Feeling stuck? Get back on track to your dream marriage

Most couples begin their journey with a dream of marital bliss.

But somewhere within the first two years after saying “I do”, many get stuck and their dream becomes a living nightmare. Or, at best, a dull and mediocre existence.

How does something so good end up feeling so bad? 

It happens when we enter the Power Struggle Stage of marriage. You know you’re in the power struggle when you start wanting your partner to change. “If only you would change, I could be happy.” You start complaining that your needs are not being met. “You could meet my needs if you wanted to. And since you don’t, you don’t love me.” 

And because unconscious reactions are triggered and emotions surface from places we’re not aware of, we begin reacting in ways that are not helpful in our relationship.

For some crazy reason some partners think, “If I cause you enough pain, you will change and meet my needs! Then, we can go back to romantic love.” 

But it doesn’t work. It only gets worse. That’s why about 40% of marriages fail. And of the couples who stay together, about 75% report their marriages as unsatisfactory. These couples are stuck.

So how do we get unstuck and back on track toward the marriage we dreamed about in the beginning? 

Here are six steps that will help…along with an opportunity to enroll in an online course that will take you further, learning all the tools you’ll need.

1. Make a new commitment to pursue your dream marriage

Most things in life don’t come to us unless we go after them. When we get stuck in our relationship it will require a new commitment to get unstuck.

Make a commitment to three things: Reconnecting, Rekindling and Re-envisioning your relationship.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 1: Getting on the journey to your dream marriage

You’ll discover why marriage is the best place to heal and grow and fulfill your life purpose together – no matter how stuck you’ve become. 

You’ll look at four stages that most marriages go through, and you’ll work together as a couple to create your own Relationship Vision statement that will help get you back on course and guide you into the future together. 

2. Learn how to turn conflicts into a deeper connection with your partner

Allowing conflicts to continue without being resolved will drain the life out of any relationship.

The real problem is that unresolved conflicts block your ability to connect.

When we feel connected everything works. When we feel disconnected nothing works. Cortisol which increases anxiety, and unconscious defenses hurls us into further conflict.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 2: Turning Conflicts into Connection

You’ll learn about the Power Struggle Stage of marriage and why we have conflicts as a couple. You will use the Couples Dialogue to turn these conflicts into connection.

3. Discover root issues that are blocking intimacy

You can resolve conflicts but still not feel connected. You must move beyond the symptoms and deal with root issues that cause your conflicts to keep recurring. 

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 3: Overcoming Unconscious Barriers to Intimacy

You’ll learn why conflict is a sign you married the right person. You’ll discover what kinds of unconscious forces were in effect when you chose the partner you did, and how there was an unconscious program running in your lower brain that led you to the person best suited to help you heal and grow. You’ll use the Parent/Child Dialogue where you will gain empathy for your partner’s past and learn what to do about the childhood defenses that are blocking your ability to connect. 

4. Rekindle romantic love 

Couples who have endured long term conflict often lose their feelings for each other. Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to rekindle love and reignite passion in your relaitonship.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 4: Reigniting Your Passion for Each Other

You will add to your toolbox this powerful tool called the Caring Behaviors exercise. It will help you and your partner rekindle romantic love and increase safety and connection in your relationship

5. Use conflicts as an opportunity to heal and grow

As conflicts are turned into connection, learn to ask for changes that bring healing and growth

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 5: Building a Healing and Growth Partnership

You will look at how your partner’s need for healing becomes a blueprint for your own emotional growth. You’ll learn that buried beneath each relationship frustration is a wish. You’ll use the Change Request Dialogue tool to begin a lifestyle of turning frustrations into requests that help you get the love you want, bringing healing to you and growth to your partner.

6. Build a culture of safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness.

Most of the great relationship tools I teach don’t work…that is unless you work them. It’s easy to start well, have a breakthrough, only to go back to old patterns. Build habits that will keep you feeling connected in a stable and secure relationship.

HERE’S HOW THE ONLINE COURSE WILL HELP YOU GO FURTHER.

Week 6: Continuing the journey to your dream marriage

You will learn how to make the relationship tools you’ve learned a lifestyle. You will learn how to develop the habits necessary to sustain change over time and continue the journey to the marriage of your dreams.

Let me encourage you to join me for the six-week online course, Building the marriage of your dreams.

Click here for more info and to enroll in the Couples Online Course.

Also, if you haven’t already…

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

When marriage conflicts do damage to your children

When Mark and Jennifer had a breakthrough in their marriage relationship, their joy was mixed with all kinds of regrets.

Mark said, “Why couldn’t we have learned these things about our marriage sooner so our kids didn’t have to grow up in a war zone?”

Their happiness was tarnished by thoughts of what constant fighting had done to their children.

Are there things that happened in the past that you regret? Are you concerned about how your mistakes might have affected your children?

Here are some steps Mark and Jennifer took to turn regrets of the past into hope for the future.

1. Keep growing in your marriage

You can’t change the past but you can change the future. You can’t change where you’ve been but you can change where you’re going.

Although you began badly, you can end well.

Although Mark and Jennifer spent much of their marriage in conflict, they did not give up. They found some powerful tools through Imago Relationship Therapy that helped them reconnect and rebuild their relationship.

