For years I have stressed the importance of safety in an intimate relationship and I still believe it is paramount. However, in their 3rd edition of Getting the Love You Want (2018), Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, are giving more and more importance to, what they are calling, the Space Between. And as I gain a better appreciation of that concept, the elimination of any negativity in the Space Between, becomes even more important.
Let me challenge you to look at your relationship from a slightly different angle. Instead of thinking of just the two of you, I want you to think of the two of you plus the space between you. What do I mean? Isn’t that just empty air? Yes and No.
Think for a moment of a time you walked into a space, be it a classroom, office, store, or bar and you knew immediately that there was something going on in that space. It could have been a heavy feeling that made you uncomfortable or afraid. Perhaps it was a fun, energetic feeling and you wanted to join whatever was happening. Or it could have been a relaxed, calm feeling and you didn’t want to leave! In each experience you were walking into the energy field of that space.
What about the space between you and your partner? Think about that space. How connected do you feel? When you come home or meet one another after work, you can sense the energy field pretty quickly, can’t you? What do you bring into that space? How do you contribute to its “well-being”? The Space Between you and your partner is a space only the two of you share and where you will feel connected or not. Safety in the Space Between is the real measure of a great relationship.
More recently, I came across an article by Helen, Harville’s wife, most of which had never been articulated before, entitled My Search for My Life’s Calling. In the article she traces her efforts to connect different strands of her own thinking: psychology, especially Jungian and feminist psychology, spirituality and quantum physics to her own growth towards wholeness as well as how they connect to Imago theory, which she has always seen as her life calling. It was in exploring her own growth journey with Harville that they came to realize the importance of The Space Between both for themselves and for the wider Imago system.
She explores her early education in, as she calls it, a Southern Belle culture, as well as her roots in Baptist spirituality. Then her shift to learning more about psychology, specifically Jungian psychology, and her desire to be a Jungian analyst amid the cultural divide between psychology and religion prevalent at the time. “I was fascinated by the male/female dyadic way Jungian psychology was constructed that helps a person achieve true consciousness and individuation. So many dualities of contradictions to be held in tension, in order to be ultimately synthesized and transcended. All of which is so similar to Harville’s statement that ‘the grounds for a successful marriage is incompatibility.’” Later came her interest in feminist psychology, and her connection to the Stone Center at Wellesley College. An important tenant promoted by the Stone Center is that “it is in caring for the relational unit, that the needs of the ‘self’ are met” which challenged more traditional mental health theory which holds that independence, self-reliance and autonomy are the stated goals of optimum mental health. Feminist psychologists proposed a true paradigm shift: the “goal of most people in later life is to be interrelated in a healthy way in their context; and thus, the true goal being, having healthy relationships and thus relational health should be the apex, the goal of the mental health field.”
Underlying her ongoing studies in psychology and theology was an interest in quantum physics which tells us that everything – everything – in the universe is connected. That is the nature of the universe – to be connected. Cell to cell; planet to planet; person to person. As humans, it is when we are connected that we feel fully alive – because that really is our foundational reality. In the womb we had that connection but at some point along the way, that fundamental connection was ruptured.
Is there a way to recover our connectedness? One way is in an intimate relationship. How you choose to handle the Space Between you and your partner will go a long way towards determining the quality of your relationship – your connectedness – which is what we all long for.
This all sounds great in theory! But in reality, at a certain point, Harville and Helen’s own relationship was on the brink; they were contemplating divorce. Then at a critical moment, they fortuitously realized that “both of us were experiencing negativity in our relationship and we began to language it as “the negativity in the space between. We began a nightly regime of identifying ways negativity crept into our “space between” and doing “a repair” before going to sleep so we could end our day feeling connected”. It took time, but on New Year’s Eve, 2000 they celebrated a recommitment ceremony and haven’t looked back.
She concludes her article stating:
“We are both honored to be associated with the field of the relational sciences today, that have such important insights and tools needed by cultures everywhere. The visionary therapists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and others that are creating the relational sciences are facilitating a shift away from the primacy of the individual to the primacy of the relationship. Both Harville and I will passionately continue to help illuminate the importance of the relational paradigm for the world. My closing statement is that I feel that the brokenness and dissociation, that was once in my life has been healed. My closing prayer is that my healing might be part of all the future healing to come, as Imago and Safe Conversations continues to spread throughout the world.”