Posts Tagged ‘Harville Hendrix’

Couple on a Bridge - Horizontal

SO, you may ask, “What is the Imago Dialogue?” The following is a basic explanation shared from the free resource section of The Imago Dialogue allows you to cross the bridge into your partner’s world. Your partner will feel heard, safe, and reconnected. The only thing you need to bring is your passport! Leave your baggage behind and discover the world in which your partner resides.

Imago Dialogue 101

Tim Atkinson, Executive Director, Imago Relationships International

Why Dialogue?

Dialogue can help you to keep relationships fresh and dynamic, and to get beneath conflict to rediscover a deeper connection. If I try to resolve conflict in my relationship without creating a true connection with my partner, I may just be patching things up until the next big fight comes along, or even reinforcing the problem. Imago theory shows that most conflicts that have a painful “charge” are only 10% about the present situation and 90% about some past wound that is causing pain now. Imagine if you could truly heal old wounds. Your partner is the ideal person to help you do just that!

Dialogue vs. Discussion

Often when I am listening to my partner, I might also be planning how to respond. I may be fervently figuring out how to show her that she is wrong, or how to defend myself from things she says that I don’t want to hear. My reply would contain carefully chosen words which show just how much I am “in the right”, and are designed so I don’t have to hear any more.

What I have described is not really a discussion between me and my partner. It’s what the philosopher Martin Buber called an “I-It” relationship. I am not dealing with her reality, and I’m working hard to give her a fake shiny version of me.

When we try to solve conflict in an “I-It” discussion, we may get a solution which works for a while. But it is unlikely to be the best solution for us both long-term, and leaves the true underlying reasons for conflict unresolved.

Dialogue helps people cut through their natural defenses to create a more genuine connection, which Buber called “I-You.” When we are both honestly and openly involved in exploring issues, we can discover the real source of pain. Listening and talking about this in a loving, safe space can open up within ourselves amazing potential for an improved relationship.

When my partner and I fell in love, we had a sense of destiny drawing us together. It felt like there was a path together which was greater than the course of our separate lives. Dialogue enables us to unfold that path, and experience the love we dreamed of.

“Your partner is another person – Get it!” (Harville Hendrix)

There are many ways in which dialogue can enrich our lives:

• We can make better decisions, because we can share together a full understanding of what we both need.

• It’s a lot more fun and passionate. I get to continue discovering the amazing other person who loves me.

• It can be a wonderful path of discovery, not just of my partner, but about me. Often I find that our partner’s thinks better of me, than I do of myself.

Imago Dialogue Starts with Safety
If I am going to meet others in an authentic way, and lower my protective shell, I need to feel safe. The structure of the Imago dialogue provides safety. The first rule is to banish all shame, blame and criticism. That might sound tough if I am really angry at my partner for all the things they did or didn’t do. How can I tell them how much they are hurting me, if I can’t criticize?

But I also need to make it safe for my partner to listen to me. And that means to always talk about my own feelings, not about their actions. What does this mean to me? Why am I frustrated? What do I feel? The key is to make it easy for my partner to remain open, and to be available to hear.

Stop Talking, Start Connecting
Listening to my partner may be the most difficult part of the Imago dialogue, especially if we are going to talk about a hard subject. Am I going to hear something painful? Will I want to jump out of my chair and run out? Will I want to shout and deny it?

Listening well can sometimes be a very courageous act. To be available to listen and truly hear what concerns your partner means putting aside all my spontaneous reactions to it. As the words come out, my first reaction might be to think “No – she’s got it wrong – it’s not like that!” The key to creating an “I-You” relationship is to put that aside, and instead listen without judgment. I need to open myself up to hearing my partner’s reality and, by hearing that, to truly connect with her. If I deny it, then I break the connection, and start an argument.

Try it. Practice.

