Clinical Psychologist Harville Hendrix, and his wife, Helen Lakelly Hunt have been doing research in the field of couples counseling for the past thirty years. In Dr. Hendrix’s books, “Getting The Love You Want” and “Keeping The Love You Find”, he introduces the reader to an idea which was revolutionary at the time the book was released. The concept Dr. Hendrix proposed was that our relationships with early caregivers have a powerful impact on “partner” selection when it comes time to marriage and/or long term commitments. It’s a “good news”, “bad news” kind of a situation when you think about it. The assumption is that all of us emerge from childhood with unmet dependency needs… some of us obviously are more deprived than others…but nobody gets through without some scars. Good news first: In the healthiest of marriages, (please note that “marriage” is just my shorthand for “long term commitment”), there is the opportunity for addressing the “unmet” needs of both partners. In the best of situations, an interdependancy can be created in which the well being of each partner is promoted within the relationship. The Bad News?..Oftentimes one or both partners in a new relationship enters the relationship with largely unstated and unconscious expectations for having their needs met. Sooner or later, as you might expect, there is a “fall from grace”, wherein neither partner can be what the other one wants or needs. During the “honeymoon” phase of a relationship each partner is eager to put his/her best foot forward to fulfill the needs of the other. However, this is usually unsustainable. Certain patterns can emerge with couples. For example, one partner’s needs can become paramount (ie…in the extreme…the narcissist)..while the other partner is “accommodating” ( ie…in the extreme…the codependant). In truth, neither partner is truly happy and fulfilled. Marriages break up under the strain.
But….there is hope! Dr. Hendrix suggests that a marriage relationship can be nourished at its roots successfully when each partner very intentionally talks about their early caregiving experiences . When such material is shared, there is acknowledgement from the very beginning that vulnerability and woundedness exists for all of us. Mutual empathy can be cultivated in a marriage, except, of course in cases where one member seems incapable of empathy. The empathy then becomes the key to really putting yourself in the “shoes” of the other person, and understanding something from a perspective that is differerent than your own. Dr Hendrix argues that a key component to the relationship being ultimately successful, is that each partner must develop the ability to listen to the other. Of all unmet childhood needs, this is perhaps the most common….many of us have felt unheard in childhood. There is the chance for this to be repaired in marriage.
A final benefit to the deep listening that can be nourished in a long term relationship, is the realization, when we have been fully “heard”…. that we are all fundamentally deeply connected. The mystics got it right, in my view….When I can find myself in you, loving you becomes loving myself. Surely healthy “self love” must be the ultimate goal in a relationship that is working for us both.