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.