Summary of “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples“: I know of no better book for couples and partners who genuinely desire a maturing relationship.” M. Scott Peck (Author of: The road less travelled)
By Harville Hendrix Ph.D 1988, 384 pages
Note: This is a guest article written by Nicolas Roché of the blog Graine de Coeur.
Chronicle and summary of the book: “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples”
About the author and his book
Doctor Harville Hendrix has a Ph.D in psychology and religion, and is the inventor of a form of relationship therapy known as Imago therapy.
He was born in 1935, and over the course of his life, he has written several books about personal relationships and the psychology of couples.
Based on his work over several decades, he offers us his knowledge and methods to create lasting relationships that are happy and intimate, but that are also fully conscious.
This book is not just a book that shares knowledge. It invites the reader, and the two people in the relationship to engage in a process that will help them to resolve conflicts and become more conscious. Reading the book without committing to the process will have far less impact on your couple than if your follow the process. But the information in this book is still very useful, even if you do not do the exercises.
The book frequently refers to marriage, because Doctor Harville Hendrix works with couples who want to save their marriage. It is worth noting that the principles apply to all couples, married or not. It applies to people in long-term relationships or to new couples.
As part of my own relationship, we read this book and applied its lessons during our first year together, and it has served us well for many years!
Introduction to “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples”
The author explains that society views marriage in a limited way. According to society, marriage must comply with certain well-defined rules. Above all, the success of a marriage depends on our ability to attract the right partner. If you “fail” this step, then you will end up getting a divorce and starting over again.
The problem, according to the author, is that this causes a great deal of pain every time we go through a break-up. Not only for the people breaking up, but also often their children, and sometimes their relatives. Some couples stay together even when the relationship does not work in order to avoid this heartache, but this situation also causes pain. Most couples are therefore trapped in a losing situation.
Dr. Hendrix proposes an alternative vision. He proposes remaining a couple, but in a marriage (or lasting relationship) that is happy and loving. This is thanks to a psychic and spiritual journey in full consciousness. As you discover the chapters of this book in this chronicle, I will guide you in the wisdom of Dr. Hendrix. I hope to help you increase the level of consciousness within your couple.
Without further ado, let’s look at the first part of the book.
Part 1: The unconscious marriage (5 chapters)
The unconscious marriage is the limited vision that society offers a couple. We are going to explore what it consists of and the challenges that it raises.
1. The mystery of attraction
The first part of the book explores the various theories about attraction that were put forward in the middle of the last century. The author notes, however, that each one of them is incomplete. His experience on the ground, as a relationship psychologist, led him to understand that these theories are incompatible with reality.
He puts forward a new hypothesis: we are attracted to one another because our subconscious is seeking a partner with well-defined character traits. Positive and negative character traits (we will explore this in more detail shortly).
After years of research, along with his experience with his patients, he realised that we seek to reproduce what we knew as a child. According to Hendrix, it is because we have childhood wounds to heal.
2. Childhood wounds
We are not necessarily talking about serious wounds here, such as the loss of a parent or sexual abuse. We all have childhood wounds. No matter how small. This is also why we are often unaware of our wounds, because they are not “serious”.
The author posits that before birth, during pregnancy, but also during the first months of our lives, a newborn child does not differentiate between itself and the people around him or her. He calls this “complete union“.
When we reach adulthood, we do not remember (or hardly remember) this state of complete union. However, our primitive brain does remember. It seeks to return to this state of physical and spiritual union. In other words, Hendrix explains that we are trying to reconnect to the life force.
As we grow up, our connection to the life force is shared initially (most often) with our mother. It is then shared with our father, and finally with our brothers and sisters. Later, it is shared with school friends, and finally with our first romantic partners. However, this spiritual and physical journey is strewn with obstacles and heartbreak: our childhood wounds.
3. Your “Imago”
Dr. Hendrix explains many of us reject the idea that we are looking for romantic companions who resemble our parents.
However, and despite our conscious efforts to look for people who are different to our parents, he gives us a reality check. We are looking for a partner with the positive and negative traits of our parents. Note that, according to Hendrix, the most influential ones are in fact the negative traits. So, we are looking for someone similar to our parents, and mainly for their negative traits.
Note: This concept will perhaps open your eyes about your choices when it comes to your ex-partners (or even your current relationship).