Create Space for the Relationship
Before you start to dialogue, it’s good to create some space where your relationship can grow. You can do this in the room, by sitting on facing chairs, knees close together, with eye contact. But it’s also a good idea to spend a few moments quietly too, and become aware of the two of you. Let your breathing be quiet, and remind yourself to be calm, with no shame, blame or criticism as you speak, no judgment as you listen.

Something beautiful is being created between you. Martin Buber called it the “sacred space” when two people met as “I-You”.

Now you can start!

The Steps of Imago Dialogue
Imago Dialogue is a unique three step process for connection, developed by Harville Hendrix PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt PhD. Although it looks simple, the process was formulated through extensive study of psychological theories of relationship, and clinical work with couples.

The three steps are Mirroring, Validation and Empathy, and they are described in detail below. The essence of dialogue is any conversation in which people agree to listen to others without judgment, and accept their views as equally valid as their own. We have found the Imago dialogue to be a particularly effective way to start off on your journey to connection.

You can find directions on how to use the Imago dialogue here. What follows is a description of how to use each step.

The Imago Dialogue is initiated when a partner asks for an appointment and the other partner agrees to participate.


Using “I” language, one person sends a “message” to convey his/her thoughts, feelings, or experiences to the Receiver (“I feel,” “I love,” “I need …”). They should avoid shaming, blaming or criticizing their partner, and instead talk about themselves.

In response, the Receiver echoes the Sender’s message word-for-word or by paraphrasing, using a lead sentence like, “Let me see if I’ve got you. You said ….”

Mirroring helps me to listen to what the other person is actually saying rather than listening to the reactions and responses going on in my head while my partner is talking.

Then there’s a beautiful question the receiver can ask. “Is There More?” When I ask that question I leave a little time, to show I really mean it, and want to hear more. Often my partner might pause “Well no….er..let me see…maybe there is.” Often as they are given space and time, they will go deeper and share more with me, and that sharing can be the most fascinating part.

Keep on with it. You might be more encouraging – “Wow. Interesting. Is there more about that?” The more I reassure my partner that I am open to what she is saying, the more I can voyage on a wonderful journey into her world, and experience connection, even if I do find the subject area challenging or unfamiliar.

When my partner says “No, that’s all”, then I can try a summary. “So, in summary I heard you say that………… “ Then check you got it all. My partner might often say “Well you missed this little bit – and it’s quite important to me that you hear it.”


When I mirror my partner well, they will probably already be feeling that I have heard their point of view, and seen that for them it is valid. But it’s nice to say that too.

This part of the process can be quite hard too, if my partner has a very different perspective on things from me. But to be connected, it’s important for me to recognize that what my partner says makes sense for her. Sometimes her view might be so different from mine that I am tempted to think that she must be wrong. But in dialogue, creating the connection is paramount. Who is right and who is wrong doesn’t matter. Harville Hendrix likes to say: “You can be right, or you can be married!” With this process, you might even discover that you can find a solution together where it doesn’t matter whether either of you are right or wrong over this issue, because the underlying pain is what really needs to be addressed. Precisely because you are in relationship with another person, it is healthy to be able to accept that you hold different viewpoints.

After I have summarized my partner, I can validate them by simply saying “That makes sense to me.” I don’t have to agree with her, but show that I respect her reality. If I can, I might go on “That makes sense to me because….”

Sometimes as I watch my partner when I see this, I can see a physical sign of relief. It’s a lovely thing to have your views validated by another.


The third and final step of the Imago Dialogue is empathy. In the empathy step, I imagine what my partner might be feeling. Feelings are simple words like “Angry, Sad, Lonely, Afraid, Happy, Joyful etc:

”I would just ask my partner “I imagine you might be feeling afraid, and perhaps a little sad too. Is that what you are feeling?” Then I check in with my partner, and if she shares other feelings then mirror them to show I heard. “Ah, a little excited too.”

Did you try that with your partner? How do you feel? Did it help you understand them a little more, and bring you closer? I hope so. It has made a huge difference in my life.

