getting the love you want

Getting the love you want : A guide for couples for a better relationship

In the labyrinth of love and relationships, many seek a guidebook that illuminates the path to lasting connection and fulfillment. Harville Hendrix’s timeless masterpiece, “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples,” stands as a beacon for those navigating the intricate terrain of companionship. As we embark on this literary journey, we’ll unravel the profound insights and transformative wisdom woven into the fabric of Hendrix’s work. This blog post serves as a compass, distilling the essence of this celebrated guide to help couples forge deeper connections and cultivate relationships that stand the test of time. So, let’s embark on this exploration together, delving into the heart of what makes love thrive and relationships flourish.

By Harville Hendrix Ph.D. 1988, 384 pages

getting the love you want book cover

Chronicle and summary of the book: “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples”

About the author and his book

Meet Getting the love you want author, Dr. Harville Hendrix, a smart guy with a Ph.D. in psychology and religion. He’s the brain behind Imago therapy, a type of relationship counseling. Born in 1935, he’s written a bunch of books about love and how couples’ minds work.

Now, after many years of studying relationships, Dr. Hendrix is sharing his secrets to make relationships awesome. His book isn’t just a bunch of facts; it’s like a guide for you and your partner to build a strong and happy connection. You need to really dive into the process he suggests to solve problems and be more aware. If you just read the book and don’t do the exercises, it won’t work as well. But don’t worry, even if you skip some parts, the info in the book is still super helpful.

Dr. Hendrix talks a lot about marriage because that’s usually where he steps in to help couples. But guess what? His advice isn’t just for married folks—it works for any couple, whether you’ve been together for ages or just started dating.

I tried out the book’s lessons in my own relationship during our first year, and it’s been a game-changer for us. So, if you’re looking to make your relationship stronger, stick around as we explore how Dr. Hendrix’s wisdom can help you and your partner thrive!

Introduction to “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples”

The author talks about how society has a narrow view of marriage. According to society, there are specific rules for a successful marriage, and it all starts with finding the right partner. If you mess up and end up divorcing, it brings a lot of pain not just to the couple but also to their kids and sometimes even their family. Some couples tough it out even if the relationship isn’t working just to avoid this pain, but that’s not great either. It’s like being stuck in a losing situation.

Dr. Hendrix has a different idea. He suggests staying in a happy and loving relationship, kind of like a marriage, but with a twist. This involves a journey of the mind and spirit where you’re fully aware of what’s going on. As we explore this book together, I’ll help you understand Dr. Hendrix’s wisdom. My goal is to guide you towards a more aware and conscious relationship. So, without any more delay, let’s dive into the first part of the book!

Part 1: The unconscious marriage (5 chapters)

The “unconscious marriage” is like the narrow way that society thinks couples should be together. We’ll check out what that means and the problems it brings.

1. The mystery of attraction

The first part of the book talks about different ideas from the middle of the last century about why people are attracted to each other. But the author, who’s also a relationship expert, says these ideas are not quite right. He has a new idea: our minds want a partner with specific qualities, both good and bad (we’ll learn more about this soon).

After lots of research and working with people, he figured out that we’re trying to recreate what we experienced as kids. According to Hendrix, it’s because we have old hurts from childhood that need healing.

2. Childhood wounds

We’re not talking about big hurts like losing a parent or bad things happening; we all have little hurts from when we were kids, no matter how small. That’s why we might not realize they’re there because they don’t seem “serious.”

The author says that before we’re born and in the first few months of our lives, we don’t really see a difference between ourselves and the people around us—it’s like we’re completely connected. He calls this “complete union.” Even though we don’t remember it as adults, our basic brain does. It wants to go back to that feeling of being completely connected in body and spirit. In simpler words, we’re trying to get back to that strong life force.

As we grow up, we first share this connection mostly with our mom, then our dad, and later with our brothers, sisters, and friends. But this journey of being close to someone both spiritually and physically isn’t easy; there are bumps and hurts along the way—those childhood wounds.


