So what is the lens, the metatheory, the perspective, through which we, as Imago therapists, look at our couples? The authors go into a fairly lengthy historical analysis of human suffering and its mitigation.
“In all the ages of human speculation on our fate, suffering itself (as a phenomenal experience) has been identified as anxiety, but the cause of and relief from anxiety has been connected to two world views based on the physics of the time.” (p.5)
Ptolemy Physics and Newtonian Physics
Most of us grew up with the worldview of Ptolemaic physics (named after Ptolemy, the world’s first physicist, who lived in Greece around 100 A) and Newtonian physics. More recently, a third view of the universe, quantum field theory has evolved. “This model (quantum field theory) of the self and its problem has not yet been adopted by the human sciences and psychotherapy. We present it for consideration.” (P.7)
Quantum Field Theory Analysis
They go on to say that in quantum field theory, “human beings can be viewed as citizens of a conscious and connecting universe with a cosmic identity. In this universe, in which we are intrinsically connecting, suffering is anxiety about the actual or possible rupture of the experience of our cosmic belonging. This happens when the connection with a significant other is ruptured. Rupture at the cosmic level is simultaneous with rupture at the personal level. Anxiety is about the possibility that relational rupture will result in the loss of the experience of being: i.e., of non-being.”(p.6)
Imago theory posits that human beings are born experiencing connecting to Being (the conscious and connecting universe) through an attuned caretaker. Think about it, babies come into the world experiencing joyful aliveness; they sure seem to be connected to that larger universe. The problem arises because we, as humans, have not yet evolved to the point of sustaining that “attuned” connection to our children, our partner or anyone else really.
They conclude “that every child who was ever born, in all caretaker – infant relationships in all of human history, has experienced a rupture with their caretaker that simultaneously ruptured the child’s experience of connecting to the universe.” (p.7)
Child vs. Adult Life
In adult life we unconsciously try to regain the connection that was lost with our original caretakers, and hence our connection with the cosmic
Universe. The problem is we end up being attracted to someone similar to the one through whom that cosmic connection was ruptured in the first place – our original caretakers.
The Romantic Love Stage of a Relationship
In the romantic love stage of the relationship there is “a transient recovery of the experience of connecting and the sensation of joyful aliveness. … It is transient because like the rupture in childhood when the caretaker was not reliably available emotionally or physically, or both, the romantic partner triggers this primal memory, and we find ourselves battling it out with our partner in a power struggle. In a cruel paradox, our beloved has become our enemy, the dream has become a nightmare.”
The Double Paradox
But they go on to say, “it is a double paradox that our beloved enemy can in turn become the source of our transformation. Estranged partners have the potential to be each other’s best resources for restoring connecting. … In fact, in Imago we say that the unconscious purpose of marriage is to finish childhood and go on to live your best life.” (pp. 9-10)
But for this to happen, couples have to be conscious, they have to be aware. I can use myself as an example. Growing up in a boarding school, I didn’t learn very much about expressing feelings. My wife grew up with an alcoholic father and felt her emotional or feeling needs weren’t met very well either. Who does she marry? Someone who can’t meet her emotional/feeling needs. That is the paradox the authors are suggesting.
Becoming Aware & More Conscious
The double paradox is, if I can become aware, become conscious, as I stretch to meet her very legitimate feeling needs, not only are her needs being met, but I start to heal an area that was stunted growing up. It really is a win-win but, like I said, I have to be conscious. I warn couples not to be surprised when your partner asks for your weak suit, but if they can reframe what looks like a disaster in the making, they in fact have married their healer.
How to Restore the Relationship?
But how then to restore connection, restore the relationship. From the quantum perspective, your relationship is not just the two of you but the two of you plus the Space-Between you. The Space-Between is a real energy field and you know when there is tension in the Space-Between, don’t you? It is either tension free or it is not; there is no middle ground. From the quantum perspective, your little relationship is a microcosm of the vast macrocosm.
“The basic tenet of Imago is: Being present and connecting through relationship is ultimately what transforms both partners, not attempting to change themselves or their partner as separate individuals. … By paying attention to the atmosphere they have created around themselves, each partner is de-pathologized as the focal point of the problem, and the emphasis is placed on the attitudes and feelings that will allow them to experience safety so they can work together in ways that are collaborative, cooperative, co-creative and appreciative rather than competitive and controlling.”(p.10)
Using Imago Relationship Therapy
30 years ago when I first started working with couples using Imago Relationship Therapy, my focus was more on the Imago, what were the childhood challenges partners had and how did they deal with them? What were the needs that were not met well. By examining childhood issues, couples would get insight into some of their present day problems. I still have couples examine their relationships with their early caregivers and they can still gain valuable insight.
Then for years, I focused on the notion of safety. The reality of our primitive reptilian brain just made sense to me. Safety was all important. Now, I really do believe that the fastest way forward for any couple is to pay close attention to The Space-Between. It is a holy ground, a sacred space. That is where transformation takes place. You cannot keep putting negativity into the Space-Between because the negativity causes disconnect and from the quantum perspective what we all yearn for is connection.
Next week we will look at the nonnegotiable conditions for restoring and sustaining connecting.