Thinking You Married the Wrong Man?


It’s the time of year for scary stories, so here’s one for you:

You and your husband have been growing apart for some time. He’s just like your dad, constantly mad about something, and you’re sick and tired of walking on egg shells. You’re convinced you married the wrong man and fantasize all the time about leaving him and starting over with someone else.

After months of contemplation, you finally pull the trigger, and divorce him. You hope you will get a second chance at true love.

Eventually, you meet a man you’re absolutely crazy about. The two of you have incredible chemistry, and he’s everything you feel like has been missing from your life. He’s your dream come true. He’s calm, sweet, and listens so patiently. You date for a few months and decide to marry him.

And then, the honeymoon comes to an abrupt end.

Turns out, he’s not that different from your first husband. Sure, he can be sweet, but he’s also got a really short fuse you didn’t see at the beginning.

How could love have felt so right, but led you back to this awful place again? You feel angry and misunderstood and can’t get this husband to change either. “How on earth did I end up married to the same type of guy again?” you wonder again and again.

There’s an interesting answer to that question — and it is found in Imago Relationship Therapy, developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.

Imago Therapy is powerful, but it’s not intuitive. In this post, I’ll introduce you to the key ideas of Imago so that you can see whether it could be valuable tool in your marriage.

You May Feel Like It’s All a Mistake

Imago Therapy says that the purpose of romantic love is to attract a person who can help us become whole. Because no one’s parents are perfect, we’re all carrying emotional wounds from childhood that we need to heal. Maybe, you felt neglected as a child and want to feel important to someone. Perhaps, you were constantly criticized or expected to be perfect and need true acceptance.

According to Imago, we’re unconsciously drawn to romantic partners who have the positive and negative qualities of our early caregivers, especially the parent that frustrated or hurt us the most. Why? Because that’s what’s emotionally familiar to us.

In your marriage, you try to get from your husband what you could not get from your parents. If you felt invisible to your caregivers, you want your spouse to make you feel like you matter. Inevitably, you feel invisible around your husband too.

What a nightmare!

When You Want to Walk Away …

Imago therapy says you’re most likely to want to give up on the marriage when your old feelings from childhood resurface, and you feel invisible all over again. The moment when you feel like you’ve married the wrong guy is a pivotal one. You might want to walk away from your husband at this point, but if you do that, you lose out on the chance to finally resolve this lifelong problem. You have to move closer to him to heal and grow.

Although your husband seems like your parents, what you don’t know is that he’s actually the perfect person to unpack your emotional baggage with. Unlike your parents, he actually has the capacity to meet your need to be seen in the relationship.

All the defensiveness and anger is just getting in the way, and the two of you have to figure out how to step out of that.

Going Deeper With Imago

How do you do that? The essence of Imago Therapy is teaching couples how to connect in a deeper way to get past the emotional impasses in their lives. The central focus is getting to know each other in a much deeper way, especially learning more about each other’s childhood experiences and the hurts you’re both carrying around.

By listening deeply to each other’s stories of emotional pain and responding with compassion and understanding, you help each other heal. This is called the Imago Dialogue, and it sounds simple, but is actually very challenging to do. Fortunately, there are many videos and instructions on the Internet to help you learn.

To learn more about Imago Relationship Therapy, and see if it’s a fit for your marriage, pick up a copy of Hendrix’s classic book Getting the Love You Want. You can also try some of the techniques covered in the book, such as:

  • Thinking about the experiences that hurt you as a child so that you can start to understand your unmet needs today.
  • Looking objectively at your husband’s qualities, especially the ones that initially drew you to him, and considering what you might have to learn from the connection with him. I know it’s hard to believe that the person who’s frustrating you so much might have something to teach you, but that’s often the case. Don’t forget, he’s got something to learn from you too!
  • Finding out more about your husband’s early caregivers and identifying the wounds he’s bringing into the relationship too.

Harville Hendrix says, “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.”After the early glow of attraction wears off, being in a relationship almost inevitably pushes your buttons. The important thing is what you do next. If you’re both willing to do the work, the frustrations you’re feeling can be the gateway to a more profound connection with your husband.

The Best Relationship Books for Couples


Are you looking for books with ideas and strategies to strengthen your marriage?

Of course, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to first point you toward my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love: The Missing Manual for the Modern Marriage. I’m very honored that Strong Women, Strong Love won a 2014 Indie Excellence Award in the Marriage category.

In my book, I reveal the information most therapists use to help people improve their marriages. I show you how to build a great marriage without compromising your self-confidence and strength as a woman. You also discover specific ways you can reduce the very real risks that stress and recent changes in gender roles bring to your marriage.

To help you continue learning about what it takes to have an incredible marriage, I’d like to share my personal list of favorite marriage books, many of which you will find referenced in Strong Women, Strong Love. I believe so much in the importance of regular care and maintenance of your relationship. These particular books will add to your knowledge of the most vital ways to nurture the bond between you and your husband.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

In the field of marriage research, Dr. John Gottman’s work has been seminal in helping us understand exactly what makes a marriage succeed or falter. Gottman is well known for being able to predict with fairly high accuracy which couples will divorce. He observes that when the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling) take residence in a marriage, it’s a strong signal that the marriage is failing. Gottman states that whether you have conflict in a relationship is far less important than how you manage it. If you want to get a handle on the key research findings about marriage, you must read this book.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson

Dr. Sue Johnson is the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) which emphasizes the importance of creating a marriage that is an emotional safe haven. Johnson teaches how to step out of common relationship dances (such as desperately chasing your partner or avoiding him) so that the two of you can meet each other’s needs for connection, comfort, and caring. This book will help you understand your partner’s emotional needs at a much deeper level.

Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix

Getting the Love You Want is a classic in the field of couples therapy. Dr. Harville Hendrix is well known as the creator of Imago Relationship Therapy. He believes that you subconsciously choose your partner because he is the right person to help you heal from the emotional hurts you carry from childhood (and vice versa). Hendrix suggests that once the glow of romance wears off, it’s important for a couple to deal with whatever emotional baggage shows up. This book teaches you how to deal with each other’s emotional hot buttons so you can eventually have a deeply satisfying relationship.

Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and Coupled Up by Harriet Lerner

You may be familiar with Dr. Harriet Lerner’s classic book The Dance of Anger. Lerner is a distinguished psychologist who has an amazing ability to translate her many years of clinical experience into wise, practical, helpful advice. In Marriage Rules, she gives readers 100 insightful “rules” for improving your marriage. I think you’ll find this book useful no matter how long you’ve been married.

The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work by Terrence Real

As I do in my book, Terrence Real (a family therapist with a focus on men’s issues and couples therapy) gets into the issue of how gender roles have changed and how that affects marriage. One of his most useful pieces of advice to women is to avoid “losing strategies” with men, such as needing to be right, controlling your partner, and withdrawal. If you are looking for a better understanding of the male perspective, this book can be tremendously helpful.

We Love Each Other, But … Simple Secrets to Strengthen Your Relationship and Make Love Last  By Ellen Wachtel

This book is a little under the radar, but it has lots of smart advice about the trouble spots that marriages can hit. Dr. Ellen Wachtel, a marriage and family therapist, knows what works, whether your issue is disagreements about parenting or a sex life that’s gone cold. Her core message is that you can keep love, warmth and good feelings alive in your marriage for the long haul.

These are a few of the best books about marriage out there. Please check back periodically as we add reviews of other books that can help you keep your relationship solid.