Directions for a simple Imago dialogue
You can begin to use the Imago Dialogue to share with your partner something that concerns you, and that you would like to share with them. A great way to start using the dialogue is to share something that you appreciate about your partner. Try it, and see how you feel when your partner mirrors back your appreciation of them.

Here are some specific phrases you can use as you practice dialogue

I would like to dialogue about . . .
Is now okay?
I feel . . .
I love . . .
I need . . .
What’s bothering me is . . .

1. Mirroring
Let me see if I’ve got you.
I heard you say . . . or You said . . .
Am I getting you? or Did I get that?
Is there more about that?
Summary mirror
Let me see if I got it all . . .?
Am I getting you? Did I get all of that?
or Is that a good summary?

2. Validation
You make sense to me, and what makes sense is . . .
I can understand that . . .given that . . .
I can see how you would see it that way because sometimes I do . . .

3. Empathy

I imagine you might be feeling . . .
Is that what you’re feeling?


Copyright: Hunt/Hendrix and Imago Relationships International 2007-2008

photo credit: © Orangeline | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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I have to tell you that I have someone just like that in my life. Mickey truly loves me for everything that I am and everything that I’m not. His acceptance and unconditional love are what I’ve always wanted. I know I have my moments, and he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t run, he stands strong in his commitment to me, to us, and to our love. I am extremely grateful. He is my greatest gift!

My childhood wounds keep me locked behind a protective barrier not trusting a soul that knocks on the door. So, when my triggers are triggered, I’m on lock down: No one can get in and I’m not going out. Through the relationship work we’ve done, Mickey has discovered this about me and honors that side of me. He doesn’t make me wrong. When the trigger hits, two things occur: One, I embrace the moment and it soon loses it’s power. Resisting the situation only has it persist. And Two, Mickey and I dialogue about it which diffuses the heat and brings forth safety, connection, and the unlocking of my fortress. Yes, we’re human, and sometimes my anxiousness will trigger his wounds and we partake in a verbal and emotional sword-fight battling for the title of “The Rightest of them All”. This does not nurture or forward our relationship. It brings us back into an ugly unconscious power struggle: two wounded kids duking it out for bragging rights. Once we “wake up” to the fact that we’ve spiraled down into the dark abyss, we immediately begin to mend: dialogue to reconnect and recommit to our relationship vision.

We no longer run from conflict. It grants us access to our childhood wounds and shines light on the fact that where one of us needs to heal, the other needs to grow and vice versa. As we learn what triggers each other, we have agreed to consciously shift certain behaviors so that our wounded children stay safe from experiencing the pain and upset of a time long ago. Remember that past wounds, fears, upsets, and pain will never disappear. They are stored within our Old “Reptilian” Brain which has no sense of time. In understanding this and that conflict is growth trying to happen; Mickey and I know that running away is not an option. Our love is far greater than any wound we may have experienced and any fear that resides deep within us. It does take work, commitment, and a letting go of being right. And every day we give each other the greatest gift: We choose us, our relationship, and our love.


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1. REALIZE THAT YOUR LOVE RELATIONSHIP HAS A HIDDEN PURPOSE-THE HEALING OF CHILDHOOD WOUNDS. Recognize unresolved childhood issues that underlie your surface needs and desires, allowing you to make sense of aspects of your relationship and gain a greater sense of control.

2. CREATE A MORE ACCURATE IMAGE OF YOUR PARTNER. Let go of the illusions you have of your partner, realizing that they are not your savior, but another wounded human being, struggling to be healed.

3. TAKE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMMUNICATING YOUR NEEDS AND DESIRES TO YOUR PARTNER. Accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication.

4. BECOME MORE INTENTIONAL IN YOUR INTERACTIONS. Train yourself to behave in a more constructive manner.

5. LEARN TO VALUE YOUR PARTNER’S NEEDS AND WISHES AS HIGHLY AS YOU VALUE YOUR OWN. Let go of your narcissistic view and needs, and divert more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs.

