San Luis Relationship Institute | 1023 Nipomo St. Suite 210 | San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
When we fall in love, our partner is perfect. We are perfect. A sense of well-being floods us. The miracles are renewed. Sometimes we even feel we can scale mountains and ford streams with the legs of children, regardless of our age. But somewhere past three or four months, something begins to change. We become less than perfect in the eyes of our lover, and s/he in ours. Behaviors we initially found endearing may become irritating. Irritation may erupt into outright conflict which in turn may lead to the emergence of old patterns that cause mutual hurt. A power struggle can develop and take over, replacing intimacy as the central force in the relationship. The statistics in our culture testify to how destructive this dynamic can be.
If we stay together, we may become expert at tip-toeing around each other’s “issues” or at somehow enduring the same hurtful blame and shame arguments over and over again. So much is left unresolved, that we may come to lead parallel lives under the same roof with only occasional moments of closeness. The dream we lived together when we first fell in love now seems frustratingly out of reach. We may hunker down, feeling disappointed, wounded, angry and lost—uncertain how to change the dynamic to rejuvenate the relationship.
Harville Hendrix, PhD, walked the same difficult path in his own relationships. Deep in inquiry about the nature of the pain he was giving and receiving, he had a simple illumination that enabled him to synthesize many of the known truths about human beings into a structured practice. This practice provides us with a way to consistently return to emotional truth, gradually bringing liberation from the cycle of emotional and physical wounding that grips so many couples, regardless of their age, race, background or sexual preference. In 1988, he described his own journey and method in his bestselling book, Getting the Love you Want. Since the publication of Getting the Love, Hendrix has presided over the intensive training of more than 2000 people worldwide in Imago Relationship Therapy.
The essence of Harville’s theory is this: few of us emerge from childhood unscathed. We carry our wounds into adulthood, unconsciously questing to have them healed by a partner who, in many key ways, resembles both the loving and wounding aspects of our principle childhood caregivers—usually our mother and father. Imago is the word Hendrix chose to describe this composite image from the past that lives in us as a template and is ultimately embodied in our partner. When we look at love relationships this way, we realize that as Harville says, “Conflict is growth trying to happen.” In this case, though we are struggling in the present with our partner, we are actually recreating the conflicts of childhood when we were dependent on our caregivers, helpless to satisfy our own needs. But in fact, we are adults now and can become conscious of how this old hurt projects itself into our present lives. We are no longer helpless. Now, with commitment, courage and constancy of purpose, we can break the power struggle the old wounds engender between us and our partner. This is accomplished with therapeutic techniques carefully developed by Dr.Hendrix and his faculty to bring the old hurts out into the open and give us a chance to grieve them. Through this process, we and our partners become more deeply empathetically connected to each other. That expanded empathy empowers us to interact in the present in ways that are free of the childhood projections.
Our matching up with our partner is no accident. Dr. Hendrix believes we come together specifically to help each other heal towards wholeness. The conflicts in our couplehood represent growth and healing trying to happen. Any couples work that hopes to achieve profound and sustainable transformation has to embrace this opportunity and find a way to heal the past and the present at the same time. After all, we were conceived in relationship. We were born in relationship. We were raised in relationship. We were wounded in relationship. Finally, with the right skills and determination, we will be healed in relationship.
The central tool Dr. Hendrix developed is the Imago Dialogue. The Dialogue brings forth and honors both adult and wounded child. The skill-set Imago teaches initially requires an attuned and well-trained therapist and consistent, courageous work on the part of the couple. This is not a magic bullet. If it were easy to stay in deep, authentic couplehood, we'd all be doing so without help. Over time, however, we can learn to use the Imago skills on our own as a life-long practice. That practice continues to move us through the power struggle with ever greater efficiency into growth, healing and genuine intimacy so that we truly do get the love we want.