Whether you’re dating, engaged or married, at some point the honeymoon period ends. It can end gradually – nagging doubts that keep getting stronger over time. Or it can end abruptly because of a sudden realisation or a painful disappointment. In my therapy practice I’ve noticed that if couples don’t have difficulties in the year leading up to their marriage, they’ll often have them the year following their marriage and vice versa.
Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy, suggests the “in love” period is bound to end because of the fact that we’re attracted to what he calls our “Imago”, a combination of both the negative and positive traits of our parents or caretakers. Unconsciously, we gravitate to what feels familiar. This is what draws the daughter of an alcoholic towards a husband who struggles with addiction or emotional volatility. It’s what makes the son of a depressed or anxious mother marry a wife who also struggles with anxiety or depression.
Unwittingly we choose a mate with whom we can recreate the kind of relationship dynamics, and wounds, we experienced in our childhoods. We essentially pick partners who, because they have some of the negative traits of our parents, are least likely to be able to give us the very thing we lacked in our childhoods (and therefore long for). So the woman who had an emotionally unavailable father, and craves connection, picks a man who’s unable to speak about feelings or connect on a deeper level. The husband who had a cold mother picks a wife who struggles to be tactile and warm.
It sounds like it’s all doomed. And from one angle it certainly is because we keep recreating similar relationship dynamics with whomever we pick, which in turn explains the statistics; 50 % of first marriages, 67% of second marriages and 74% of third marriages in the US end in divorce. However, from a different angle, there is a beacon of hope. The very fact that we recreate our childhood traumas with our partners, means there’s also a real opportunity for healing. If we can learn how to change what Harville Hendrix calls an “unconscious marriage” into a “conscious marriage” we may find there’s a possibility to heal, not only the relationship, but also the more deep seated wounds from our childhood.
The more we start to look at our intimate relationships as a spiritual path, the more conscious we become that our partner’s traits or behaviours are not a coincidence. We realize that our spouse’s actions are triggering because they mirror our own, or because we’ve felt hurt by very similar modes of relating in our childhoods. Re-experiencing these dynamics in adulthood – with the benefit of increased awareness and an adult mind – means we can learn to soften, open into and fully feel the internal experiences which were probably too overwhelming to process in our youth.
If you’re interested in reading more about Imago Therapy, I wholeheartedly recommend the New York Times Bestseller “Getting the Love you Want: A Guide for Couples” which you can find on Amazon (UK store: http://amzn.to/hz0GtD or US store: http://amzn.to/dZKZSW).
If you have any questions or comments, or are interested in individual or couples therapy sessions, do send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.