So they had a breakthrough in their relationship. That’s great, but what about the collateral damage? What about the damage done to their children?

2. Let go of the past

Mark and Jennifer realized they have to let go of their past. They decided to not let their past failures define them.

History is full of examples of successful people who did not let their past define them.

Historical figures like King David and the Apostle Paul had pasts that make most of us look like saints by comparison.

And yet through their faith, they found forgiveness that enabled them to forgive themselves and move on toward monumental accomplishments in life.

When we allow a failure to define us, it limits us all our lives.

It’s not an easy thing to do. It may be a difficult process. But choose to let go of the past.

3. Look at what you have; not at what you don’t have

Jennifer and Mark did not minimize the pain they caused, or the loss of time and opportunities with their kids. But instead of looking at what they don’t have, they decided to look at what they do have. 

A soldier who loses an arm in battle can let that loss define him for the rest of his life.

Or he can look at what he has and ask, “How can I build on that?”

In the same way Mark and Jennifer began to express gratitude for what they have – a marriage that is now on track and an opportunity to change their story.

4. Look to the future with hope

Mark and Jennifer realized the final chapter of their relationship is not yet written.

Though they started out badly, they could end well and have a positive impact on their children.

They were surprised to find that their children still looked up to them. Their children could see the changes in their marriage. They learned it’s never too late to have a positive impact on your children.

5. Extend your healing to your children

Mark used the dialogue skills he learned with Jennifer to talk to his daughter who was now out of college and building her career. He said things like, “I can see how I was into my work too much and was not available to you and your mom during that time.”

She opened up and told him of an instant when she was in middle school and needed help that involved calling a teacher. Mark was busy and told her, “You’re a big girl. You can make that call yourself.”

With tears she told him of the pain she felt at that moment, and how she vowed she’d never ask him for help again.

From that point there was a strain and distance in their relationship. But now, as Mark acknowledging the hurt he caused, there was healing. 

And then a thought came that surprised them both. His daughter said, “You know Dad, that was hurtful. But in many ways it served to make me the independent and self-sufficient person I am today.”

Wow! Healing and acknowledgement of the good that came out of a childhood wound. Can it get any better? 

Healing in Mark and Jennifer’s marriage is being extended to their children. 

Could it be that your children need you now as much as ever?

It’s not too late to give your children a blueprint of what a healthy marriage looks like – not a perfect marriage, but a growing marriage.

Never underestimate the impact changes in your marriage can have on others, especially your children.

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Marriage works best when you begin with the end in mind

Sandy and I floundered in our relationship for many years simply because we did not “begin with the end in mind”.

We lacked a shared relationship vision. 

We had many good times, but we also lived in seasons of conflict, because we were not actually sure of who we were or where we were going as a couple.

And our differences affected everything from how we parented our children to what music we listened to.

I thought I knew who I was. And she was pretty sure she knew who she was. But as a couple? We didn’t have the tools to help us bring it all together until years later. 

Living on parallel tracks is not living the full potential of your marriage.

However, beginning with the end in mind can help you unite your hearts and unleash your passions.

In Imago Relationship Therapy we learned a powerful tool called the Relationship Vision. It helped us forge a mutual vision for our life together.

I want to share it with you because – whether you’re in a good place, or whether you’re floundering like we were – marriage works best when you begin with the end in mind.

A wise king named Solomon wrote, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” He was saying a society that lacks the divine insight that informs them of their true identity and purpose will always head in the direction of anarchy and destruction.

The same is true for a marriage relationship.

If you don’t really know who you are or why you’re here, the result can be a kind of anarchy and a relationship that self-destructs.

Having a shared vision for your relationship can help you align your paths in such a way that you can fulfill your destiny together.

Here’s how to do it. And I’ve shared our own Relationship Vision below as an example.

How to write your Relationship Vision

Click on this link, print out two copies of the Relationship Vision form, and use it with the instructions below.

  • Envision your marriage how you would like it to be.
  • Make a list of positive statements beginning with the word “We” that describe the kind of relationship you would like to have.
  • State them in the present tense as if the future were already here. 

Examples: 

“We enjoy each other’s company.”
“We spend time together doing things we both enjoy.”
“We are financially secure.”
“We have a stable, intimate relationship both emotionally and physically.”
“We are a great team parenting our children.”
“We serve our community together by ________ .” …etc.

  • Share your sentences.
  • Underline the items you have in common.
  • If your partner has written sentences you agree with but didn’t think of, add them to your list.
  • For now just ignore the ones not shared.
  • Take your expanded list and rank them in importance.
  • Work together to design your mutual relationship vision listing each sentence in order of importance.
  • Post it where you can visualize it and recite it daily.
  • Once a week read it out loud to each other. 

Doing this will help you begin to actually experience this marriage that you are visualizing and declaring.

Sandy and I keep ours in our journals to be read everyday. Here’s what it looks like.

RELATIONSHIP VISION
Chuck and Sandy Starnes

We listen to God everyday and yield to His Word to us.

We have a stable and intimate relationship both emotionally and physically.

We bring God’s presence and peace everywhere we go.

We live in the hope of healing and reconciliation in our family and other relationships.

We give of our time and resources, contributing to the underserved in our community and around the world.