He confirms yet again that the primitive part of our brain (reptilian brain) seeks to recreate our childhood conditions. It wants to correct and heal what has not been corrected and healed before (and therefore heal the childhood wounds of Chapter 2, Part 1).
This search is unconscious, and its purpose is to help us find the parts of ourselves that we have lost and forgotten.
This is where the Imago concept comes in.
Imago is an unconscious image of our ideal partner. This image is composed of the positive and negative traits of our guardians (often our parents), as well as the parts that we have repressed and that need to be treated.
According to Hendrix, this Imago image forms over time from our youngest childhood, and it defines our romantic choices.
4. Romantic love
In this chapter, he explains that when a person is in love, life makes more sense. You feel happy, and you perceive other people as being happier.
But… and you have probably experienced this yourself, this idyll of romantic love does not last.
The period of euphoria in love can be explained by the chemistry of the human body. The body creates hormones such as serotonin, along with dopamine, and nor adrenaline. The design of our own body helps us to fall in love!
Another important aspect is “I feel like I’ve known you all my life.”
When you look back on your most passionate or spontaneous love affairs, you may remember this feeling of déjà vu.
You feel like you know the other person, even if you only met them a few weeks ago. The feeling that gives us the impression that we have known the other person all our lives reinforces the hypothesis that Hendrix puts forward about our primitive brain. It is trying to rebuild what we experienced in our childhood.
Sometimes when romantic love is in full swing, the sensation that the other person makes us feel complete returns. Therefore, we find the complete union that we talked about earlier (Chapter 2, Part 1).
Hendrix concludes that romantic love is nothing but an illusion. Our unconscious is manipulating us. That is why we cannot explain “love at first sight”. It is beyond our consciousness.
Let’s turn to the last chapter in the first part of the book. Let’s talk about what comes along to spoil romantic love…
5. The power struggle
Once we come out of the romantic love phase, we enter a more delicate stage. Dr. Hendrix notes that the next phase often happens when we decide to commit to each other for good. This may be a wedding, or simply the fact of saying that we are in a relationship. It makes it official with the people around us.
This commitment triggers an unconscious, but deep change inside us.We expect our partner to satisfy all our needs.
We expect the other person to act, think, and do we what we imagined of them during the period of romantic love. Remember that this period was just an illusion, which is why we often come down to earth with a bump! We are face to face with the other person, but not face to face with the picture we had of this person… This breaks the illusion.
At this stage, it is common to wonder why our partner has changed.
Some people will go much further than simply noticing this change that does not exist. The author even says that it is relatively common in a loving relationship to seek to demolish the reality of our partner. It is because this new situation is unbearable to us.
Remember the concept about the character traits of our parents… During this phase of the couple, it is crucial to realise that we are with someone who has the positive traits, but mainly the negative traits of our parents, so that we can heal our childhood wounds.
Take a deep breath and reread the sentence above. It may have a huge effect on your vision of a couple, perhaps even your vision of all your relationships. It explains a lot about past failures…what do you think?
The first part of the book ends. Now we will begin to explore the unknown (the unconscious), and this exploration will allow us to move our relationship toward a more conscious state. It is a critical step towards enjoying a lasting relationship.
Part 2: The conscious marriage (7 chapters)
In this part of the book, we are going to turn your vision of the couple upside down (if this has not happened already!). We will also explore some important tools to raise the level of consciousness of your couple. Hold on tight and start planning an evening together to discuss this article with your loved one!
1. Becoming conscious
The author explains that it is too easy to lay the blame solely on our reptilian or primitive brain. After the first part of the book, you might think that it is responsible for all the problems in a relationship. However, as we have already seen, it is important to understand and remember that the same part of our brain pushes us toward safety, and wants to heal our childhood wounds.
One important concern is that this old part of our brain cannot be guided and has no control over itself. It is on some kind of autopilot. We have no influence over it.
Dr. Hendrix explains that we can temper our primitive brain with a part of the brain that developed in our more recent history (the neocortex). We can introduce reason into our relationship. Good news: we can become conscious!
