How Hidden Expectations Destroy: Insights from Getting the Love You Want
In their groundbreaking book, Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt offer techniques and strategies for building and strengthening deeply satisfying relationships. Originally published in 1988 with more than four million copies sold, an updated and revised edition of the book was released this year. We found this excerpt particularly helpful in revealing the layers of unconscious expectation we bring to our relationships.
Eager for tools to break through a challenge in your marriage? Join Harville and Helen at 1440 for their renowned and beloved Getting the Love You Want weekend workshop for couples from June 28 – 30, 2019.
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Love, Lost and Found
IT GETS PERSONAL
We know the pain of lost love because both of us had first marriages that ended in divorce. For me (Harville), my first wife and I began having marriage difficulties when our two children were young. We were deeply committed to our relationship and went through eight years of intensive examination, working with several therapists. Nothing helped, and ultimately, we filed for divorce.
As I sat in the divorce court waiting my turn to see the judge, I felt like a double failure, a failure as a husband and as a therapist.
That very afternoon, I was scheduled to teach a course on marriage and the family, and the next day, as usual, I had several couples to counsel. Despite my professional training, I felt just as confused and defeated as the other people who sat beside me, waiting for their names to be called.
In the year following my divorce, I woke up each morning with an acute sense of loss.
When I went to bed at night, I stared at the ceiling, trying to find some explanation for our failed marriage.
Sure, my wife and I had our ten rational reasons for divorcing, just like everyone else. I didn’t like this about her; she didn’t like that about me; we had different interests and goals; we had grown apart. But beneath our list of complaints, I could sense that there was a central disappointment, an underlying cause of our unhappiness that had eluded eight years of probing.
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Time passed, and my despair turned into a compelling desire to make sense out of my dilemma; I was not going to walk away from the ruins of my marriage without gaining some insight. I met Helen two years later.
I (Helen) also had two young children, and like Harville, I was deeply sorrowful and also puzzled by the failure of my first marriage. I was aware that a distance had grown between my husband and me, and I thought his long hours at work contributed to the problem. When he was unavailable, I felt lonely and sad.
But I grew to wonder if there were other, more hidden causes of our growing distance.
Why hadn’t we been able to identify those deeper issues and solve the problems?
From the day we (Harville and Helen) met, we discovered that we shared the same intense interest in the psychology of relationships. Harville was a clinical pastoral counselor, and Helen was working on her master’s in counseling degree at Southern Methodist University. During our courtship, we spent much of our time gathering insights from wide-ranging fields, including philosophy, religion, feminism, and physics.
We spent our “dates” sharing what we were discovering.
Imago (i-MAH-go) Therapy, the ideas and techniques you will be reading about in this book, was born out of our decades-long collaboration and refined in the crucible of our own marriage. In the past thirty-five years, we have used our insights to counsel thousands of couples, some in private practice and some in the group workshops that we now co-lead.
Working with so many people has deepened our understanding of how marriages work, why they break down, and how couples can learn to reconnect and experience the joy and wonder that was there when they first fell in love. Drawing on these insights, we have been able to make Imago Therapy more and more effective.
Today, we can help couples get the love they want more quickly than we had in the past, and with even better results.
One of the core ideas of Imago Therapy is that the underlying cause of most couples’ discontent lies buried beneath the surface. Superficially, partners argue about household chores, money, parenting styles, their next vacation, or who is spending too much time on their cell phones.
Outside of their awareness, however, each one is being compelled by an unwritten agenda that was formed early in life: to recover the sensations of being fully alive and joyfully connecting with which we came into the world.
Although the specifics of each person’s agenda are unique, the overriding goal is the same: to experience with the partner the same sensations they experienced with their caretakers. And they assign their partner the task of making it happen!
‘Partner, I expect you to satisfy the unmet emotional needs that I brought from childhood.’
Most of us vastly underestimate the scope of the unconscious mind. There is an analogy that might give a better appreciation for its pervasive influence. In the daytime, we can’t see the stars. We talk as if they “come out” at night, even though they are there all the time. We also underestimate the sheer number of stars. We look up at the sky, see a smattering of dim stars, and assume that’s all there is.
When we travel far away from city lights, we see a sky strewn with stars and are overwhelmed by the brilliance of the heavens. But it is only when we study astronomy that we learn the whole truth: the hundreds of thousands of stars that we see on a clear, moonless night in the country are only a fraction of the stars in the universe, and many of the points of light that we assume to be stars are in fact entire galaxies.
So it is with the unconscious mind: the orderly, logical thoughts of our conscious mind are but a thin veil over the unconscious, which is active and functioning at all times.
When we fall in love, this unconscious, trapped in the eternal now and having only a dim awareness of the outside world, is trying to re-create the environment of childhood. And the reason the unconscious is trying to resurrect the past is not a matter of habit or blind compulsion but of a compelling need to heal old childhood wounds.
Few people are aware of this agenda, and many would deny it.
‘What does my childhood have to do with my partner’s drinking problem? I want to deal with the here and now.’
They do not know that their being unavailable to their partner may be the source of their partner’s drinking problem, which in turn feeds their unavailability to connect in the here and now. Nor do they know that the mutual experience of ruptured connecting is a replay of each partner’s childhood.
While each partner contributes to the complaint of the other, on an unconscious level, we expect our partners to intuit our unmet needs and satisfy them without asking for anything in return. Additionally, we picked that partner to re-experience these old feelings so that we could then heal the sadness and pain from the past.
Excerpted from Getting the Love You Want, 2019 edition, by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Copyright © 2019 by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.