We create a mutual purpose for every major decision we make.

We are co-creators of our life work together.

We go on regular adventures exploring the wonders of the world together (including spontaneous excursions).

We work together on home and garden projects.

We explore culinary delights together.

We listen to Baroque music together.

We trust God for His provision every day and are financially secure.

Notice how our Relationship Vision encompasses big priorities like our faith and life work, and smaller things like working on our home and our love of cooking together.

Committing to a common vision means that we make some choices to leave behind things we would want to do individually to invest the time and energy into doing things together.

The priority must be the relationship over our individual desires.

This may seem like you’re giving up a lot. But what you receive because of the increased intimacy you experience with each other more than compensates for anything you might leave behind.

Sandy does not like the same music I do. But we both love Baroque music. So guess what we listen to together?

Stating something you want in the future as if it were already realized today keeps your hope alive.

For example, not all the relationships in our family are where we want them to be.

We do not let that define us. But we do we live every day with hope that healing and reconciliation will happen in the future.

Stating it in the present helps us move toward that future reality with confidence.

I hope this helps get you started! Let us know in the comment section below how beginning with the end in mind has affected your relationship.

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Confronting the fear of intimacy that causes marriage problems

The COVID-19 crisis is forcing us as married couples to be together more than usual.

Have you noticed how marriage problems you’ve avoided in the past are now coming to the surface?

Well join the crowd!

Did you know that underneath so many of those marriage problems is an unconscious fear of intimacy?

“But,” you say, “I don’t have a fear of intimacy.” 

Did I mention this fear is unconscious?

Could it be that all this extra time together is forcing you to confront your fear of intimacy?

Let’s not miss this opportunity! Let’s talk about  how to identify and disarm the fear of intimacy that causes marriage problems.

According to Imago Relationship Theory, a universal human longing is to be in connection and at the same time feel safe. 

The longing for intimacy is evident in the Romantic Stage of our relationship. 

When we start out we want to know everything about our partner, and we want our partner to know everything about us. 

During the Romantic Stage, information and energy flows into the relationship and it feels full and alive and exciting. 

But soon, intimacy requires an openness and vulnerability we’ve never experienced.

That’s when we move into the Power Struggle Stage. The power struggle happens in part because we are unwilling to be open and vulnerable with our partner. 

Deepening intimacy in a relationship takes us to an increasingly vulnerable place. That can be terrifying (that’s not too strong a word).

Because our brains are hardwired for survival, intimacy terrifies us.

I’m terrified that if I share a certain part of myself it will be rejected. So I avoid the opportunity for intimacy.

This fear comes from early childhood where we were wounded in our first experiences of connection.  As good as the best parents are, wounding still happens to all of us to some degree. 

In response to this wounding, we create certain character adaptations based on the unconscious triggered responses of fight, flight, freeze, or submit.

Then in our adult relationship, when we feel vulnerable, we use these same behaviors we learned in childhood to take “exits” from the relationship.

We create ways to have a sense of “staying in connection” without having to risk the danger or pain of real connection. 

That’s when the movement of energy and information that made the relationship so full and alive and exciting starts to flow away from the relationship. 

It’s also when you hear couples say things like, “We’re so busy with the kids, and work, and all our activities, we just don’t have time for each other any more.” 

I don’t want to minimize stressors from the outside. There’s a reality there. Our relationship is an open system that is always being affected by outside forces.

But the real issue is not stress from the outside. It’s the fear of intimacy on the inside. 

Although we long for intimate connection, the exits we take are a result of an unconscious collusion we create with our partner to actually avoid intimacy. 

In Imago Relationship Theory we define collusion as “two people partnering together to create something that neither of them wants”. 

What?! That doesn’t make any sense!

Well, consider my own example.

During this crisis my wife Sandy and I  have discovered that we have ways of working together to maintain the illusion of closeness while at the same time keeping a comfortable distance in order to avoid intimacy.

We use our learned childhood attachment behaviors to be able to feel relatively safe.

I’ll get upset at Sandy, but I don’t want to talk about it.  Sandy senses the tension, and also wants to avoid it. So we decide to watch a movie.

With the help of Netflix we can go into a state of mindlessness and never bring up the thing we need to talk about.

We give each other the experience like everything’s OK, because we now have a comfortable distance between us. 

We long for a deeper sense of intimacy, but because we’re afraid…

We collude together to prevent ourselves from getting what we really want while giving ourselves what we really don’t want – a comfortable distance.

And what happens with that thing I need to talk about? Nothing. It’s stuffed where it will simmer. It stays there unresolved and it will continue to grow inside of me.

And things will get worse between us, unless we decide to deal with our fear of intimacy, close the exits, and find the deeper intimate connection we long for.

What about you? What are your exits? 

Work? Netflix?  Hobbies? The children? All exits rob your relationship. Some exits, like affairs or pornography are even more destructive.

So what do we do?

Let’s close the exits, be brave, make ourselves vulnerable and reconnect in deeper intimacy!

Imago Relationship Therapy has a wonderful tool that will help us do that. It’s called the Commitment Dialogue. Click on the link to print it out.

The Commitment Dialogue is used to identify and close “exits”, i.e. places where you are getting your needs met outside your relationship. 