Here are the 10 characteristics of a conscious relationship according to Hendrix. We:
- Realise that our relationship has a secret mission: to heal our childhood wounds
- Create a more real image of our partner
- Take responsibility for communicating our needs and desires to our partner
- Become more intentional in our interactions
- Learn to cherish the needs and desires of our partner as much as our own
- Accept the dark side to our personality
- Learn new techniques to satisfy our needs and desires
- Search inside ourselves to find the strengths and talents that we lack (we are complete)
- Become more sensitive to our motivation to love, to be a complete being and to be in communion with the universe
- Accept the difficulties involved in creating a beautiful relationship
He insists on the fact that this chapter is an important change of direction. We leave autopilot (the unconscious couple) and take control of our couple (the conscious couple). The following chapters will help to create this fully conscious relationship.
I hope that you are paying attention, because we are getting to the most interesting part!
2. Closing your exits
A little earlier in this article, we talked about commitment, and at this point in the book, it becomes more important than ever!
We all have what the author calls “exits”, ways out. Our exits are patterns that we repeat to escape from a situation of conflict or an uncomfortable situation. Do you recognise yourself in these examples of exits?
- You become sullen and silent
- When things are going badly, you get in touch with an ex
- You spend a lot of long evenings with your friends or on your game console
- As soon as there is sexual tension, you suddenly have to do something or you get a headache. This happens even if there has been no sexual activity in your relationship for months
The author takes commitment one step further. Whether you are in relationship therapy or you do the exercises in the third part of this book, he suggests that there must be a commitment to stay together. If you are in relationship therapy or doing the exercises, the uncomfortable elements in your relationship will rise to the surface. Sometimes these elements will scare you to the point that you want to end the relationship. Hendrix says that this is part of the process. We must remain committed to one another during the course of the process.
To help maintain commitment, he advises…
3. Creating a zone of safety
In the third part, the book provides a series of exercises to do as a couple. To do them properly, it is vital to commit to them and to create what he calls a bonded team. This team is created thanks to the safety zone. Let’s explore the concept together.
Couples who come to see Doctor Hendrix have often become enemies over time. They fight a lot, and reproach each other for all sorts of past events and actions.
If your relationship is not at this advanced stage of self-destruction, then you have an advantage, because following the exercises will be easier. At least, that is my personal experience, even if the exercises are not all easy!
When working with a couple having trouble, Dr. Hendrix tries to recreate certain conditions of romantic love. In this way, the partners see each other as a source of pleasure once again, and not a source of pain.
Understand that the verb “to love” is an action verb. Therefore, acts of love create a feeling and an emotion that we call love.
In order to love, he recommends performing kind deeds for each other. If you intend to buy the book and do the exercises, then you will find detailed explanations by the author about this.
If you plan to simply read this article, here is what I recommend: a list of 3 to 5 kind deeds you can do for your partner (explanation below). Together we will see how to use this list in a moment.
In addition to the list of kind deeds, you can make other lists. In particular, the author recommends a list of fun things to do together and a list of surprises.
Both partners must compile the list of kind deeds and you can do one kind deed per week for the other person!
Remember that in order to love, we must perform acts of love, and therefore give to our partner.
He also recommends giving the other person something he or she wants. You can ask the other person what he or she wants (and you may decide to do something else, if what he or she asks for is too uncomfortable – for now at least).
In order to inspire you, here is a sample list of kind deeds:
- Pay a compliment, one that is detailed and specific.
- Bring a little something (a gift) back when you go shopping (max 10 euros)
- Give a foot massage for 5 minutes before going to bed
- Hug each other for 10 minutes without speaking twice a week
4. Increasing your knowledge of yourself and your partner
The author begins this chapter with a crucial point. Mentally, we understand that our partner has his or her own opinions and views about life. Emotionally however, it is a completely different story. Our actions are not in line with what we think. He explains that this is mainly because we think we see the world as it is. When there is a significant disagreement, it is emotionally difficult to accept the other person’s point of view.
Hendrix suggests that we should accept the limited nature of our perceptions of the world. Once we are capable of accepting this, we can open up to see our partner’s worldview.
It’s as if a whole new world opens up to us! To open this new world, he suggests accepting several principles:
- Most of the criticism from our partner is based on reality
- Persistent emotional reproaches aimed at our partner are often, in truth, the expression of our own unsatisfied needs.
- Persistent emotional reproaches aimed at our partner may be descriptions of the rejected parts of ourselves
- Some of the criticism we make of our partner could help us to find the lost parts of ourselves
In this chapter, he goes even further by explaining that we must also discover and be curious about our partner’s inner world.
