While the beginning of a relationship can bring excitement, late-night talks, and fun dates, many long-term couples struggle with frustration, tension, and even pain as time goes on.
That’s because we tend to choose partners who mirror to us the exact places we need to grow, according to Harville Hendrix, a clinical pastoral counselor known for his best-selling book Getting the Love You Want.
He and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, cocreated Imago Relationship Therapy and have worked with couples to promote the idea of conscious partnership for more than 25 years.
The term Imago comes from the Latin word for “image,” and refers to the "unconscious image of familiar love," according to Hendrix. In Imago Relationship Therapy, couples recognize that their current unmet needs, desires, and vulnerablities come from childhood wounds and view their partnership as a structure for healing and growth.
The couple in a conscious partnership sees their relationship as a journey (not a destination) on which they work together to understand and resolve the past and learn from each other in the present.
At a lecture in New York City, Hendrix talked about the importance of creating safety in relationships as a building block for conscious partnerships.
“You have to have safety,” he said. “When you are anxious, you will be defensive.”
One of the quickest ways to make a relationship unsafe, according to Hendrix, is to be critical of your partner. Being both harsh and judgmental, especially when feeling angry, can put your partner in a defensive mode and even trigger a flight-or-fight response.
Imago Relationship Therapy helps couples see their natural tendency for loving connection. In order to meet this natural state, each person must aim to offer emotional safety and learn to love the other person exactly as they are—wounds and all.
Imago Dialogue Process
One of the ways couples can achieve safety in their relationship is through dialogue, which includes mirroring, validating, and empathizing.
“Conversation is the most common human experience, maybe even more than eating,” Hendrix said.
Here's how the Imago Dialogue Process works:
Mirror: Listen to the other person and truly get what they are saying without deflecting it
Validate: When you see the logic in what the person is saying, recognize and honor it, even if you don't agree with it
Empathize: When you experience the other person's emotions and imagine what they are feeling, you can more deeply understand their experience
When dialoguing in this way, both people can express themselves fully and become vulnerable and open to one another.
“In a safe place, there is no judgment," says Hendrix. “You can hold each other’s reality without criticism, blame, or even disagreement. You can experience the other person, and in this place love can be born. The human dream is to live without judgment.”
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies