Getting the Love You Want | Harville Hendrix

Summary of: Getting the Love You Want : A Guide for Couples
By: Harville Hendrix


Embark on a journey to understand the deep-rooted psychology behind our choice of romantic partners in this summary of ‘Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples’ by Harville Hendrix. Delve into the idea that your choice of partner is primarily influenced by your ‘inner child’ and the concept of the Imago figure, which resembles an ideal caregiver. Learn how we are attracted to opposites in order to regain lost traits and achieve a sense of wholeness. Explore the challenges couples face as they uncover hidden traits – and even resemblances to their parents – and how this can strain the relationship. Discover the power of commitment, communication, and unconditional love in building stronger, lasting bonds.

The Unconscious Quest for Love

It’s a fascinating and complex truth that people often seek romantic partners who share similarities with their parents. This unconscious quest to recreate our childhood environment is evident in early relationship stages when people treat each other as infants, using terms of endearment often associated with childhood. Founded in Sigmund Freud’s theories, these tendencies are linked to emotional needs developed during youth. An ideal caregiver, or Imago figure, forms in our minds, which influences our partner selection process. Additionally, we are drawn to opposites to regain attributes lost during our transition to adulthood. This pursuit of wholeness in relationships might lead to seemingly contrasting pairs that function harmoniously, fulfilling our desire for both familiarity and discovery.

Mysterious Relationship Patterns

It’s fascinating how new couples often begin to argue after a few months as they recognize previously overlooked traits in their partners, usually mirroring those of their parents. This subconscious attraction to familiar patterns can lead to conflict and strained relationships. For example, Kathryn chose Bernard as her partner because his quietness reminded her of her father. However, this similarity later became a source of conflict. Similarly, John was drawn to Cheryl’s emotional outbursts, reminiscent of his mother’s suppressed anger. While initially creating a sense of emotional connection, this too led to resentment and heartache. Understanding these underlying influences can provide valuable insights for repairing and strengthening relationships.

Closing Escape Routes

Many people struggle to commit fully to their relationships, which has led to high divorce rates. People often engage in activities separately from their partners, unknowingly weakening their bonds. To overcome this, the author created the Imago therapy program, which encourages couples to spend quality time together for 12 weeks. This helps strengthen their relationships and improve the likelihood of staying together. Sometimes partners may see each other as enemies due to a primitive fight-or-flight response in the brain. To combat this, nurtured quality time together is essential.

High divorce rates indicate that the wedding vow “until death do us part” isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. Without fully committing to a relationship, people are subconsciously keeping an escape route open for when they want to leave.

We often find ourselves looking for ways to temporarily break free from our relationships. By engaging in activities alone or with friends, individuals consciously or subconsciously forgo time with their partners, leading to weaker bonds. This could range from playing golf, watching movies, or even gardening – activities that can act as cover for wanting to avoid one’s partner.

The author introduced the Imago therapy program to address this issue. Couples who take part in the program close off their escape routes and spend 12 weeks dedicated to meaningful communication and quality time with each other. This has been shown to strengthen relationships, with participating couples more likely to stay together in the long run.

So why do partners avoid each other in the first place? One reason is rooted in our brains, where our subconscious perceives our partner as a mortal enemy when they fail to meet our expectations. This can lead to our limbic system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, associating emotional pain with death. Although historically helpful to avoid predators, this reaction can make us perceive our life partners as enemies.

The key to a healthier relationship is recognizing the importance of nurturing connection through quality time and closing those subconscious escape routes.

Unconditional Giving in Relationships

Random acts of kindness are important for loved ones too, and the key to a successful relationship is giving without expectation. Unconditionally meeting each other’s needs strengthens the emotional bond, as it replicates the nurturing relationships we formed as infants. Partners can work on meeting each other’s needs effectively by exchanging lists of personal desires, which in turn, fosters affection and appreciation when these gestures are fulfilled. The intention behind these acts matters less, as long as care and energy are directed towards our partner.

As adults, we often crave the unconditional care and affection we received from our parents or caregivers during infancy. In our romantic relationships, we unconsciously transfer that longing onto our partners, expecting them to innately understand and fulfill our needs. Giving without expecting anything in return strengthens the emotional connection between couples and fosters a harmonious union.

Rather than focusing on random acts of kindness, catering to each other’s unique needs is essential for a thriving partnership. As an example, if you come home with a headache craving a sweet treat, finding a warm bath and freshly baked cookies awaits you is an act of personalized care that makes all the difference. To uncover and cater to your partner’s specific desires, consider employing psychologist Richard Stuart’s “caring days” approach from his book Helping Couples Change. Partners exchange lists of personal, often secret, wishes, allowing both parties to meaningfully fulfill each other’s desires.

Surprisingly, the intention behind these gestures is not as crucial as the effort put into meeting your partner’s needs. Whether you truly care or are simply going through the motions, your partner will feel loved and valued, thanks to the attention and energy directed towards them. Practicing this form of unconditional giving can undoubtedly lead to stronger, healthier relationships.

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