6. EMBRACE THE DARK SIDE OF YOUR PERSONALITY. Openly acknowledge the fact that you, like everyone else, have negative traits. By doing so, you lessen your tendency to project your negative traits onto your mate, creating a less hostile environment.

7. LEARN NEW TECHNIQUES TO SATISFY YOUR BASIC NEEDS AND DESIRES. Abandon self-defeating tactics in your power struggle to coerce your partner into meeting your needs and realize that your partner can indeed be a resource for you.

8. SEARCH WITHIN YOURSELF FOR THE STRENGTHS AND ABILITIES YOU ARE LACKING. Realize that your were attracted to your partner and the strengths and abilities you lacked, thus giving you an illusory sense of wholeness. Then, recapture your sense of oneness by developing those hidden traits yourself.

9. BECOME MORE AWARE OF YOUR DRIVE TO BE LOVING AND WHOLE AND UNITED WITH THE UNIVERSE. Recognize that social conditioning and imperfect parenting made you lose touch with your original nature to love unconditionally and experience unity with the world around you. Once this is recognized, you can begin to rediscover it.

10. ACCEPT THE DIFFICULTY OF CREATING A GOOD MARRIAGE. Realize you too have to be the right partner. Gaining a more realistic view of love relationships allows you to realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.

Shared from P2 Partnerships –

Photo Credit: © Sorinus | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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There seems to be a fundamental disconnect in relationships of all kinds: familial to romantic. And it all stems from our earliest of years in which some, if not all, our basic emotional needs were not met by our parents or caretakers.  These wounds go back to the beginning of time. We’re all wounded in one way or another, as are our parents, grandparents, their parents, and so on and so forth. Some of us realize that our wounds are interfering with our relationships and seek a path of healing and discovery, some of us run on the hamster wheel of life wondering why our relationships don’t work, some of us disconnect from society, some of us become the center of attention. Whatever the wounding was, it imbedded deep within our unconscious and as we became old enough to consciously remember, we began creating interpretations of what happened to us constantly seeking proof of that interpretation, and we also created new ways of being to protect ourselves and to hide part of ourselves that we felt wasn’t good enough. These wounds sneak their way in and out of our relationships moment by moment. We are triggered left and right not realizing the true source of our upsets and frustrations. Their needs to be a shift in the home. If the Imago Dialogue was used in the home between the parents and between the parents and children, their would be greater sense of connection, of being heard, of being understood. Can you imagine the possibility of healing childhood wounds as they happen? Can you imagine parents creating a space for themselves where their childhood wounds are being healed. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt are taking on that possibility! The following is part of an interview between the Omega Institute and Harville and Helen from the HUFF POST – Healthy Living.

Omega: Imago has been around for several decades now and has made a difference in many, many lives. Omega is interested in how individual transformation in turn changes society for the better. Have you seen this with Imago?

Harville: Yes, we have, and we’re working on an exciting project to bring Imago to an even wider audience. We are stripping out the part of Imago that can be used to educate the public on how to be in a committed partnerships or marriage. We’re working with a group of relational experts — John Gottman, Dan Siegel, Michele Weiner-Davis, Ellyn Bader, and Marion Soloman — to launch a global wellness movement that focuses on all relationships. Our first initiative is Project Dallas, where over the next few years we’ll bring this technique to the general public using social media, traditional media, and trainings. The goal is to saturate the environment with the idea that healthy relationships make for a healthy society. We’ll be filming what we do and will ultimately turn it into a documentary.

Helen: The idea behind this was that if you want a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass a test. If you want a broker’s license you have to take a course and pass a test. But if you want a marriage license you simply have to pay a small fee, yet marriage is one of the most important commitments you will ever make in your life. We think most couples wait too long to get help, so we want to bring the simple practices of a conscious partnership into the mainstream so people know how to be in a marriage before they enter one. We believe we have the technology to end divorce if people can learn these principles of communication.

Harville: Yes, and Helen doesn’t mean just she and I think we can end divorce. All our partners in this endeavor feel the same. The point is there are a lot of couples who don’t need therapy. But there isn’t anyone that doesn’t need relationship education. Maybe 10-20 percent of the population had a happy enough childhood not to have a problematic marriage. But that means 80 percent of us are great candidates for relationship education. We’re going global with this, and we think it’s going to change everything.

© 2012 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Inc. All rights reserved.

The following video sheds much light on the effects of unmet emotional needs.

Building the Foundation

The seven emotional needs of a child.

By Wes Fleming

Unmet emotional needs can inhibit a child’s future. A child whose emotional tank is regularly filled, however, is typically more resilient and less peer dependent, as well as more likely to become a confident and responsible adult. A child has seven emotional needs. These seven needs form the acronym PARENTS, as children’s basic emotional needs include Protection, Acceptance, Recognition, Enforced limits, Nearness, Time and Support.


Children need to feel safe. They need a home where conflicts are resolved quickly and respectfully and where a parent’s behavior is predictable and trustworthy. Trust flourishes in homes where children know they can run into their Mom, Dad or caregiver’s arms at any moment and find love and support. Without a healthy capacity to trust, intimacy and interdependency become challenging, if not impossible, to experience. And when a parent struggles with intense mood swings, an addiction, explosive anger or chronic anxiety, a child feels abandoned, unloved and fearful. Children are unable to fully understand and accept parents’ good reasons for being preoccupied about the bills, angry toward a spouse and worried about a chronically ill relative. Kids simply feel the absence of a dependable and caring adult, and react with feelings of hurt and resentment.


Children crave acceptance. They crave it from their peers, teachers, coaches and, most importantly, they crave it from you— their parents. Children desperately want to know that despite natural limitations, physical imperfections and marginal performance levels, they are still worthy of love.

Our response to our children’s need for acceptance is their primary source of self-perception. We are the first mirror at which our children gaze. Our children look at our faces and see a reflection of their worth and value— or lack of it. If our typical response to our child is patient and respectful, our child’s general view of himself will be positive. If, however, we are routinely critical and harsh toward our child, his beliefs about himself will be negative, resulting in low self-esteem and corresponding behaviors that are often self-sabotaging in nature.


It crushes a child to feel like a failure in his parent’s eyes. Though at times their desire is disguised, your children have a profound yearning to please you. They need to hear parents say: “I’m proud of you. Good job. I respect you.” They need to feel your approval.

Indeed, if approval is withheld or lacking at home, a child eventually loses hope in receiving approval. As a result, such a child often becomes sullen and cynical in disposition. The effects of this despair are far reaching.

Children from homes that are high on expectation and low on affirmation commonly grow up with a nagging sense of inadequacy. Their emotional logic tells them that if they are unable to win their parents’ approval, they must be deficient in some way. They conclude that they are “not good enough.” As they mature, they may resort to compulsive people pleasing to gain what was lost in childhood, or demonstrate excessive work habits in an angry attempt to prove to themselves and others that they are good enough. Paradoxically, a lack of recognition in childhood can cause adults to retreat into unproductive lives and fall short of achievements well within their grasp. Their haunting sense of inadequacy may precipitate chronic procrastination, avoidance of responsibility and self-defeating behaviors. In short, the pain of criticism, disapproval and rejection is so great that they avoid the risk of responsibility and even success.

Enforced Limits

Kids need reasonable, clearly communicated and enforced boundaries at home as much as they need them on the softball field. Without rules, a child feels desperate, aimless and afraid. Without loving discipline, children feel a lack of protection and care. Sometimes “acting out” is the way a child expresses a need for structure and safety in what he senses is a chaotic, unpredictable and threatening environment. In a sense, a child really does ask for discipline.

Firm guidance and boundaries demonstrate our willingness to help our children find the control they seek. Kids need parents and caregivers who love them enough to say “no” and mean it. They may even feel resentful toward parents who don’t set limits. Kids want a parent they can respect and trust. They need a parent, not a pal.


