Creating a Lasting Love Relationship
an excerpt from Getting the Love You Want
Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt’s classic book, Getting the Love You Want, first came out in 1988 and has since sold more than 2 million copies (as well as being a New York Times best-seller). Offering a workable model for addressing the psychoemotional realities of relationship, it also introduced the concept of the imago, forever changing the nature of couple’s therapy. In the book, a person’s imago is most simply defined as “a composite picture of the people who influenced you most strongly at an early age.” The image includes positive and negative attributes and the implications of how those attributes become imprinted on our young hearts and minds. In honor of those 20 years and the millions of people whose lives have been helped through their work, we bring you an excerpt from the newest edition of Getting the Love You Want (reprinted with permission).
A conscious partnership is a relationship that maximizes psychological and spiritual growth; it’s a relationship 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 Partnership
- You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose—the healing of childhood wounds. Instead of focusing entirely on surface needs and desires, you learn to recognize the unresolved childhood issues that underlie them. When you look at relationships with this X-ray vision, your daily interactions take on more meaning. Puzzling aspects of your relationship begin to make sense to you, and you have a greater sense of control.
- You create a more accurate image of your partner. At the very moment of attraction, you began fusing your lover with your primary caretakers. Later you projected your negative traits onto your partner, further obscuring your partner’s essential reality. As you move toward a conscious relationship, you gradually let go of these illusions and begin to see more of your partner’s truth. You see you your partner not as a savior but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed.
- You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner. In an unconscious partnership, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs. In a conscious partnership, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication.
- You become more intentional in your interactions. In an unconscious partnership, you tend to react without thinking. You allow the primitive response of your old brain to control your behavior. In a conscious partnership, you train yourself to behave in a more constructive manner.
- You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own. In an unconscious partnership, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically. In a conscious partnership, you let go of this narcissistic view and divert more and more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs.
- You embrace the dark side of your personality. In a conscious partnership, you openly acknowledge the fact that you, like everyone else, have negative traits. As you accept responsibility for this dark side of your nature, you lessen your tendency to project your negative traits onto your mate, which creates a less hostile environment.
- You learn new techniques to satisfy your basic needs and desires. During the power struggle, you cajole, harangue, and blame in an attempt to coerce your partner to meet your needs. When you move beyond this stage, you realize that your partner can indeed be a resource for you—once you abandon your self-defeating tactics.
- You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking. One reason you were attracted to your partner is that he or she had strengths and abilities that you lacked. Therefore, being with your partner gave you an illusory sense of wholeness. In a conscious partnership, you learn that the only way you can truly recapture a sense of oneness is to develop the hidden traits within yourself.
- You become more aware of your drive to be loving and whole and united with the universe. As a part of your God-given nature, you have the ability to love unconditionally and to experience unity with the world around you. Social conditioning and imperfect parenting made you lose touch with these qualities. In a conscious partnership, you begin to rediscover your original nature.
- You accept the difficulty of creating a lasting love relationship. In an unconscious partnership, you believe that the way to have a good relationship is to pick the right person. In a conscious partnership, you realize you have to be the right partner. As you gain a more realistic view, you realize that a good relationship requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; creating a fulfilling love relationship is hard work.
Let’s take a close look at number ten, the need to accept the difficulty involved in creating a conscious partnership, because none of the other nine ideas will come to fruition unless you first cultivate your willingness to grow and change.
Becoming a Lover
We all have an understandable desire to live life as children. We don’t want to go to the trouble of raising a cow and milking it; we want to sit down at the table and have someone hand us a cool glass of milk. We don’t want to plant seeds and tend a grapevine; we want to walk out the back door and pluck a handful of grapes. This wishful thinking finds its ultimate expression in relationships. We don’t want to accept responsibility for getting our needs met; we want to “fall in love” with a superhuman mate and live happily ever after. 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.
I remember the day when a client whom I will call Walter came in for his appointment with slumped shoulders and a sad expression.