3. Your “Imago”

Dr. Hendrix tells us something interesting: even if we don’t realize it, we often try to find a romantic partner who’s like our parents, both in good and not-so-good ways. Even if we consciously try to choose someone different, he says, we’re still drawn to partners with traits, especially the not-so-great ones, that remind us of our parents. So, without knowing it, we might end up with someone a lot like mom or dad.

This might make you think about your past partners (or even your current one). Dr. Hendrix emphasizes that our basic brain, the reptilian brain, wants to recreate our early life conditions. It’s like it’s trying to fix and heal things from our childhood that weren’t fixed and healed before (remember those childhood wounds we talked about in Chapter 2, Part 1).

This whole search is happening without us even realizing it. Why? Well, our brain is trying to find the parts of ourselves that we’ve lost or forgotten. And here’s where the Imago concept comes into play.

Imago is like a mental picture of our ideal partner, but we don’t consciously create it. It forms over time, starting from when we were really little, and it’s made up of the good and not-so-good traits of the people who took care of us (usually our parents). According to Hendrix, this Imago image shapes our romantic choices. It’s like a blueprint that guides who we’re attracted to.

4. Romantic love

In this chapter, the author talks about how when we’re in love, everything seems brighter and happier. Life makes more sense, and we see others as happier too. But, as you might have experienced, this dreamy phase of love doesn’t last forever.

The super-happy feeling in love has a lot to do with the chemicals in our bodies. Our body releases hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline that make us fall in love! Another interesting thing is the feeling of “I feel like I’ve known you all my life.”

Think back to your most intense loves—there might have been a sense of déjà vu, like you’ve known the person forever, even if you only met them recently. This feeling strengthens Dr. Hendrix’s idea about our basic brain trying to recreate our childhood experiences.

When we’re deep into romantic love, we might feel like the other person completes us. It’s like that complete union we talked about before (in Chapter 2, Part 1) comes back. But here’s the twist: Hendrix says that romantic love is kind of like a trick. Our unconscious mind is playing games with us, which is why things like “love at first sight” are hard to explain. It’s something happening beyond what we consciously understand.

Now, let’s move on to the last chapter in the first part of the book. We’re going to dig into what comes along to spoil the party of romantic love…

5. The power struggle

After the super happy romantic phase, things get a bit tricky. Dr. Hendrix says the next stage often happens when we decide to stick with each other for the long haul. This could mean getting married or just officially saying we’re in a serious relationship to people around us.

Now, here’s the tricky part: this commitment makes a deep, unconscious change in us. We start expecting our partner to meet all our needs. We want them to act, think, and be exactly how we imagined during the romantic phase, which, by the way, was kind of like a daydream. That’s why, when we snap out of it, it’s like a wake-up call. We’re face-to-face with the real person, not the dream version we had in our heads. It’s a bit of a reality check.

At this point, we might wonder why our partner seems to have changed. Some folks might even go a step further and try to break down the reality of their partner because facing this new reality feels tough.

Remember those traits from our parents? Well, during this part of the relationship, it’s super important to realize that our partner has both the good and not-so-good traits of our parents. It’s like they’re carrying around some of the baggage from our childhood, and realizing this is crucial for healing old wounds.

Take a moment to really think about that last part. It might change how you see relationships, maybe even all your past ones. It sheds light on why things might not have worked out before—pretty eye-opening, right?

The first part of the book ends here. Now, we’re going to dive into the unknown, the unconscious part of our minds. Exploring this will help us make our relationship more aware and conscious, a crucial step towards having a lasting and happy relationship.


Part 2: The conscious marriage (7 chapters)

In this part of the book, get ready for a bit of a shake-up in how you see relationships (if it hasn’t happened already!). We’re also going to check out some useful tools to make your relationship more aware. Hang on tight and maybe plan a cozy evening to chat about this article with your special someone!

