“רב הזוגות אינם יודעים כיצד ליצור ולשמר קשר.” אומר הארוויל הנדריקס. “התרופה לגירושין, היא ללמד את בני הזוג, לשים בעדיפות ראשונה את היחסים ביניהם, ורק אח”כ את הצרכים האינדיבידואלים של כל אחד מהם” . על כך, ועל הרבה יותר, תוכלו לקרוא בראיון שלפניכם.
Imago Relationship Therapy: Giving Couples a “Talking” Chance at Marriage
By M. D. Caprario
We’ve all seen the headlines about David Duchovny’s, Tiger Woods’, and now Sandra Bullock’s hubby, Jess James’, reported infidelity. At a time when every newspaper is splashing its front page with stories of outlandish sex scandals and million dollar divorces, internationally-known couples’ experts Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt and the practitioners in their worldwide Imago Relationship Therapy network are in great demand.
Dubbed by the media “The Marriage Whisperer” after his Emmy award garnering appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Harville Hendrix has some forty years of experience working with couples and, as he calls it, “sitting on the bench” and observing couples’ interaction and communication. Over the course of that time he has identified changes in society in the 1950’s as responsible for pushing the divorce rate for celebs and “ordinary citizens” in the United States to 50%- an instability that continues. In response, he and his wife, Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, a research scholar and champion of gender equity, co-created Imago Relationship Therapy.
Author of what many consider the seminal books about relationship (“Getting the Love You Want” and “Keeping the Love You Find”), Dr. Hendrix combined his observations with self-discovery: components of Imago also arose out of his experiences when he first met and married his partner, Dr. LaKelly Hunt. Both divorced, themselves, each was seeking the best possible marital relationship.
Dr. Hendrix took some time to talk with me about couples in the news, the pressures with which celebrity couples must contend, and Imago.
“Couples usually tend to focus on personal needs rather than relationship needs,” Dr. Hendrix told me, “and divorce occurs when the relationship does not meet the needs of the individual.” Dr. Hendrix feels that most couples do not know how to create and sustain connection. The “cure,” if you will, for divorce is to train couples to focus on their relationship as a priority rather than individual need, to create what he and Dr. LaKelly Hunt have termed the “conscious marriage.” While this may sound simplistic, it requires specific behavioral retraining, so to speak, since Dr. Hendrix discovered this is best achieved not only by changing mindsets but also the way in which a couple talks to one another. Focusing on a conscious marriage strengthens the union by increasing emotional connection and creating safety- for each individual as well as for the marriage.
“Affairs occur because there is no secure emotional connection,” Dr. Hendrix explained “This stems from childhood, when there might have been inconsistent (parental) caretaking and no secure emotional connection. Affairs occur when intimacy produces anxiety.” The key, he feels, to addressing infidelity is to create within the individual the capacity to connect without being frightened. This requires very special communication.
An Imago therapist helps a couple establish true Dialogue
Imago aims to stimulate dialogue- true dialogue-that has a horizontal rather than vertical approach, i.e., communication that is equal and without judgment. The three steps of the Imago Dialogue include mirroring, validating, and empathizing. These allow, as Dr. Hendrix describes, for discovery of the other person, growth of each party of the couple into his/her potential, and a better connection between the two parties. It is Dr. Hendrix’s and Hunt’s hope that practicing this technique will foster a relationship that includes a real element of safety to the degree that individuals can be authentic selves within the couple, and thus create an entirely different kind of couple.
“The purpose in these unions,” Dr. Hendrix added, “would be healing and wholeness of the individuals. But the modality would be the focus of the relationship and its care.” Without a safe family environment, the resulting fear and anxiety, as Dr. Hendrix explains, can later cause “acting out” and inappropriate behaviors. We talked about this situation as cause for what we are reading in the news about celebrity couples’ difficulties since “acting out” can manifest as a myriad of things, including infidelity in marriage.
“Most couples are the source of abuse (in this world),” Dr. Hendrix added, “and they come to see me because they are tired… of the conflict and all that. We can do the conflict resolution all we want. (But consider) that couples are the source of culture. They are the ones who have the babies, and the babies grow up and leave home and they replicate what is at home. So you could actually say that all abuse and all violence… arise out of connectional rupture in relationship as a child.” The two responses to abuse and violence being depression and anger, one can see how a cycle of unhealthy emotions can, ultimately, set up an individual for failure in the world and, further, create a sort of “failing” in our world for each other. But addressing this through Imago could be an answer.
“What if we could change every child’s context?” Dr. Hendrix proposes. “We could end all violence because, really, all violence begins in poor coupling skills. The question then becomes, ‘Well, how do you do that?’ Well, you have to have a home that is safe enough that a child grows up and maintains their empathic instinct. Every child has internal (empathic capability), and if s/he is parented well, with what we call ‘empathic attunement,’ then that child cannot hurt things because it feels. That child cannot even hurt trees, can’t kill frogs, eventually won’t even throw plastic out of a car and into the ocean because s/he feels. Empathy means (resonating) with the “not self,” and that I know that it’s somehow connected to me but I resonate with it because it’s also not connected to me. In empathy you also know everything is connected, so whatever you do to something else or someone else is done to you.”
“Empathy,” Dr. Hendrix explained further, “allows for more attentive and purposeful child raising- and emotionally healthier children.” He believes that, absent of instillation during childhood, individual empathetic confidence can be built through a couple’s union. It is his goal to make this achievement as widespread as possible. The sum total of this practice would- and could- be an explosion of empathy across the planet that could, for example, prevent individuals from cheating on their spouses or expressing road rage, or even prevent them from being war-minded. To that end, he and Dr. LaKelly Hunt have co-founded a worldwide organization of over 1,000 therapists offering Imago Relationship Therapy around the world.
“In an ideal world,” Dr. Hendrix feels, “relationship skills would be taught in school. They would be considered as important as spelling, writing, mathematics, etc.” That absent, in the Imago Relationship Therapy program, couples now have the tools they need for change. It’s worth noting, too, that a program for single individuals, preparing for committed partnership and marriage, is also available.
Imagine a world in which no tabloid had a sex scandal or messy divorce to report. Imagine a world without road rage. Imagine a world without abuse, domestic violence, or rape- or even war. All of these begin with change in individual relationship and, ultimately, this creates for us a perspective to better interact with and respond to the rest of the world. Through Imago we could achieve world change, one might say, one couple at a time- and world peace, perhaps, one might say further, through healing and peaceful words.
“Polarities (in couples) can create an option,” Dr. Hendrix told me, “and it’s a co-creation of a third reality, a joyful union. Ending conflict is the key. As I look forward, I’d like (the Imago technique and result) to be my personal contribution to world growth and change.”
© M. D. Caprario April 2010
M. D. Caprario is an author, editor and journalist working in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, covering for the media good things in the literary, film and entertainment industries- and also good things aiming to change our World for the better.