By closing exits you make more time and energy available for your relationship. 

The Commitment Dialogue takes you through the Imago steps of Mirroring, Validating, and Empathizing which are essential to create safety where vulnerability can happen.

Then it ends with a commitment to talk your frustrations out rather than acting them out in ways that avoid intimacy and connection with your partner.

Try it and let me know how it worked for you in the comment section below. 

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

Coronavirus forcing you to work from home? Use the crisis to strengthen your marriage

“I’m going crazy working from home!” Tom said, sharing his frustration with the shelter in place mandate.

His wife Janet retorted, “Well you’re making me crazy!”

I interjected, “Hey, why don’t you use this time to spend more time together.” 

Janet rolled her eyes in sarcasm, as if to say, “Right! Like that’s going to happen!”

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, some couples, like it or not, are stuck in close quarters with each other.

This confinement can be a blessing or a curse. 

It’s a blessing if you feel close and connected.

It’s a curse if work is an “exit” from your relationship.

For Tom work had become an exit to avoid the pain of feeling disconnected.  

And now the coronavirus was forcing him to be with Janet in a way that revealed the painful truth that their marriage was not what they wanted it to be.

Tom habitually stayed late at work. He honestly thought it was because of his workload. But as he and Janet talked, he became aware that his workload was not really the issue.

Work had become an exit from his marriage. It was a place where he felt more fully alive than he did at home.

When he got in touch with this, he became conscious of how feelings of depression would come over him as soon as he walked through the front door of their home. Because of the negative way he and his wife communicated, he simply would rather not be there. That’s why work became an exit.

Discovering this helped Tom change this reality.

Two problems occur when we take exits from our relationship.

  • Exits rob time and energy that could be invested in the relationship. 
  • Exits cause us to put off dealing with issues hindering our relationship.

By taking this exit Tom was avoiding the issues standing between him and a happy relationship.

Tom and Janet had what I call “A Parallel Marriage”. A marriage that runs on separate tracks. A marriage where you are together, but not really, not close. More like roommates than lovers.

If you’re like Tom and Janet and this crisis is bringing up issues you need to deal with, don’t just drive each other crazy in your close confinement. Turn this crisis into an opportunity.

Here are 6 ways to strengthen your marriage while stuck at home together during the coronavirus crisis.

1. Hug each other

Science reveals that we are wired for connection with another human being. Therefore, touching your partner is not only nice, it’s necessary. 

We actually live to touch. If we’re denied touch, we don’t do too well. Our health deteriorates emotionally and physically.

So while you are in self-quarantine and socially distant from others, I recommend you give each other a one-minute full body hug during these times: When you first get up in the morning, after each meal, and before you go to bed at night. Include your kids in this ritual if possible.

Human touch triggers the release of oxytocin into our bloodstream. This increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion.

And it also decreases feelings of fear and anxiety that block our communication.

2. Share appreciations with each other

Say to your partner at least three times every day, “One thing I appreciate about you is…” and share something about how your partner looks, something they did, or some trait you appreciate.

New positive brain pathways are created in both of you every time you share an appreciation with your partner.

And old negative brain pathways start to dissolve.

This practice will transform the emotional climate of your relationship and your home.

3. Plan time to listen to each other

Being stuck in the same place together can work to your advantage. Make an appointment to use the Couples Dialogue.

Use it to listen to your partner, and let them go deep into their feelings about whatever it is they want to talk about. 

The Couples Dialogue will help you mirror (listen to every word), validate (affirm your partner’s perspective), and empathize (be fully present with your partner in their joy, sadness, anger, or fear).

When you listen it says “I love you” in a very tangible way.

What I like about using the Couples Dialogue is that it helps me to listen in a way I wouldn’t normally.

4. Talk about things you would not normally not talk about

Use the Couples Dialogue to share your feelings. This tool will help you become vulnerable and open up to your partner. It can help you share frustrations in a positive way. 

Perhaps one reason you don’t feel connected in your relationship is that you’ve held back your feelings.

Remember, if you don’t talk it out, you’ll act it out in some unhealthy way, eventually doing damage to your relationship.

Share your frustrations. But also share your ideas and dreams with your partner. 

Talk about things that you normally would not talk about. The Couples Dialogue will help you do this when you probably would not do it naturally.  

5. Surprise each other

Find out what makes your partner feel loved and do it. Here’s a tool that will help you do that.

Find out what your partner thinks is fun and plan it. Go against any unconscious resistance and just do it!

I know a wife who loves to play board games. Her husband does not. 

If you’re this husband, it will be a major turn-on for your wife if you pull out her favorite game, set it up, and invite her to play! Why not, what else are you going to do as you self-quarantine?!

It will increase the pleasure chemicals not only in her, but also in you. So do it!

6. Laugh together

Laughter releases endorphins which helps relieve you of the pain you feel in your relationship. 

I tell funny stories because laughter is good medicine. Here’s one I’ll give you as a bonus. It has nothing to do with what I’m saying but it may make you laugh.

A police officer called the station on his radio. “I have an interesting case here. An old lady shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.” “Have you arrested the woman?” “Not yet, the floor’s still wet.”