To do this, he suggests that communication within the couple must improve.
To improve communication, he offers a few tools and here is one that is quite effective. It is also the easiest one to put in place: the mirror exercise.
We are talking about an emotional and verbal mirror. Various books, authors and psychologists recommend this exercise. We have been using it on an almost daily basis in my relationship for more than 3 years. It works!
When your partner expresses an opinion, a thought or a feeling, instead of giving your opinion or sharing your point of view, take the time to repeat what has just been said. Beginning by repeating your partner’s words is often recommended (easier), but you can also use your own words. Now you wait for your partner’s response.
Your partner will usually say yes, that’s right. Alternatively, if you don’t quite understand, he or she will clarify what was said. Or even no, you haven’t understood at all.
Whether you understand partially or not at all, you repeat the mirror exercise until your partner confirms verbally that he or she feels understood. Using your partner’s words makes the task much easier (and works equally well!). With experience, I encourage you to use your own words instead. It will help you to develop open and loving communication.
One important point is that you do not need to agree with the other person to acknowledge their point of view or their emotion. You can disagree.
However, disagreement does not mean a dispute. Above all, thanks to the mirror communication technique, you can engage in open and caring communication, even if you disagree.
If you have any doubts, go back a few paragraphs and reread the 4 principles shared in this chapter…!
5. Defining your curriculum
Up to now, Harville Hendrix has been guiding us towards the basis of a more conscious relationship. The steps that we followed are the following. We are committed, we have closed our exits, we have increased pleasure and we have learned to communicate better. We do all this and we are still curious about ourselves and the other person.
It is now time to learn how to heal the deepest childhood wounds.
Healing these wounds will give us the chance to create a relationship that is even more conscious and mature. Remember, the goal of a relationship as a couple according to Hendrix is to allow us to heal our childhood wounds, to leave unconsciousness and to create a highly conscious relationship.
To help us to take our relationship further, the author goes back to a key element that we have already discussed. The criticisms we level at our partner are in truth references to our own needs. They also refer to our untreated childhood wounds.
Therefore, by analysing our usual criticism, we will be able to do the work necessary to deepen the relationship that we have with ourselves. This will allow the couple to move toward greater consciousness.
During the analysis of our usual criticism, we are going to create a new list: a list of actions to do or habits to develop. This list is not for us, it is for our partner. Using this list, our partner will be able to give us what we need to help us to heal our childhood wounds.
The benefits don’t stop there! Although you ask something of your partner (and as you both do the exercises, you do something in return), when your partner follows this list, he or she may also find the lost parts of him or herself. Potentially, thanks to the changes, those repressed needs will be satisfied.
That is the power of the concepts and the exercises in this book. Everyone’s a winner, but it requires significant efforts on the part of the couple. However, the advantages for your couple are on a par with the efforts!
There are still two chapters to look at together. Don’t stop now!
6. Containing rage
When you do your weekly kind deeds or try to follow your lists, life does not come to a halt. As we saw together in the chapter about commitment (Chapter 1, Part 2), doing all this may lead to tension. At this stage, you understand the nature of the fundamental changes that the book proposes, so it should seem fairly logical!
In this chapter, we see that our relationship is located on an axis between: never fight and fight all the time. The two extremes are problematic because they reveal important issues about how we communicate.
Rage is destructive for a relationship, but it is not always expressed. So, we have to learn to manage it, whether or not it is expressed.
In a couple, if rage is expressed regularly, there will be emotional violence, and sometimes even physical violence. The author insists that we should not overlook emotional abuse, because the damage is enormous in the long term. For the couple and for the individual.
A couple that never fights is in an empty relationship. There is no spark, no life, no intensity. The flame of love lacks air, and sometimes even goes out.
Hendrix explains that it is possible to convert rage into positive energy. He takes the example of petrol. Petrol can burn down a house or make a car run. What changes is the container in which the petrol is used.
Dr. Hendrix gives several exercises about this. Here is one which you may find useful:
- The partner (A) who feels anger expresses it consciously “Darling, I am cross and I can feel my anger rising”.