1. Becoming conscious

The author points out that it’s too simple to blame all the relationship problems on our basic or reptilian brain. After reading the first part of the book, you might think it’s the troublemaker in relationships. However, we need to remember that this part of our brain also guides us towards safety and aims to heal our childhood wounds.

Here’s the tricky part: this old brain doesn’t follow our commands; it’s like it’s on autopilot. We can’t control it.

Dr. Hendrix gives us a hopeful message, though. We can balance out our primitive brain with a part that developed more recently in our history—the neocortex. This is where reason comes in. The good news is, we can become more aware and conscious in our relationships!

Here are Dr. Hendrix’s 10 things that make a relationship conscious:

  • Understand that your relationship has a secret mission: to heal old wounds from childhood.
  • See your partner as they really are, not just how you imagine them.
  • Take charge of expressing your needs and wants to your partner.
  • Be purposeful and thoughtful in your interactions with each other.
  • Treasure your partner’s needs and wants as much as your own.
  • Acknowledge and accept the not-so-great parts of your personality.
  • Learn new ways to meet your needs and desires.
  • Explore within yourself to discover strengths and talents you might be missing (realize that you’re already complete).
  • Be aware of why you love, aiming to be a whole person, and connecting with the universe.
  • Face and accept the challenges that come with building a beautiful relationship.

The author wants us to know that this chapter is a big shift. We’re moving away from autopilot (where the couple is unconscious) and steering our relationship intentionally (towards being conscious). The upcoming chapters will guide us in building this fully aware and intentional relationship. So, stay tuned, because the most interesting part is coming up!

2. Closing your exits

In the earlier part of this article, we chatted about commitment, and now in the book, it’s becoming super important! The author talks about something he calls “exits” — these are like escape routes we use when things get tough. Take a look at these examples: getting all quiet, reaching out to an ex when things are rough, spending lots of time with friends or playing video games, or suddenly having an excuse when things get a bit romantic, even if there hasn’t been any romance for months.

Now, the author is saying we need to take commitment to the next level. Whether you’re in therapy or doing exercises from the later part of the book, he suggests making a commitment to stay together. When you’re working on your relationship, tough stuff might come up, and it might even feel so scary that you think about ending things. Hendrix says that’s normal. The key is sticking to your commitment during this process.

To help you stick with it, he gives some advice…

3. Creating a zone of safety

In the third part of the book, there are exercises for couples to do together. To do them well, you need to commit to them and create what the author calls a “bonded team.” This team is formed through something he calls a safety zone. Let’s look into this idea together.

When couples go to Dr. Hendrix for help, they often feel like enemies. They fight a lot and blame each other for things that happened in the past.

If your relationship isn’t that bad yet, you’re lucky. It makes doing the exercises easier, at least from my experience, even if they’re not all easy!

When Dr. Hendrix works with struggling couples, he tries to bring back some of the conditions of romantic love. This way, partners start seeing each other as a source of joy, not pain.

He makes a point that “to love” is an action. Acts of love create the feeling we call love. To help you love, he suggests doing kind things for each other. If you plan on doing the exercises from the book, you’ll find detailed instructions from the author. But if you’re just reading this article, here’s what you can try: make a list of 3 to 5 kind things you can do for your partner (I’ll explain how to use this list in a moment).

Besides the kind deeds list, you can make other lists, like fun things to do together and surprises. Both of you should make the kind deeds list, and you can do one kind thing for each other every week!

Remember, to love, you have to do acts of love and give to your partner. Dr. Hendrix also suggests giving your partner something they want. You can ask them what they want, and if it’s too uncomfortable, you can decide to do something else (for now, at least).

To give you an idea, here’s a sample list of kind deeds:

  • Give a specific compliment.
  • Bring a small gift when you go shopping (maximum $10).
  • Give a 5-minute foot massage before bedtime.
  • Hug each other for 10 minutes without talking twice a week.

getting love

4. Increasing your knowledge of yourself and your partner

The author starts this chapter by highlighting a key idea: although we grasp mentally that our partner has their own opinions, emotionally, it’s a different story. Our actions often don’t align with our understanding because we believe our view of the world is the correct one. When faced with significant disagreements, accepting our partner’s perspective becomes emotionally challenging.