Whatever it takes, laugh together. It will do wonders for your relationship.

So there you have it – six ways to strengthen our marriage during this pandemic.

Let’s let the coronavirus crisis draw us together as a couple rather than blow us apart.

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

How is it possible for married partners to treat each other so badly?

Most marriages start with the wonderful feelings of romance but soon descend into a power struggle that can be brutal. 

That’s when we say things like:

“If only you would change, I could be happy!” 

“You could meet all my needs if you wanted to. And since you don’t, you don’t love me.”

The unconscious reasoning is: 

“If I cause you enough pain, you’ll change and meet my needs. Then we can go back to romantic love.”

How do we get to this place?

How is it possible to dish out such emotional abuse toward this person that we promised to always cherish and protect?

On the surface it makes no sense. But when we see what’s happening unconsciously, it makes perfect sense.

Dr. Harville Hendrix shared a seven-step process that explains how our marriage goes from empathy and connection to objectification and emotional abuse.

1. Disconnection produces ANXIETY

Whenever there is a feeling of disconnection in marriage the immediate result is ANXIETY. 

Anxiety is not a feeling or an emotion, but a sensation that runs through our bodies. 

It first occurred as a child with our primary caretakers. As the Still Face Experiment shows, when the rupture in connection between the child and parent occurs, the result is anxiety. When it is repaired, anxiety goes away, and the child feels alive and happy again.

But for some of us, that repair and reconnection was not consistent. And continued anxiety was the result. 

This dramatically affects our adult relationships. Whenever we feel a disconnection with our marriage partner, this same anxiety is triggered.

2. Anxiety replaces FULL-ALIVENESS

The anxiety produced by the disconnection replaces the previous sensation which was FULL-ALIVENESS.

As our neural system is flooded with anxiety we no longer sense the full-aliveness we experienced before.

3. Loss of full-aliveness gives birth to DESIRE

When anxiety shows up, it’s accompanied by DESIRE for what was lost, which is that feeling of full-aliveness that is no longer being experienced.

Buried in every criticism or frustration with your partner is a desire to reconnect and restore that feeling of full-aliveness.

So the beginning of desire occurs with the loss of connection and the appearance of anxiety.

From the time that this wounding first occurred in childhood, you have been on a journey to find someone who will help you complete what was missing in childhood and help you feel fully alive again.

That’s what Romantic Love is all about.

When you find a person who matches your parents’ positive and negative traits, you fall for that person and form a relationship. What you don’t realize is that deep in your mind is an unconscious agenda to heal childhood wounds.

And that’s what the Power Struggle is all about.

Because your partner is like the parent who wounded you, conflicts with your partner bring to the surface old wounds you need to heal.

Healing can only take place as you and your partner become conscious of what is happening and turn your criticism into a positive expression of your desire.

That proves difficult because…

4. Desire results in SELF-ABSORPTION

When we experience that rupture and the anxiety that goes along with it, we become self-absorbed.

SELF-ABSORPTION is the main feature of pain.

There was a little girl who loved the beach. One day she was enjoying all of its beauty – the sun, the water, the colors, the seagulls flying overhead, the warm sand…

…but then, suddenly, she stubbed her toe on a rock.

All the wonder of this amazing world outside disappeared, and all she was aware of was the pain that was throbbing within her.

Self-absorption is what happens psychologically to all of us when emotional pain is triggered.

When that pain is triggered, our brain stops taking in outside information. That’s when we lose awareness of other people.

When we are receiving information only from within our own psychoneural system, it’s not possible to see, acknowledge, or empathize with another person’s reality.

The emotional pain from childhood that our partner triggers floods our psyche. That’s when we lose sight of our partner and we become absorbed only in our own pain.

5. Self-absorption results in SYMBIOSIS

Because you’re not getting data about your partner from the outside, you start creating an image of your partner with the data you have inside.

You construct your partner with the figments of your own imagination.

You think you are experiencing your partner, but in reality you’re experiencing your own projections of your partner, not who your partner really is.

This is called “emotional SYMBIOSIS”. It’s when you assign to your partner your inner world and you assume they are you – that they think and feel the way you do.

“That’s a great song! Of course you like it too. Wouldn’t everyone?”

“Who would ever want their living room painted green? Everyone can see that green is not a very attractive color!”

Self-absorption requires your partner to agree with you and see everything the way you do.

6. Symbiosis results in POLARIZATION

As you’re stuck in this self-absorbed, symbiotic state, you’re rattled whenever you encounter a difference in your partner.  

When your partner’s perspective, or opinion, or desire is different from your made-up image of him or her, it’s traumatic and POLARIZATION results.

That’s when you feel your partner is no longer someone you can talk to, no longer someone who is safe.

Soon you’re fully engaged in the Power Struggle Stage of your marriage. This is when you begin wanting your partner to change.

You feel like, “If my partner doesn’t change, I can’t be happy.”

7. Polarization results in OBJECTIFICATION

As polarization happens, you lose empathy for your partner. You are no longer in touch with what your partner is feeling.

That’s when OBJECTIFICATION occurs. Your partner has been effectively degraded to the status of a mere object.

When people become objects, we can treat them any way we want.

We can criticize them, yell at them, or label them. We can withdraw from them even if it makes them feel abandoned.