- So, partner (B), who is going to contain the anger, takes a few deep breaths and tries to see the other person (A) like a child with an illness (childhood wounds). Once this is done, the partner who is going to contain the anger (B) shows that he or she is ready to listen (mirror)
- The partner who is cross (A) briefly express his or her anger, but follows two rules. Talk only about the other person’s attitude. Personal attacks are not allowed.
- Good example: “I am angry because you forgot to sort the mail”
- Bad example: “You’re a good for nothing, you didn’t sort the mail!”
- Express the rage or anger verbally. Physical violence is not allowed (even towards objects such as breaking plates)
- Partner B uses the mirror technique (Part 2, Chapter 4). He or she gives back an account of what he or she has heard: “If I understand correctly, you are angry because I didn’t sort the mail before you got home”.
- Partner A, the one who is irritated, should feel better. Anger has been expressed and taken into account.
- Repeat the mirror as many times as necessary!
7. Portrait of two marriages
In the final chapter, before moving on to the exercises, the author summarises what we have seen in the book. He shares the story of two couples that he treated as a relationship therapist. The stories are true, touching, and inspiring, because they show us how it is possible to change the dynamics of our romantic relationships.
Like each new episode of your favourite series, I will not give away any spoilers. I will let you discover these stories when you read the book!
Chapter 3: The exercises
In the last part of this article about “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples” by Harville Hendrix, I will offer an overview of the exercises. I would also like to share a little bit about how the process works in my personal experience.
There are 16 exercises in total. The author recommends doing one per week. This involves finding 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the exercise) per week over a period of 4 months (if you don’t miss a single week!). When he talks about commitment, he is serious! However, what your relationship can expect in return is well worth the effort.
Your couple, after the relationship with yourself, is probably the most important relationship of your life. I believe that it is worth the investment!
- The vision of your couple
- Your childhood wounds
- Define your Imago
- Your childhood frustrations
- Your partner’s profile
- Unresolved issues
- The mirror technique
- Closing your exits
- Re-romanticising your couple
- The list of surprises
- The “fun” list
- Understanding your partner’s profound needs
- Containing rage
- Days for containing rage
- Finding the lost parts of yourself
- Visualising love
At the end of the book, the author says that some couples may need professional guidance. Whether when it comes to starting the exercises, pursuing them or even afterwards, if the exercises are not enough.
Doing the exercises helps most couples. If you take them seriously, they will give your relationship a new lease of life.
If you need help, look for a professional trained in the “Imago relationship therapy” method preferably. Many psychotherapists will not know what you are talking about (which is sad, but that is another problem!). When you are searching, type “Imago therapy + your city” into a search engine. You will find sites with lists of trained psychotherapists.
Conclusion about the book “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples” by Harville Hendrix:
This book is tremendously rich for any couple that wants to mature, grow and set off on a personal voyage of discovery and a voyage of discovery together.
It offers powerful tools, it shares touching stories and it allows us to become aware of the importance that being part of a loving couple can have in our life, and on our spirituality.
To go further, I recommend you buy the book. Although I am trying to give you the most important elements of the book, reading it in full and doing the exercises will have a much greater impact on your couple.
My personal experience
My wife and I both read the book and we did the first 11 exercises. Even though we took a break, we decided to go back and finish them. In particular, this was because we felt the varied benefits of the experience.
Here are our top 3:
- We each closed several exits that we developed in the past. So now we are closer and more connected to one another.
- We have strengthened and improved our use of the mirror technique, and we have extended it beyond our couple (friends, work, etc.). It is incredibly powerful!
- Thanks to the exercises in the book, we got into the habit of setting aside one hour for “personal couple development” per week
Book critique of “Getting the love you want” :
Going back to this book and sharing it with you was a pleasure for me. It had an important impact on my couple, and for that reason writing this article was dear to my heart. You can find me on my blog, where I talk about fully conscious couples and romantic relationships with a hint of personal development.
From my own experience, I know that it is possible to improve and go on to create a better couple. My blog is the result of this personal journey. The book that we just reviewed together clearly demonstrates that it is possible.
Nicolas from the blog Graine de coeur
- Can change your relationship for the better
- Offers knowledge and useful and practical tools
- Can save your couple from a break-up
- The exercises are well thought-out and interesting
- Intended for “serious” couples, the book will potentially go too far for some readers
- Reading the book and doing the exercises requires strong motivation, because they are not always easy
My rating :
Have you read “Getting the love you want”? How do you rate it?
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