“What’s the matter?” I asked Walter. “You look very unhappy today.”
“Harville,” he said to me as he slumped into the chair, “I feel really terrible. I just don’t have any friends.”
I was sympathetic with him. “You must be very sad. It’s lonely not having any friends.”
“Yeah. I can’t seem to I don’t know. There are just no friends in my life. I keep looking and looking, and I can’t find any.”
He continued in a morose, complaining voice for some time, and I had to suppress a growing annoyance with his regressed childlike state. He was locked into a view of the world that went something like this: wandering around the world were people on whose foreheads were stamped the words “Friend of Walter,” and his job was merely to search until he found them.
“Walter,” I said with a sigh, “do you understand why you don’t have any friends?”
He perked up. “No. Tell me!”
“The reason you don’t have any friends is that there aren’t any friends out there.”
His shoulders slumped.
I was relentless.
“That’s right,” I told him. “There are no friends out there. What you want does not exist.” I let him stew in this sad state of affairs for a few seconds. Then I leaned forward in my chair and said, “Walter—listen to me! All people in the world are strangers. If you want a friend, you’re going to have to go out and make one!”
Walter was resisting the idea that creating a lasting friendship takes time and energy. Even though he was responsible and energetic in his job, he retained the childlike notion that all he had to do to establish intimacy was to bump up against the right person. Because he hadn’t acknowledged that a friendship evolves slowly over time and requires thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and patience, he had been living a lonely life.
The passive attitude Walter brought to his friendships was even more pronounced in his love life: he couldn’t seem to find the ideal woman. Recovering from a painful divorce (in a bitter legal battle, his wife had gotten custody of their son), he was desperately trying to find a new lover.
The specific problem that had plagued Walter in his relationship was that he was caught in concepts and ideas, not feelings. He hid his vulnerability behind his formidable intellect, which prevented any genuine intimacy. He had been coming to group-therapy sessions for about six months, and at each session he would hear from the group the same message that he had been hearing from his wife—that he wasn’t sharing his feelings, that he was emotionally distant. One evening a member of the group finally broke through to him. “When you talk about your pain,” she said, “I can’t see any suffering. When you hug me, I can’t feel your hugs.” Walter finally realized that there was some basis to his ex-wife’s complaints. “I thought she was just being bitchy and critical,” he confessed. “It never occurred to me that maybe she was right. That 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 emotional barriers. As he become more alive emotionally, he was finally able to have a satisfying relationship with a new woman friend. During his last session with me, he shared his feelings about therapy. “You know,” 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. If I had known this ten years ago, I would still be living with my wife and son.”
Walter can’t be blamed for wanting to believe that relationships should be easy and “natural.” It’s human nature to want a life without effort. When we were infants, the world withheld and we were frustrated; the world gave and we were satisfied. Out of thousands of these early transactions, we fashioned a model of the world, and we cling to this outdated model even at the expense of our relationships. We are slow to comprehend that, in order to be loved, we must first become lovers. And I don’t mean this in sentimental terms. I don’t mean sending flowers, writing love notes, or learning new lovemaking techniques—although any one of these activities might be a welcome part of a loving relationship. To become a lover, we must first abandon the self-defeating tactics and beliefs and replace them with more constructive ones. We must change our ideas about love relationships, about our partners, and ultimately, about ourselves.
Harville Hendrix, in partnership with his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, created Imago Relationship Therapy and pioneered the concept of "conscious marriage." He is coauthor of Getting the Love You Want, which has been translated into more than 50 languages, and has made 14 appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show. www.harvillehendrix.com
Helen LaKelly Hunt is coauthor with her husband, Harville Hendrix, of eight books, including Giving the Love That Heals: A Guide for Parents, and author of her own Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance. A cofounder of the New York Women’s Foundation, she has made distinguished contributions to the women's movement and has been inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame.
Reprinted with permission. This excerpt ran in the November 2008 issue of Kripalu Online.