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Marriage As Therapy

Marriage As Therapy

By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.

A good marriage can be the best psychotherapy for us, according to Harville Hendrix, author of two popular, self-help books on marriage, Getting the Love you Want and Keeping the Love You Find.

Unfortunately, a bad marriage can wound us even further.

I recently attended an all day workshop presented by Hendrix at a national conference on marital and sexual therapy. He has developed a new type of marital counseling which he calls imago relationship therapy that appears to be quite emotionally powerful and effective.

Dr. Hendrix subscribes to the theory that the emotional wounds of childhood are acted out, usually unconsciously, in our adult lives and our marriages. Imago is a new term he has coined which simply means the images in our minds formed in childhood through which we view the world. If we were abused as children, we will have an imago of the world as a dangerous place.

To simplify his theory, the imago that Hendrix explores in marital therapy consists of two parts. The first is the imago of our parents with both their positive and negative traits, but usually more of the negative. When we fall in love, we will be attracted to someone who has some of those same negative characteristics.

A man raised by parents who were distant and unloving will marry a women who is similarly distant. But what a dumb thing for him to do! If he had been rational about his decision whom to marry, he would have chosen someone who is warm and loving, unlike his parents.

But no, when he falls in love with what Hendrix calls his imago match, he finds someone who is bound to frustrate him as his parents had done, someone who is afraid to become too intimate probably because of the way she was hurt in childhood. If she had been rational when she fell in love, she would have chosen someone more independent to fit with her need for distance.

There's a mismatch here. He craves love; she hesitates to give it. It seems as if nature has made a terrible mistake by having these two fall in love.

But what seems like nature's mistake, according to Hendrix, is nature's brilliant way to promote healing in both spouses. Both can now grow as a result of their mismatch, he by becoming more self-loving and she by learning to love more deeply despite her fears. If each had rationally chosen whom to marry, neither would have the opportunity to grow and heal their childhood wounds.

The second part of our imago consists of those traits in ourselves we repress as unacceptable. When we fall in love, we unconsciously choose someone who carries or displays those very characteristics. Then we criticize our spouse for having those traits because what we don't like in another, we fear in ourselves.

A women who is afraid of her own rage, for example, will marry a man who easily expresses his anger. A man who denies his own dependency needs will marry a woman who is dependent. Each spouse carries the unconscious, unacceptable parts of the other.

Again in this marriage, nature has provided an opportunity for healing through the integration of unacceptable parts of the self. The wife with the angry husband can reclaim her own anger, while the husband with the dependent wife can accept his own normal dependency needs which have been frightening to him.

With a divorce rate at sixty percent for all marriages however, the sad reality today is that most marriages create more woundedness than healing. Hendrix offers the hope that marriage can be the most healing activity we do if we are willing to work at it.


About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book, Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com, all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors copyright and website hyperlinks.

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