.
Marriage can fulfil you hidden drive to be healed and whole.
You have to moderate your old-brain reactivity with a more intentional,
conscious style of interaction. You
have to stop expecting the outside world to take care of you and begin to accept
responsibility for your own healing. And
the way you do this, paradoxically, is by focusing your energy on healing your
partner. It is when you direct your
energy away from yourself and toward your partner that deep-level psychological
and spiritual healing begins to take place.
Some couples never fight.
“…at least not openly.”
…underneath this superficial calm and compassionate behavior was a sea
When we hurt our partners,
we invariably hurt ourselves.
There can be no intimacy because there is no safety.
The old brain will not allow its defences to be penetrated.
…repressed anger often creates an empty marriage.
I was not in touch with my own pain and anger.
Once I began to experience my own pain and the inevitable rage that
..most of us grew up with the message that anger is a bad, destructive,
or self-indulgent emotion.
But if we choose to dampen our anger, we also dampened our capacity of
love, because love and anger are two sides of the same coin.
When we feel joyful, it is because our life energy is allowed to
flourish. When we become angry, it is because our life energy has been thwarted.
We become angry when the promise of life is denied.
How can we release our anger and not hurt the people we love? The answer
is a process called “Containment.”
Your anger needs to be released in measured doses, ignited in a safe
environment, and converted back into eros, its original, life-giving form.
Instead of arguing about the cause of your anger, your partner is
trained to acknowledge its existence.
When your partner listens carefully, paraphrases your remarks, and then
acknowledges the existence of your intense emotions, your need for attention is
satisfied, the environment become safe and affirming, and your anger gradually
dissipates. The container
Transaction is not designed to
eliminate the source of your anger-than can be done at a later date by
requesting a specific behavior change. The
exercise simply affirms the reality of your emotions.
…you learn to interfere with your defensive reactions.
..three ground rules: 1. Neither partner is allowed to leave the room
until the exercise is completed. 2.
Neither partner can damage any property or touch the other partner in a hostile
manner. 3. The angry person must
limit all remarks to a description of behavior, not a description of character.
In a sense, the exercise is a license to be child again, only this time
with a supportive, validating parent. This
deeper regression in a safe and loving environment can be very healing.
…you learn that your partner’s anger won’t harm you.
“Passive – aggressive”
…need to rewrite their play
Then they would need to read their new script over and over again so
that the new options would be just a available to them as their habituated ones.
…she wants to be married to a vibrant, alive human being.
…this exercise, unlike the others, requires the supervision of a
therapist and does not appear in Part III.
…it would take numerous encounters of this kind before her fear of
being angry would go away. The brain
tends to favor messages that were laid down early in life over ones that are
…ten or fifteen exercises.
…natural response was to let the sadness evolve into withdrawal and
…the person whom she had unconsciously fused with her father.
…overpowered her father’s tyrannical voice.
…this was important work not only for you but for both of us.
Your lack of anger accommodates this whole unhealthy dynamic we have
together. It allows me to do
anything I want to and know that I won’t have to face your anger.
I can be the irresponsible kid and know I won’t have to face any
An important lesson she was learning was that Peter was not her father.
..to one degree or another, we hide our true feelings from ourselves and
from the people around us.
Yet, when it comes to our own repressed emotions, we cower in fear.
We fear that what is inside of us is dark, ugly, and over-powering.
But once we gain the courage to wrestle with this fear, we learn an
astonishing fact: what is hiding
inside us is our own blocked life
energy. It is love; it is light; it
is the essence of God. And releasing
this energy is the ultimate purpose of love relationships.
· …man’s spiritual wholeness is inextricably linked with his psychological wholeness.
· What I’m talking about is a native spirituality, a spirituality that is a gift to us the moment we are conceived, a spirituality that we lose sight of in childhood but that can be experienced once again in adulthood if we learn how to deal old wounds. When we regain awareness of our essential inner unity, we make an amazing discovery: we are no longer cut off from the rest of the world. The universe has meaning and purpose, and we experience ourselves as part of a larger whole.
· …one of the surest routes to this exalted state of being is the humble path of marriage.
· …a journey of psychological and spiritual healing.
…overview of the entire process.
The first step is become more conscious of our old wounds.
We look into the past for evidence of how we were denied adequate
nurturing and how we repressed essential parts of our being. We do this through
therapy, prayer, and reflection, and by becoming more astute observers of
everyday events. As we gather new
insights, we share them with our partners, because we no longer assume they can
read our minds. When our partners
share their thoughts and feelings with us, we listen with understanding and
compassion, knowing that this sharing is a sacred trust.
Gradually we start to “reimage” our partners, to see them as they
really are wounded children seeking salvation.
Once we have this more accurate image, we begin to redesign our
relationships to heal our wounds. To
do this, we first build an atmosphere of safety and trust.
By closing our exits, renewing our commitment to each other, and
deliberately pleasuring each other, we create a safe and nurturing environment.
We add to this feeling of safety and validation by learning to
communicate openly and effectively. As
we overcome our resistance to this new way of relating, we begin to see our
partners with even more clarity. We
learn that they have fears and weaknesses and desires that they have never
shared with us. We listen to their
criticisms of us and realize that these illuminate our own darkness.