We can do anything to them we feel like, because they are no longer human. They are just things that serve us. And they become objects of our frustration.

This is how it’s possible for married partners to treat each other so badly.

So what can I do? 

The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a tool that can help you restore empathy and reconnect with each other.

Here’s how the three steps of the Imago Couples Dialogue can help.

MIRROR

When you MIRROR your partner’s feelings, you begin to see who your partner really is. When your partner feels heard, she or he feels loved.

VALIDATE

When you VALIDATE your partner’s feelings, you begin to see how their thoughts make sense from their perspective. Validation is not agreeing with your partner, but it’s seeing how their perspective makes sense according to their own inner logic. Validation results in differentiation and neutralizes the trauma so that polarization does not occur.

EMPATHIZE

When you EMPATHIZE with your partner’s feelings, healing occurs and safety is restored. You see your partner as human and not as an object, and connection is possible. It’s impossible to criticize someone you are empathetic with.

CLICK HERE and print out two copies of the Couples Dialogue. Begin using it today to reconnect with each other and disrupt this tendency to treat each other so badly.

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How to fall in love all over again with your marriage partner

Sophia and Ian struggled for 11 years trying to make their marriage work. Despite their unhappiness and not feeling in love, they were committed to stay together, if nothing else for the sake of their children. 

They managed to survive their lack of intimacy by finding feelings of aliveness in things outside their relationship.

For Ian, it was his work building a business which was now thriving, and regular involvement in their kids’ sports programs.

For Sophia, it was managing her job in a high tech company, involvement with the kids, and regular nights out with her girlfriends. To the world outside they had a pretty normal relationship.

Then the unimaginable happened. One day Sophia announced she wanted a divorce. 

Turn your crisis into your opportunity to fall in love again

Often the increasing pain of feeling disconnected causes one partner to eventually hit a wall and want out. To make things even more complicated, over the past six months Sophia had become emotionally involved with one of her coworkers.

Ian was in shock. He knew their marriage was not great, but this?! He never saw it coming.

He was devastated.

But this crisis became a wake up call, and for the first time Ian began asking what part he had played in the relationship’s failure.

Fortunately Ian saw this crisis as his opportunity to begin a new relationship with Sophia.

Reluctantly Sophia agreed to come with him to counseling. 

Deal with the root cause of your relationship failure

During our first session Sophia made a commitment to end her emotional relationship at work for six weeks in order to work on their marriage.

Ian and Sophia began using the Imago Couples Dialogue to uncover the root cause of their disconnection.

They learned how Ian’s unconscious fear of intimacy continually drove him to withdraw emotionally from Sophia whenever they had a conflict. When Sophia would overreact and complain and criticize Ian, it caused him to withdraw even further. 

Ian learned how his avoidance of conflict had left Sophia feeling lonely for many years. He also discovered how his actions triggered deeper feelings of abandonment that Sophia felt from her childhood.

They both began to understand how this repeated pattern of unconscious reaction to each other was at the root of all their relationship problems.

As they slowly removed these unconscious barriers to intimacy, hope for their relationship began to grow.

Have faith that you will fall in love all over again

It’s a proven fact that if you remove all negativity from the space between you and start doing loving acts toward each other, you will fall in love again. It’s what we now know as basic brain science.

Ian and Sophia could not believe this at first. Their feelings for each other were so dead they were certain they would never love each other again.

But in time they became believers.

Your feelings always follow your thinking and your actions.

And sometimes you have to take that by faith. Do the right things and you will fall in love again!

It does take time and effort. Brain pathways of fear and anger must be replaced by new pathways of love and joy. 

Also, how could Sophia instantly turn off her feelings for someone she had been emotionally involved with for six months?

And how could Ian overcome the feelings of betrayal and learn to trust Sophia again?

Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Ian and Sophia exercised faith in the process, and hope continued to grow.

Create a culture that ensures you fall in love and stay in love

It wasn’t just doing loving acts toward each other that helped them fall in love all over again. It was their work to create a culture of love that did the trick.

The tool that helped Sophia and Ian fall in love all over again is called the Caring Behaviors Exercise

This exercise revealed things like…

Sophia felt loved and cared about when Ian spent time in the evenings talking with her, and when he called her at work just to see how she was.

Ian felt loved and cared about when Sophia sat with him on the sofa and held hands or gave him a back-rub.

It was when they started doing these things for each other every day without fail that their feelings began to change.

Sometimes couples try this exercise and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because there is a difference between an act of love and a culture of love. 

When Ian spent quality time with Sophia in the evening, that was an act but it was not yet a culture.

Creating a culture of love means doing loving acts repeatedly until they become your natural reaction to your partner’s need.

As Sophia and Ian worked to create a new culture, a culture of love, new brain pathways were created. They began to unconsciously see each other as a source of pleasure rather than conflict. And in time a breakthrough occurred.

Ian was eager to grow in his ability to be present for Sophia. Sophia was excited about learning to express her desires in a positive way rather than with criticism. 

In time trust was rebuilt and Ian and Sophia fell in love all over again!

What about you? Will you dare to believe that you and your partner can fall in love all over again? Take these four steps and see what happens!