Hendrix suggests acknowledging the limited nature of our perceptions. Once we embrace this, we can open ourselves to see our partner’s worldview, almost like discovering a whole new world. He proposes accepting several principles to facilitate this understanding:

  • Most criticism from our partner is grounded in reality.
  • Persistent emotional reproaches towards our partner often express our unsatisfied needs.
  • Persistent emotional reproaches towards our partner may describe the rejected parts of ourselves.
  • Some criticisms of our partner could help us find lost parts of ourselves.

Taking it a step further, he emphasizes the need to explore and be curious about our partner’s inner world. To facilitate this exploration, he recommends improving communication within the couple and offers a simple yet effective tool—the mirror exercise.

The mirror exercise involves emotionally and verbally reflecting what your partner expresses instead of immediately offering your opinion. You can either repeat their words or use your own phrasing. The key is to wait for your partner’s response, and through this process, you aim to confirm that you understand their viewpoint.

Importantly, agreement is not necessary during this exercise. Disagreement doesn’t have to lead to an argument. Using the mirror communication technique, you can engage in open and caring communication even when there are differences.

If you have any doubts, he encourages revisiting the four principles shared in this chapter for guidance.

5. Defining your curriculum

Until now, Getting the love you want author, Harville Hendrix has been guiding us toward the foundations of a more conscious relationship. Here are the steps we’ve taken: making a commitment, closing our exits, increasing pleasure, and improving communication. Even with all these, our curiosity about ourselves and our partner persists.

Now, it’s time to delve into healing the deepest childhood wounds. This healing process opens the door to creating an even more conscious and mature relationship. Remember, according to Hendrix, the ultimate purpose of a couple’s relationship is to facilitate the healing of childhood wounds, transition from unconsciousness, and establish a highly conscious relationship.

To guide us further, the author revisits a crucial element we’ve discussed before: our criticisms of our partner. Hendrix asserts that these criticisms are essentially reflections of our own needs and untreated childhood wounds. By analyzing our typical criticisms, we can undertake the work needed to deepen our self-relationship, propelling the couple toward greater consciousness.

In the process of analyzing our usual criticisms, we’re tasked with creating a new list—a set of actions or habits for our partner, not for ourselves. Through this list, our partner gains insight into what they can do to assist us in healing our childhood wounds.

The benefits extend beyond our individual needs. While you’re asking something of your partner, and reciprocally doing exercises for them, your partner may also discover lost aspects of themselves. Through these changes, previously repressed needs have the potential to be satisfied.

This illustrates the power of the concepts and exercises presented in the book. It’s a win-win situation, demanding considerable effort from the couple. However, the rewards for your relationship are well worth the effort!

There are still two more chapters to explore together. Don’t pause now!

6. Containing rage

While you’re carrying out your weekly kind deeds or trying to stick to your lists, life keeps moving forward. As we explored together in the commitment chapter (Chapter 1, Part 2), these efforts might lead to some tension. At this point, understanding the nature of the fundamental changes the book suggests makes this tension seem quite logical!

In this chapter, we realize that our relationship exists on a spectrum between never fighting and fighting all the time. Both extremes pose challenges because they highlight important issues about our communication.

Rage can be harmful to a relationship, even if it’s not always expressed outwardly. Therefore, we need to learn to manage it, whether it’s expressed or not.

In a couple, regular expression of rage can lead to emotional violence and, at times, even physical violence. The author stresses the importance of not overlooking emotional abuse, as the long-term damage is substantial for both the couple and the individuals involved.

On the flip side, a couple that never fights might find themselves in a lackluster relationship. There’s no spark, no vitality, no intensity. The flame of love lacks oxygen and might even go out.