We tell ourselves: “My partner has something to say about me. There is
probably a measure of truth in this comment.”
Gradually we come to accept the fullness, the dark and the light of our
The next step in the healing process is perhaps the most difficult:
we make a decision to act on the information we are acquiring about
ourselves and our partners and become our partner’s healers. We go against our
instinct to focus on our own needs and make a conscious choice to focus on
theirs. To do this, we must conquer
our fear of change. As we respond to
our partners’ needs, we are surprised to discover that, in healing our
partners, we are slowly reclaiming parts of our own lost selves.
We are integrating parts of our being that were cut off in childhood.
We find ourselves regaining our capacity to think and to feel, to be
sexually and spiritually alive, and to express ourselves in creative ways.
As we reflect on all that we are learning, we see that the painful
moments in life are in reality opportunities for growth.
Instead of blocking the pain, we ask ourselves: “What
truth is trying to emerge at this moment?
What primal feelings are hiding beneath these feelings of sadness,
anxiety, and frustration?” We learn that the underlying feelings are pain and
rage and the fear of death, and that these feelings are common to us all.
Finally, we find a safe and growth-producing way to express these
powerful emotions and no longer allow them jeopardize our relationships.
One by one, the elements of our marriage that were once unconscious-the
fears, the anger, the childhood needs, the archaic pain-are brought to the
surface, first to find acceptance, then, ultimately, to be resolved.
As our wounds heal and as more hidden parts of ourselves come into our
awareness, we have a new sense of our inherent unity and wholeness.
· “I went back into my old childhood pattern of taking care of myself, that old coping mechanism of mine of being totally independent.”
· We were both growing individually, but we weren’t integrating it back into our relationship.
· We were dead. Numb. We wanted something from each other that we weren’t getting, but we didn’t know what that was. We were both out of touch with our needs.
· …wasn’t aware of my anxiety.
· I may say I want peace, but the truth of the matters is, I want life to be challenging.
· “I had never understood her pain before.”
· …if he wanted more sex, he would have to ask for it. “I had to be more direct about my needs. She wasn’t going to read my mind.”
· “I need and want massive doses of reassurance,”
· “I love you. You’re the person I want to be with. I want to live with you for the rest of my life.”
· …become a more effective manager. “I’ve gotten quite adept at spotting hidden agendas.”
· “My advice would be to focus on yourself,” “And when I say that, I mean you should realize that what you are doing for your partner is what you’re doing for yourself. It’s about your own personal growth. I finally learned that, when I was stretching to meet one of Greg’s needs.
· …in meeting the needs of your partner you will be recapturing a part of yourself.”
· …key developmental struggle was in the stage that child psychologists would label “the stage of individuation and autonomy.”
· …goal in life was to get tender nurturing ……but at the same time he had to stay far enough away so that he would not be absorbed……he accomplished this delicate manoeuvre by giving Grace enough love and affection to keep her interested, but maintaining a crucial distance.
· I finally made a full commitment to our marriage.
· …increased acceptance of her has been the determining factor in her own acceptance of herself.
· …the conscious marriage as a journey, not a destination.
· “the conscious marriage.” …a state of mind and a way of being based on acceptance, a willingness to grow and change, the courage to encounter one’s own fear, and a conscious decision to act in loving ways. It is a marriage built on an entirely different foundation from the infatuation of romantic love, but the feelings are just as joyful and intense.
· When we look at marriage in more detail, it is clear that the simple word “love” cannot adequately describe the wide variety of feelings two individuals can have for each other. In the first two stages of marriage, romantic love and the power struggle, love is reactive; it is an unconscious response to the expectation of need fulfilment. Love is best described as eros, life energy seeking union with gratifying object. When a husband and wife make a decision to create a more satisfying marriage, they enter a stage of transformation, and love becomes infused with consciousness and will; love is best defined as agape, the life energy directed toward the partner in an intentional act of healing. Now, in final stage of marriage, reality love, love takes on the quality of “spontaneous oscillation,” words that come from quantum physics and describe the way energy moves back and forth between particles. When partners learn to see each other as highly as they value themselves, to give without expecting anything in return, to commit themselves fully each other’s welfare, love moves freely between them without apparent effort. The word that best describes this mature kind of love is not “eros,” not “agape,” but yet another Greek word, “philia,” which means “love between friends.” The partner is no longer perceived as a surrogate parent, or as an enemy, but as a passionate friend.
· When couples are able to love in selfless manner, they experience a release of energy. They cease to be consumed by the details of their relationship, or to need to operate within the artificial structure of exercises; they spontaneously treat each other with love and respect. What feels unnatural to them is not their new way of relating but the self-centered, wounding interactions of the past. Love becomes automatic, much as it was in the earliest stage of marriage, but now it is based on truth of the partner, not on illusion.
· One characteristic of couples who have reached this advanced stage of consciousness is that they begin to turn their energy away from each other toward the woundedness of the world. They develop a great concern for the environment, for people in need, for important causes. The capacity to love and heal that they have created within the marriage is now available for others. I have found no better description of this rare kind of love than in Corinthians13:
· Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects. It always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.