If you have ever asked these questions you are not alone. These were the questions Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, the creators of Imago Relationship Therapy, struggled with over 40 years ago. Their answer, I believe, has cracked the code on relationships. Much like having the right combination to a lock, knowing the combination makes it much easier to open the lock. Once you understand their insight, you now have a choice. You can keep fighting and turn the dream into a nightmare or you can cooperate with their perception that, in fact, you have married your healer
Their counter-intuitive insight was that we seem to be attracted, albeit unconsciously, to someone who has both the positive but also the negative traits of our early caregivers, which would include parents, older siblings, grandparents or babysitters. It is counter intuitive because on a conscious level, no one would be attracted to someone who can’t meet their needs just like their parents couldn’t. On another level though it makes sense. You can’t live with someone for 18 years and not be influenced by them.
This understanding of relationships is, for me, a given. Harville and Helen have trained over 2500 therapists in 53 countries in the last 40 years. I see it every day in my office, but as I tell my clients, I am not alone. This understanding of relationships has played out thousands and thousands of times around the world. Now the question is, what are you going to do about it?
Alfred Adler had the great saying “It is not what you possess but how you deal with it, that is important.” I’m from Canada and use the example of a young man named Terry Fox to explain Adler’s words. Over 25 years ago now, Terry Fox developed cancer and had his right leg amputated. He then went on to initiate the Marathon of Hope. He determined to run across Canada east to west some 9000 kilometers to raise money for cancer research. He managed to get just over halfway when the cancer returned and he was forced to stop. He died shortly after. His legacy, however, has carried on for the last 25 years with Terry Fox runs across the country, raising millions of dollars for cancer research. My point is that another young lad could lose a leg to cancer and sit there and complain that life is not fair. They both possess the same thing but use it quite differently. The same with you. You are partnered with someone who will probably activate old challenges; it is not what you possess but how you deal with it!
For you then, the first piece of the combination lock is that you are unconsciously attracted to someone who will have some of both the positive but also negative traits of your primary caregivers. You can keep fighting and have the dream change to a nightmare or you can reframe their insight, as nature or God or the universe, giving you a second chance to get needs met that were not met the first time around. Armed with this insight you now have a chance to do things differently.
This is not as complicated as it may seem. And it is not just theory for me; it is very personal. I will use myself as an example of how this played out for my wife and me. I grew up in a boarding school where I really didn’t learn how to deal with feelings very well. My wife had an alcoholic father when she was young, who didn’t meet her legitimate feeling needs. Whom does she marry? Someone who is also unable to meet those feeling needs. As we both became more conscious (thanks to Imago Relationship Therapy) and as I started to meet her authentic feeling needs, that part of me that was stunted growing up, started to heal.
Harville and Helen’s insight is that your unconscious has chosen a partner, who will activate needs that weren’t met as a youngster. By becoming more aware and as you each start to meet those needs of your partner, you really are healing yourselves. It is a win-win.
Once you come to grips with the fact that your partner will challenge you to grow in what is probably your weak suit, it is like having the first digit of the combination lock. There are four more to go, but this is a big one. You have a choice – grow to meet your partner’s legitimate needs or keep on fighting.
If you have questions or comments type in Imago in the comment section and I will get back to you on Messenger.