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Resolving the conflict over money in your marriage

John said Martha is “a tightwad”. And Martha called John “a spendthrift”. Can you relate to this married couple?

Which one is right?

The answer is NEITHER are right! And BOTH are right!

If you continue to criticize each other, you’ll find that neither of you are right! If you stop the criticism and look at the deep desire each of you have, you’ll find you are both right!

Martha’s desire was to bring wise caution to their marriage based on the principle “live within your means”.

Remember what Mr. Micawber concluded (from repeated personal experience) in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield?

“Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19, 19, and 6 (19.97½ pounds) – result: happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and 6 (20.02 ½ pounds) – result: misery. In short, continue to spend more than you earn and you’ll find yourself in serious trouble.”

You’re right Martha, who can argue with that! Martha only wanted to live within her means!

But here’s the problem: 

Martha’s expression of that desire was not motivated by love but by fear

The negativity produced by Martha’s fear and criticism corrupted the space between them as a couple and rendered them helpless in resolving such a conflict.

Martha’s childhood connection

Using the Couple’s Dialogue helped Martha uncover memories of growing up with a father who was continually in debt. He secretly took out a second mortgage on their home to make ends meet. Because his habits didn’t change, they lost their home. Martha grew up in an insecure environment of fear projected in part by her mother.

As John mirrored, validated, and empathized with Martha (using the Couple’s Dialogue), her fear began to melt away. And as the negativity dissolved, John began to open his heart to Martha’s wisdom.

“But what about John? You’re making it sound like it’s all Martha’s fault!”

Of course John contributed to the problem. No one can spend more than they make and succeed.

What was the issue behind John’s dysfunction?

John’s desire was simply to feel fully alive. 

But here was the problem:

John’s expression of that desire was not motivated by love but by fear

John saw Martha as a scrooge who would make their lives miserable. He was afraid his marriage would take him back to the prison of his childhood. He even talked of this as an “irreconcilable difference”. His criticism of her made her also feel hopeless.

John’s childhood connection

Can you guess what kind of home John grew up in? His parents were so concerned about money they rarely spent any of it. Fun for John was not an option growing up. He remembers the joy he had when he got his first job and felt like he could buy whatever he wanted. 

So when John married Martha, who was a lot like his dad, her financial caution began to activate this childhood fear of living in a prison. He reacted by sometimes spending without thinking. And he refused to listen to Martha. 

As Martha used the Couple’s Dialogue to mirror, validate, and empathize with John, her understanding of his need began to deepen. She realized that what John wanted was for them both to live life feeling fully alive and not be needlessly limited. 

His fear of staying in that financial prison was a barrier that kept him from appreciating the wonderful potential of balance Martha’s wisdom would provide. That fear began to dissolve as Martha empathized with him.

So it turns out they were both right!

What about you?

The bottom line is that everything we say and do will be motivated by one of two things: fear or love.

Continue in fear and you’ll stay in conflict.

Let love dissolve your fear and you can reconnect with each other at a heart level and get the best of what you both bring to the table in your marriage!

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3 steps to healing the childhood wounds affecting your marriage

Does your partner’s controlling behavior open up old wounds of feeling smothered by a controlling parent? Or does your partner’s emotional withdrawal trigger wounds of abandonment or rejection from an emotionally distant parent?

Here’s some good news!

Because your partner can trigger your childhood wounds, your partner is also the one who can heal them.

Marriage is all about getting what you didn’t get in childhood.

How do childhood wounds happen?

Your parents may have unintentionally wounded you in two ways: Intrusion or Neglect.

Intrusion is over-involvement. Neglect is under-involvement.

If that intrusion or neglect caused you to feel a loss of connection, it’s what we call a wounding experience.

And unfortunately we bring these old wounds and unmet needs into our marriage where they can cause problems if we don’t address them.

Here is a helpful tool (created by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt) that will help you identify your unmet childhood need and find healing from your partner.

1. Identify the “early challenge” that may be affecting your marriage.

Think about whether your parents were intrusive or neglectful. Then study the two lists below under MY EARLY CHALLENGE. Write down the ONE (and only one from the two lists) that most represents your greatest early challenge.

MY EARLY CHALLENGE

If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
I wanted:​
  • To get free from feeling controlled by others.
  • To express my own thoughts rather than what I should think.
  • To express what I felt rather than what I should feel.
  • To experience my thoughts and feelings as important.
  • To do what I wanted to do rather than what I ought to do.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
I wanted:
  • To experience feeling seen and valued rather than invisible.
  • To be approached by others rather than feel alone or abandoned.
  • To feel appreciated as a person.
  • To get support for what I think or feel.
  • To have someone interested in what I want and like.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 2.

2. Identify the “early need” that may be affecting your marriage.

Just as you did with your early challenge, study the ten items below MY EARLY NEED. Write down the ONE (and only one) that most represents your greatest early need. 

MY EARLY NEED

If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
I needed:
  • To have space and time to myself on a regular basis
  • To experience trust from others in my thinking and my decisions. 
  • To be asked what I feel and what I want.
  • To experience genuine and reliable warmth when I need it.
  • To experience what I do and want is valued by others.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
I needed:
  • To experience a show of interest in me when I am talking.
  • To be responded to when I asked for it.
  • To ask me what I want, feel and think and then respond.
  • To show curiosity about my experiences in life.
  • To get love and a gentle touch frequently and without having to ask.
  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 3.

