Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Couple’s Weekend Workshop by Cyma Shapiro (Or how to stop childhood patterns, find happiness, and restructure the relationship loop)

I love my husband. But, for the past 15 years, we’ve done a dance of wills, and had innumerable power struggles and issues. Despite a handful of therapists, we haven’t gotten it right. In many ways, we’ve just “missed” each other, always going down separate paths. Until this past weekend.

I’m not one to share the intimate details of my life, but since I feel “saved,” I think my story might serve someone else well. Here goes: this past weekend, we attended an Imago Workshop originally created by Harville Hendrix. I won’t lie – it was a last ditch effort, not before divorce, but before we began the old, tired conversation of what we would do next/differently/in the future, to repair/rebuild/start a better relationship. Trust me, we’d gotten weary of this; we both felt that life was passing by too fast to always hit this brick wall. Right about now, our heads constantly hurt and we were hurt – there was a lot of anger and pain in our lives. One thousand dollars at one time would stave off months of unsuccessful therapy. If it worked, we would set ourselves on another course; if it failed, I’m not sure what we would do.

In the past, I had suggested a separation, but ultimately realized that I’d be alone/might not do better/would lose out on something not achieved here/the grass probably wouldn’t be greener on the other side, and didn’t follow through. One time I really intended to go through with this, but my husband sought help and I felt that I owed him the time to work on his issues.
In either case, that same struggle and that same last ditch effort was apparently true for the four other couples who also attended the workshop. No one looked very happy.  In fact, several people and couples seemed in dire straits.

Our therapist, Tammy Nelson, herself on a second marriage, served as part cheerleader, part counselor and part den mother always encouraging us to use the “I” word, and never allowing pointed fingers or blame. She was determined to have us face ourselves in the process.  She never waivered in her firm belief that if we did not heal our own wounds, no marriage could survive and none of us would find the happiness and peace we all craved. By the looks of things, all of us could use some peace, and more than a little sleep.

Imago is the Latin word for “image.” It rests on the premise that as humans we take in love from our primary caretakers, getting positive and (often mostly) negative messages while attaching (or not) and receiving love. To further our existence, we then develop survival patterns learning how to act or “be” in order to get love, approval or most importantly safety.
These basic patterns become our modus operandi for life. We nearly always partner or marry the very person who gives you the (same) good and most often bad parts of our caretakers. If you craved affection as a child, you would naturally be attracted to an affectionate, sometimes smothering person. You would believe that this person would make you “whole” again. However, while they served you well in the early stages of your relationship, as your own feelings became stirred, their affection may become oppressive to you. You might think that they need to change (they can’t!), but, according to Imago, it’s you who needs to transform.
The very conflict that occurs at these moments is the process of healing and growth trying, but not succeeding in happening.  When you are tempted to look for a different partner, the Imago theory is that you are probably with the right person, and that they most likely have the reverse story of their own to work out. In fact, our therapist was adamant in stating that individuals look for partners whose story and essence forces us to confront and heal our own wounds.  So, to use our own relationship as an example, it isn’t my husband’s inability to listen, give me time and “be present” that is the issue, it is my childhood wound of never being listened to and never having parents “be present,” that needs to be addressed. Painful words, but a truth that just cut all of us “to the quick.” 

The Imago Theory wants us to know this:
We have chosen our partners to heal certain painful experiences, and that the healing of those experiences is the key to the end of longing. When we do so, we have taken the first step on the journey to real love.

Conflict is supposed to happen. This is as nature intended it: Everything in nature is in conflict, and it is a sign that the psyche is trying to survive, to get its needs met and become whole. 
Divorce does not solve the problems of relationship. We may get rid of our partners, but we keep our problems, carting them into the next relationship. Romantic love is supposed to end. It is the glue that initially bonds two incompatible people together so that they will do what needs to be done to heal themselves. Relationships are not born of love, but of need; real love is born in relationships as a result of understanding what they are about and doing what is necessary to have them.

And understand this:
You may already be with your dream partner, but at the moment, he or she is in disguise--and, like you, in pain. A Conscious Relationship itself is the practice you need to restore your sense of aliveness. The goal of Imago Practice is to change the power struggle and set you on the path of real love.

According to their website, the techniques look like this:
You use effective communications techniques to restructure the way you talk to each other, so that what you say is mirrored back to you, validated, and sympathized with. By stating your frustrations clearly, you articulate exactly what you need from the other person in order to heal.

In the Dialogue, both partners are motivated by the Receiver’s desire to hear and be understood, and by the Sender’s need to be heard and understood. The dialogue forces partners to devote specific uninterrupted time to the relationship. One of the greatest learnings of Dialogue is the discovery of two distinct worlds – the realities of each person. The reality of the other person can be understood, accepted, valued and even loved, but not made to be identical to our own.

The Dialogue must also be turned into action to give our partners what they need, not just what is easy to give. In a Conscious relationship, we agree to change in order to give our partner what they need. In this, change is the catalyst for healing.

The process by which we alter our entrenched behaviors to give our partners what they need requires that we conquer our fears and do what comes unnaturally. Often we may feel that we’re losing ourselves, but we are not ourselves now. It is the crucible of change that we regain ourselves.

Over time, as our partners demonstrate their love for us, and as they learn about and accept our hidden selves, our pain and self-absorption diminishes. We restore our empathic feelings for our partners and our feelings of connection to the other that were foremost in the pain of our childhood. Finally, we learn to see our partners for themselves, and not merely as extensions of ourselves or as we wish they were.

Their conclusion:
A conscious relationship is a spiritual path which leads us home again, to joy and aliveness, to the feeling of oneness we started out with. All through the course of Imago Practice, we learn to express love as a behavior daily, in large and small ways: in other words, in stretching to give our partner what they need, we learn to love. The transformation of our relationships may not be accomplished easily or quickly; we are setting off on a lifelong journey.

Our therapist stated that without further therapeutic reinforcement, Hendrix had determined that most couples retain positive benefits of the weekend for up to 14 weeks. I can honestly say that the information we learned about each other, the depth of commitment we made, the steps we’ve already taken to change our: approach, methods, reactions, and responses; the inherent respect for each other’s similarities and differences was as if we undertook hypnosis and woke up liking…no make that loving each other more intently and more concertedly than before.

For the first time in a very, very long time, the gloves have been taken off and we’re starting back on the small, very small things – a kiss here, a glance there, and more kindness than we’ve seen in nearly our whole marriage. So, I’m sold. More importantly, I’m encouraged that I can experience the rest of our lives together in happiness and in peace. 

If you are seeking a solution to the trouble in your marriage/partnership, I encourage you to try this. It requires guts, transparency and a willingness to listen and be heard. It requires a softening of the heart and the realization that what seemed unanswerable and unfixable is actually the opposite and right around your corner.

It takes so much more energy to continue with strife, pain and anger than it does to let life unfold, especially with hopefulness and less pain. Today, we stand stronger and are doing it together hand-in-hand.

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Blogger Robin Gorman Newman said...

I love that you shared this Cyma. It's so compelling, and I applaud you and your husband for investing the time and effort in your relationship and for being totally open to a process that sounds both productive and painful, yet hopefully ultimately healing and inviting of further intimacy. Friendship, marriage, can all be a challenge for one reason or another....depending on the phase of life you're in... but endeavoring to tackle it head on, as you have, is very enlightening and inspiring.

9:36 AM  

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