Hugging, holding and even affectionate wrestling with your child deposits memory sensations of comfort and security that endure throughout life. Likely, the most powerful way to assure a child that he is loved and safe is to hold him in your arms. Children think concretely— they are hands-on learners. Your arms and hands provide a child with a deeply assuring sense of protection, comfort and worth.

A parent’s nearness also lets a child know that he is worth holding. Affection communicates “You are so dear to me that I want to hold you and keep you safe.”


How does a child spell love? T-I-M-E. Kids need lots of it— both quality and quantity. Good relationships require focused attention (quality) and lots of time together (quantity).

Having fun with our kids simply by playing with them sends a powerful message: “You are interesting, fun and worth being around.” It’s not enough for our children to know we are present; they must know we enjoy being present with them. When we chase, laugh, tickle and tease, we are authentic, spontaneous and our real selves. Our children know the difference between parental duty and joyful celebration, and long for the moments when we enjoy playing a card game, reading a storybook and going on a backyard camping trip.

A careful look at our datebooks may reveal that the problem isn’t so much a shortage of time, but how we spend it. Though many parents feel the need to work long hours in order to put food on the table, censuses show that the majority of us work to put stuff in the garage. Though it may feel, at times, like we are compelled against our will to carry a staggering workload, the truth is we have choices. We choose the job, we agree to overtime, we opt to stay in demanding careers. Our children need us to choose wisely.


Just as our children needed our physical support when they first learned to walk, they need emotional support as they toddle unsteadily toward an unknown future as teens. Contrary to popular belief, teens want support. They relish our non-anxious listening, compassion, encouragement and judgment-free counsel.

Children and teens are far less resistant to our support when we affirm their autonomy and problem solve with them. Yet, deep inside an adolescent is a powerful need for independence. Teens’ passion for freedom should be regarded as an inherent drive that moves them out of the house and toward responsible self-care. Rather than fight their lust for independence, work with it. Give your children the freedom to rise and fall, while maintaining boundaries that protect them from serious injury. Let them know that your strong arm and friendly counsel are available— but only if they ask for your support!

Meeting our children’s seven emotional needs lays a foundation for their future. A dependable source of love and safety develops a healthy capacity to trust and an accurate self-image, which in turn provides children with the tools they need to overcome life’s adversities and enjoy its benefits. With a full emotional tank, children are ready to tread the road before them.

Wes Fleming, author, parent and teacher trainer, brings humor and insight to parenting in his book Raising Children on Purpose (Whitaker House Publishing). For speaking engagements, contact publicist Joy Ike at (877)7930-9800 or See Fleming’s faith-based seminars and products at

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Have you ever been in a conversation with your partner and know that you’re not being listened to? They’re there, but not there – in another space and time. We are so quick to want to respond. There are a million things spiraling around in our heads leaving no room to truly listen to our partner. Being so into ME! ME! ME! fractures relationships. We are all infected with the ME virus and it robs us of truly connecting. All human being want to be heard and to know that they make sense. When your partner is not present and actively listening, deep-rooted childhood wounds are triggered: I’m not loveable, I’m not worthy, I’m invisible, and I don’t matter. Your relationship does not have to be an episode of The Walking Dead.

One antidote to the ME virus is the Imago Dialogue. This simple and effective tool; though not easy, will transform your relationship by sustaining and deepening your connection.  Imago Dialogue is a basic three step exercise to help people communicate information, thoughts, feelings, or experiences, with the intention of being authentic, respectful, clear, and understood. On a deeper level, Imago Dialogue invites, creates, enhances, and preserves connection as well as enables you heal your childhood wounds and honor your partner’s needs. It is initiated when a partner asks for an appointment and the other partner agrees to participate. It consists of Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy.

MIRRORING trains us to listen to what the other person is actually saying rather than listening to the reactions & responses going on in our own heads while the other is talking.