3. Communicate your early challenge and need to your partner in a “Safe Conversation”.

Use the Couples Dialogue format below to share with your partner the childhood need you brought into your marriage. Allow your partner to respond in a way that will meet that childhood need and bring healing.

YOU: “When I was a child, I lived with caretakers who were generally _______________ (Neglectful or Intrusive), and my relational challenge with them was to ________________ (the CHALLENGE you wrote down).”

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

YOU: “And when I remember that, I feel __________ .”

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

YOU: “What I needed most from them was _______ (the NEED you wrote down).”

PARTNER: (Mirrors)

PARTNER: (Summarizes) “Let me see if I got all of that. In summary, your caretakers were generally  _____ and the relationship challenge you had with them was to _____. When you remember that, you feel _____. What you needed from them was _____, and not getting that from them, you brought _____ to our relationship. Did I get it all?”

PARTNER: (Validates) “You make sense, and what makes sense is that if your caretakers were _____, then your challenge would have been _____, and that your relationship need would be ______. It also makes sense that not getting that in your early years, you would bring it to our relationship. Is that an accurate validation?”

PARTNER: (Empathizes) “And given that, I can imagine that if you’re relationship need to ______ was met by me, you would feel _______ (glad, relieved, happy, connected, heard, etc.). Is that your feeling? Are there other feelings?”

PARTNER: “Thank you for sharing with me your unmet need caused by your childhood challenges. I want very much for you to have your needs met in our relationship.”

YOU: “Thank you for listening and for wanting to understand this about me, and for helping me with it.”

Give each other a one-minute, full body hug.

THEN SWITCH ROLES AND REPEAT THE PROCESS.

Finally, let me know how it went in the reply section below! Share your story with all of us!

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Frustrations wrecking your marriage? Here’s what to do!

Relationship science tells us that frustrations in your marriage that are recurring and that trigger an intense emotional reaction, come from your past, not your partner.

“Wait a minute! It’s not my past, it’s my partner who is frustrating me!”

Ok, I realize you get frustrated by what your partner does or doesn’t do. But if your reaction is intense and it happens three times or more, science says your partner is only the trigger of  a deeper frustration from childhood.

And, let me guess…your partner sees your reaction as an “overreaction” that not justified.

Am I right?

Behind every recurring, emotionally charged frustration is a deep desire to get something you didn’t get in childhood. 

Here’s how you can turn frustrations into requests and keep them from wrecking your marriage.

1. Engage in the Imago Couples Dialogue

The first step is to make your conversation safe.

Laurel was upset because she felt like her husband Ben left her alone at a party. When she brought it up, Ben reacted to her. As you read on, you’ll see how escalated it got!

The Imago Couples Dialogue  helped Ben regulate his reaction so he could listen to Laurel. It also made Laurel feel safe enough to access information buried deep in her subconscious mind.

2. Identify the root issue

When a conversation is safe you can identify how your frustration is connected to childhood.

Laurel discovered that her “overreaction” was because her childhood wound of abandonment was triggered when she felt Ben was leaving her. 

She had grown up as a single child. Her dad left when she was eight and her mom worked long hours. After school she was at daycare until she was old enough to be left alone at home.

3. Turn your frustration into a request

Buried deep within every frustration with your partner is a wish. A wish to finish what was left undone in childhood. If that frustration can be restructured into a request, your partner can give you the healing you’re unconsciously looking for.

Laurel’s frustration: “I feel like you left me at the party and when I passed by you, you didn’t speak to me. You didn’t even look at me!”

Ben’s escalated reaction to Laurel’s frustration: “What do you mean?! It was a networking party for crying out loud! I was there for business! I wanted you to come along, but I can’t even do my job without you complaining like a baby! When are you going to grow up?!

If they continue to talk like this, Laurel’s wound will continue to be reinjured and the frustration will never be resolved.

Here’s how the Couples Dialogue helped Laurel restructure her frustration into a request.

Laurel: “Last night when we were at the party and you were talking to potential clients, I felt really alone, just like when I was little and came home from school every day to an empty house. What I’m really afraid of is that you don’t realize what being alone does to me and that I’ll always have this feeling of being abandoned.”

Ben (Mirroring): “What I hear you saying is that when I was talking to potential clients you felt really alone. It reminded you of the feelings of abandonment you had when your mom was at work and you were alone in the afternoons. And that brings up a deeper fear that you’ll always feel abandoned. Did I get it? Is there more about that?…

Ben (Validating): “You make sense. Anyone would feel that way given your circumstances.”

Ben (Empathizing): “I can imagine it must feel really bad when you have those deep feelings of being abandoned or forgotten.”

Laurel (turning her frustration into a Request): “One thing that would help me the next time we’re at a party is if you will look for me every 30 minutes, touch my hand, look me in the eye and ask how I’m doing.”

Ben (responding): “I will be more than happy to do that.”

(Big hug!)

If Ben follows through, he will experience growth, and  it WILL bring healing to Laurel! 

That’s how you turn a frustration into a request and keep it from wrecking your marriage!

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