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****Getting the Love You Want

A Guide for Couples

by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.

Reviewed June 20, 2005.
Harper & Row, New York, 1988.  296 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (306.7  HEN).

This book caught my eye when I was checking it into the library.  The author has an interesting view of marriage.  I haven’t tried any of the exercises yet, but I suspect that they might help any marriage, no matter how harmonious the couple is to start with.

Harville Hendrix has a theory that we are naturally attracted to people who have the strengths and weaknesses of our parents.  He says, “What your old brain was trying to do was re-create the conditions of your upbringing, in order to correct them.  Having received enough nurturing to survive but not enough to feel satisfied, it was attempting to return to the scene of your original frustration so that you could resolve your unfinished business.”

I’m not sure if I agree with his theory or not, but I think his exercises for developing a “Conscious Marriage” could still be valuable, because he has you look at your needs and help each other meet them.  And he doesn’t just look at surface issues, but has you thinking about your past.

He says that all relationships go through stages.  At first, we romantically feel that at last we have found someone who will satisfy our deepest needs.  Then comes the power struggle stage.  “We decide that the reason our plan is not working is that our partners are deliberately ignoring our needs.  They know exactly what we want, and when and how we want it, but for some reason they are deliberately withholding it from us.  This makes us angry, and for the first time we begin to see our partners’ negative traits.  We then compound the problem by projecting our own denied negative traits onto them.  As conditions deteriorate, we decide that the best way to force our partners to satisfy our needs is to be unpleasant and irritable, just as we were in the cradle.  If we yell loud enough and long enough, we believe, our partners will come to our rescue.”

He talks about a possible third stage:  The Conscious Marriage, where each partner consciously works to meet the other’s needs.  Part of this is accepting the fact that your partner cannot automatically intuit your needs and you will need to develop clear channels of communication.

I like this paragraph:  “In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner.  In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner.  As you gain a more realistic view of love relationships, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.”

The bulk of the book contains exercises you can do with your partner (or alone) to try to build a Conscious Marriage and learn how to communicate and meet each other’s needs.

Here’s another interesting consequence of Dr. Hendrix’s theory that we choose someone who can meet our childhood needs:  “While it was often true that what one partner needed the most was what the other partner was least able to give, it also happened to be the precise area where that partner needed to grow! . . .The unconscious selection process has brought together two people who can either hurt each other or heal each other, depending on their willingness to grow and change.”

In other words, if you are having trouble in your marriage, that may be a sign of an area where you most need to change in order to be the best person you can be.  If you simply abandon the relationship and try again with someone else, those same issues are bound to come up.  “Childhood issues do not present themselves to be resolved in one tidy package.  They come to the surface slowly, usually the more superficial ones first.  Sometimes a problem has to present itself a number of times before it is even identified as a significant issue.  And sometimes a psychological need is so deeply buried that it is only triggered by a crisis or the demands of a particular stage of life.  Ultimately it takes a lifetime together for a couple to identify and heal the majority of their childhood wounds.”

I like the way this book looks beyond surface issues.  I was impressed enough that I ordered my own copy of the book, because I’d like to try some of the exercises and take my time over them without the constraint of a due date.  I do think that the ideas presented might help any relationship.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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