VALIDATION invites understanding and that your partner “makes sense”.  It allows two different worlds to exist and embraces different points of view. It’s not an “I must agree with you” rather, an “I understand and accept you.”

EMPATHY is imagining the feelings of your partner, stepping into their shoes, and feeling their pain, anger, appreciation, or joy. It’s important to verify that the imagined feelings are correct. Over time, a shift is made from staring at exteriors to sharing of interiors, as we participate in the emotional realm of the other, while holding onto our own, separate experience.

You have to remember that there are two of you, not one. A conscious partnership is not a me and you are one and I am the one kind of relationship. The both of you live in different countries, speak different languages, have different experiences and memories, etc. Dialoguing provides a safe way for you and your partner to cross the bridge into each other’s worlds to discover and embrace each other’s “otherness”. This process instantly diffuses any heat around a frustration or complaint and it can also be used to express an appreciation. And oh how we crave appreciation and acknowledgement, especially from our partner. This new way of talking to each other produces miracles: safety, connection, and passion! Now who doesn’t want that?!?!

The following video is of Harville and Helen sharing about the Imago Dialogue. ENJOY!

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WOW! What an amazing weekend of transformation and love! This weekend I had the honor and privilege to assist along side Atlanta Imago Relationship therapists for Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt while they led their Getting the Love You Want workshop. This workshop was extremely special because it kicked off the research for the clinical trials on the effectiveness of the Getting the Love You Want workshop.

50 couples, from the US, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, filled the room ready to embark on a journey: one that would lead from existing in an unconscious relationship to flourishing in a conscious partnership. Being able to assist and support these couples with Harville and Helen at the helm was a dream come true. In addition to assisting Harville, Helen, and the participants during the workshop and exercises and receiving beneficial training and development as a Certified Imago Educator, I left the weekend with a profound sense of how much I love the man in my life and how much he loves me! We have attended a Getting the Love You Want workshop twice in the past two years and it has definitely nourished our partnership beyond what we ever imagined. I highly recommend that couples read Getting the Love You Want as well as attend a Getting the Love You Want workshop. It will profoundly transform your relationship. I invite you visit the following sites for the pathway to making that happen.

Their new book Making Marriage Simple: 10 Simple Truths to a Happy Marriage ( will be in stores March 12th! In this book, Harville and Helen distill what they’ve learned from decades of research, their counseling and workshops with couples into ten essential and provocative truths about marriage. This book will give you the practical tools to transform your relationship and foster a rewarding and joyous marriage.

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“I can’t live either without you or with you.” -Ovid

“What happened to you?!? You are not the same person I met a few months ago! You’ve changed! You’re getting on my nerves! Why are you doing that? Why aren’t you there for me anymore? You’re not listening to me! I’m so frustrated!”

The “love drugs” have been confiscated, the “love birds” have been caged, and the “power police” are lockin’ it down. The gig is up. The bubble is busted. The gloves are on. Let’s get ready to rumble!

This stage of an unconscious relationship is known as The Power Struggle. It usually occurs once the relationship becomes exclusive, whether it is a primary commitment to each other or an engagement. And the once calm waters and sunny days are overtaken by a turbulent tsunami devastating and drowning everything in its path. Your partner, not only has to continue to be loving, attractive, funny, smart, and so on, but they now have to begin fulfilling every childhood need, healing every childhood wound. Most of these are conscious to semiconscious needs; however, there are many that are hidden from your view.

Once “connected at the hip”, the long list of expectations you both have become present and voiced – from “dinner needs to be ready by 6” to “we have to visit with my parents every Sunday”. Most of the time, these expectations are not shared prior to a long term commitment, engagement, or even marriage and becomes a great source of tension and frustration.