Hendrix points out that it’s possible to transform rage into positive energy. He draws an analogy with petrol, which can either burn down a house or power a car. The crucial factor is the container in which the petrol is utilized.

Dr. Hendrix provides several exercises on this topic, and here’s one that you might find helpful:

  • Partner A, feeling anger, consciously expresses it: “Darling, I am cross, and I can feel my anger rising.”
  • Partner B, who is tasked with containing the anger, takes a few deep breaths and visualizes Partner A as a child with an illness (representing childhood wounds). Once this mental shift is done, Partner B signals readiness to listen (mirror).
  • Partner A, the one feeling cross, briefly expresses their anger but follows two rules: focus solely on the other person’s behavior, and personal attacks are not allowed.
    • Good example: “I am angry because you forgot to sort the mail.”
    • Bad example: “You’re good for nothing; you didn’t sort the mail!”
  • Express the rage or anger verbally, emphasizing that physical violence is not allowed, even towards objects (like breaking plates).
  • Partner B employs the mirror technique (Part 2, Chapter 4), providing a recap of what they’ve heard: “If I understand correctly, you are angry because I didn’t sort the mail before you got home.”
  • Partner A, the one irritated, should start feeling better as the anger has been expressed and acknowledged.
  • Repeat the mirror exercise as many times as necessary!

harville hendrix

7. Portrait of two marriages

In the concluding chapter, just before delving into the exercises, the author recaps the key insights from the book. He presents the real-life stories of two couples he worked with as a relationship therapist. These stories are genuine, heartfelt, and uplifting, providing a glimpse of how it’s possible to transform the dynamics of our romantic relationships.

Similar to a new episode of your favorite series, I won’t reveal any spoilers. I’ll leave you to uncover these compelling stories when you read the book!

Chapter 3: The exercises

In the final segment of this discussion on “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples” by Harville Hendrix, I’ll provide an overview of the exercises and share a bit about how the process has worked in my personal experience.

There are a total of 16 exercises, and the author suggests completing one per week. This commitment involves dedicating 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the exercise) per week over a span of four months (assuming no missed weeks). Hendrix emphasizes the importance of commitment, and the potential benefits for your relationship make the effort worthwhile.

Your relationship, second only to the one with yourself, is likely the most significant in your life, making it a worthwhile investment.

Here’s a snapshot of the exercises:

  • 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-romanticizing 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
  • Visualizing love

In concluding the book, the author notes that some couples might benefit from professional guidance, whether at the beginning, during, or after completing the exercises. Seeking assistance from a professional trained in the “Imago relationship therapy” method is recommended. It’s worth noting that not all psychotherapists may be familiar with this method, so when searching, use terms like “Imago therapy + your city” to find lists of trained psychotherapists.

Conclusion about the book “Getting the love you want: a guide for couples” by Harville Hendrix:

This book is an incredibly valuable resource for any couple aspiring to mature, grow individually, and embark on a joint journey of self-discovery. It provides potent tools, shares poignant stories, and underscores the profound impact that being part of a loving couple can have on our lives and spirituality.

While I strive to convey the key elements of the book, I highly recommend purchasing it for a more comprehensive experience. Reading the book in its entirety and engaging in the exercises will undoubtedly have a more profound impact on your relationship.

Here are the top three ideas I gained:

  • We consciously closed various exits developed in the past, bringing us closer and fostering a deeper connection.
  • We enhanced and extended the use of the mirror technique, applying it not only within our relationship but also in other aspects of our lives (with friends, at work, etc.). Its effectiveness is truly remarkable!
  • Thanks to the exercises in the book, we established a routine of dedicating one hour per week to “personal couple development.”

Returning to this book and sharing its insights with you has been a joy. It significantly influenced my relationship, making this article personally meaningful. You can find more about conscious couples and romantic relationships with a touch of personal development on my blog.

Drawing from my own journey, I can attest that improvement and the creation of a better couple are possible. My blog reflects the outcomes of this personal exploration, and the book we’ve just explored together clearly affirms that positive transformation is attainable.


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