What’s most important to realize is that needs you have that you don’t even know you have run the show. As in the Romantic Stage of your relationship, you unknowingly picked your partner to love, nurture, and take care of you, like you parents or caregivers never did. “Once a relationship seems secure, a psychological switch is triggered deep in the old brain that activates all the latent infantile wishes. It is the wounded child within that takes over.”  Now you have two wounded children believing they now deserve a prize, so they both take a step back from the relationship waiting for their “being on my best behavior” prize. You will recognize this change in your relationship when you start living separately within your home, having your own agendas, communication ceases, and you’re not as interested in doing the things you once loved together.

Another revelation begins to occur: the very things that you loved and admired about your partner are now grating on your last nerve. Why is this? As you remember in picking your partner, you chose the one that “completed” you, that made up for the parts of yourself that you lost during childhood. Their traits complemented your traits thus filling the void within you.  As the relationship grows, those traits that you were once fond of, “begin to stir up feelings and attributes in (yourself) that (are) still taboo”.

Your old brain is all about protection and survival. So, not only does it begin to not like the once loved traits in your partner, it has you start to suppress those traits in your partner. It’s no longer cool how sexy they are, how smart they are, how responsible they are, how social they are. Those traits bring up those same repressed traits within you as well as the punishments and words of discouragement you experienced as a child having those traits. It’s too painful, so in trying to protect yourself, you repress your partner’s reality. And this is only part of the tsunami! The negative traits you so vehemently denied during the romantic stage are being illuminated and coming into focus. Panic starts to set in because now, not only are your needs not going to be met, you will be wounded once again as you were in childhood. We tend to react to partners as if they were identical copies of our parents. It doesn’t matter that all the traits are not the same, they are our parents and that’s that. We so want to “work on unfinished business” that we dress our partners in our parent’s clothes to “provoke the desired response”. A colleague of Harville Hendrix “claims that people either “pick imago matches, project them, or provoke them.””

The final wave of destruction is that of projecting your own denied negative traits onto your partner. As I’ve talked about in a previous post, your partner is a mirror. So when you find yourself criticizing, you are seeing a reflection of everything you deny or dislike about yourself. The criticizing continues to hide those undesirable parts that you aren’t able to accept within yourself.

To review, “the following are the three major sources of conflict that make up the power struggle. As the illusion of romantic love slowly erodes, the two partners begin to:”

1.    Stir up each other’s repressed behaviors and feelings.

2.    Reinjure each other’s childhood wounds.

3.    Project their own negative traits onto each other.

How do you let your partner know that you need more love and affection: Do you withhold, do you use negative tactics, or do you shut down? Harville Hendrix was very curious why partners don’t just tell each other what they need. And then it hit him. As babies, we cried for love and affection, to have our needs met. Our parents or caregivers were right there to bathe, to change, to feed, and to hold. They knew exactly what to do. That’s where the wiring began! Everyone should know how to take care of me! SO… it becomes a guessing game with your partner. They don’t know how to fulfill your needs if you don’t tell them. This vicious cycle of no communication and criticizing for not knowing smothers the spirit of love and fuels the power struggle: constantly forcing one another to meet each other’s needs. Our old brain really thinks that we will die if those needs are not met which keeps us in a state of hostility and survival. We are addicted to these ineffective behaviors because it’s all we know. Creating a conscious relationship is all about tapping into what you don’t know that you don’t know, communication, choice, and trying on something new: opening up to a relationship not dictated by childhood wounds.

Don’t forget that all of this is unconscious. You’re not purposely trying to hurt your partner. I know that feeling frustrated, angry, sad, unloved, confused, and anxious doesn’t feel good and has you want to exit fast! It makes sense that you want to blame all of it on your partner, because in your world, you know you haven’t changed. Having this insight, both of you can begin to take responsibility and choose to do the work that will guide you from an unhappy world of unconsciousness to a joyful and loving world of consciousness. It is possible to create a conscious partnership and in this type of relationship, it will shed light on how to “begin to satisfy each other’s childhood longings” without pain, hurt, anger, and frustration.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Conscious Partnership!

Harville Hendrix, PhD, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples (Holt Paperbacks: Henry Holt and Company, LLC 2008).

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