VIDEO BLOG: How to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities

Most of us see conflicts in our marriage as bad.

But did you know that conflicts can bring us to new levels of healing and growth we would never experience otherwise?

In the video below, the story of Mario and Rosa shows us how to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

Take a few minutes to watch the video with your partner…

…and then use the discussion questions below to talk about how you can turn your conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

https://youtu.be/CJhxjDfJMtA

Discussion with your partner:

  1. What evidence do each of you see that you married your “Imago” match? (To explore further, fill out the “Brief Relationship Workup“, then transfer the info to “My Unconscious Relationship Agenda“. )
  2. Share with each other what needs for healing you see.
  3. In what specific ways will you both need to grow in order to bring healing to each other?

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Why incompatibility is grounds for a great marriage

If you’re thinking of divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, STOP and think again!

Incompatibility is the grounds for a great relationship. Compatibility is actually the recipe for boredom.

The dating sites have it all wrong.

Dating sites are good at matching you up with someone with whom you are compatible. No question about that.

Finding someone compatible with you sounds like a great idea, but there’s one problem with this approach.

You won’t bond with that person!

Oh, if you’re just looking for a companion this can work fine.

But if you want hot romance, forget it.

The sparks will fly only when you connect with someone with whom you are incompatible.

What?!

That’s right.

The degree to which you are incompatible is the degree to which you will be drawn to a person romantically.

 

Why are we drawn to someone with whom we are incompatible?

The incompatibility I’m talking about has to do with something going on in your unconscious mind.

We are attracted to someone with the positive and negative traits of our parents.

Consider Ron and Debbie’s experience.

Ron was super popular in college. There were at least three attractive women who had serious crushes on him.

He dated and got along really well with these women. But everyone was surprised when Ron fell for Debbie, a girl who did not fit the image of the perfect match for him.

While Ron was outgoing, Debbie seemed aloof and socially withdrawn.

Why was Ron drawn to her? Why did he choose Debbie when there were so many other more compatible prospects?

The scientific reason is that…

Our lower brain only releases the romantic love chemicals that cause us to fall in love when we find an “Imago match”, i.e. someone who has the positive and negative traits of our parents.

Debbie has some of the positive and negative traits of Ron’s mother. The negative traits are especially significant as Ron’s experience shows.

Ron grew up feeling neglected by his mom. His mom was distant emotionally. Debbie was like that.

Ron’s mom tended to be depressed. So did Debbie.

Even though Ron had much more in common with the other girls he dated, he had more feelings for Debbie than for all them put together!

It was this Imago match, this composite image of Ron’s early caretakers, particularly his mom, that drew him to Debbie.

But why are we drawn to someone like our parents?

Our “unconscious relationship agenda” is to finish what we didn’t get in childhood.

It may sound absurd, but Ron was drawn to Debbie because she had the very traits that would activate the wounds, frustrations and unmet needs from his childhood.

His unconscious hope was that he would finally get the love he always needed from a person similar to the one who denied it when he was growing up.

This unconscious agenda is a primary factor in our choice of a romantic partner.

Growing up we all experience wounds, frustrations, and unmet needs to some degree.

From your very first interaction with your parents, your lower brain starts “videotaping” everything they do.

The things that that register and stick in our unconscious mind are those experiences where our needs weren’t met. Each wounding experience takes up permanent residence in our memory.

Your lower brain (the part that is all about survival) is crying out something like, “I need mom’s attention to survive! I’m not getting that and yet I have to have it to survive!”

When Ron experienced neglect from his mother who was often depressed and detached, his anxiety would turn into rage.

What about Debbie?

Debbie was romantically drawn to Ron with her own unconscious agenda to “finish” her childhood as well.

Debbie’s wound growing up was similar, but her way of coping was opposite from Ron’s.

Her dad was outgoing like Ron but was preoccupied with work, and often had angry outbursts.

In order to avoid feeling smothered and overwhelmed by her dad, she learned to detach emotionally and avoid closeness with him.

Both Ron and Debbie needed a more consistent feeling of connection and safety growing up.

Ron learned to throw tantrums for attention while Debbie learned to cope by escaping into her art and reading.

They illustrate how…

We are drawn to someone who has a similar wounding that we had, but an opposite way of coping with it.

Wow, talk about incompatible! Evidently opposites do attract!

This fundamental “incompatibility” is hidden from our awareness in the Romantic Stage of our relationship (darn those rose-colored glasses!), but becomes painfully apparent when we enter the Power Struggle Stage.

So we can see how Ron and Debbie entered adulthood with an unconscious agenda to get those childhood needs met someday, somewhere, by someone.

And so, when they found each other, that is a major reason they fell in love.

Ron and Debbie show how our unconscious mind pairs our childhood needs with someone similar to the parent who didn’t meet those needs.

The problem is that romantic love hurls us into a relationship without our being conscious of these hidden agendas.

The Power Struggle is evidence that healing and growth need to happen

As a result of this Imago match, the person you fall in love with has the ability to trigger memories of the parent in childhood with whom you had the worst time.

After the romantic feelings faded, Debbie began to feel smothered by Ron. The childhood wound from her dad was triggered, and she’d pull away from Ron saying she “needed space”.

This of course triggered the childhood feeling of abandonment Ron experienced during the times when his mother would be emotionally unavailable.

This ignited all the rage he felt as a child. His reaction had the effect of smothering Debbie even more. This is where the dynamics of their power struggle began.

Debbie’s retreat would trigger Ron’s need to connect. Ron’s need would in turn trigger further emotional withdrawal in Debbie. Their situation soon became hopeless.

We fall in love with this person with whom we want to get the need met. But since this person is like your mom or dad, they can’t meet your need anymore then your mom or dad could.

Couples begin to talk about divorce on the grounds of incompatibility when they realize they need something their partner can’t give them and they lose hope that things will ever change.

Chuck, it sounds to me like romantic love is nature’s “dirty little trick”.

It really does seem that way.

Ron said, “Debbie and I were so in love! It wasn’t until after we got married that I realized we are so incompatible! And now my dream of a happy marriage has become my worst nightmare!”

But it’s not a dirty trick.

Romantic love is actually a very effective way to get you to commit to someone who otherwise would  cause you to run away in the opposite direction as fast as you can!

“I don’t get it! Why did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet! What was I thinking?!”

Now you know. It was an unconscious relationship agenda that drew you to the person who will be the key to healing your childhood wounds.

Why? Because…

You can only finish childhood with someone similar to the one with whom it got interrupted.

It would be nice if our brain said, “Let’s go find an ideal person, someone compatible with whom we can finish childhood without all this conflict and struggle.”

But it doesn’t work that way. Your Imago is the template that guides you in that selection process.

OK then, how is incompatibility the grounds for a great marriage?

Next stop: Mature Love

Ron and Debbie show how we begin in the Romantic Stage and soon enter the Power Struggle stage of the relationship. That’s where they got stuck.

But they didn’t stop there. Through the Imago Dialogue process they were able to mirror, validate, and empathize with each other.

As they continued to do that with the help of an Imago therapist, every issue of “incompatibility” became an opportunity to heal the past and to grow into new behaviors that continued the healing process.

They showed how, if you hold this “tension of opposites” without letting it go, without giving up on the relationship, then you can grow into a new way of being with each other.

This is how an incompatible relationship becomes a win-win proposition: a healing and growth partnership.

What about you today?

If you’re in conflict with your partner, you’re not with the wrong person. You’re with the person that your unconscious mind chose and put into your life so that you can finish childhood.

“Irreconcilable differences” is not a reason to separate.

On the contrary, it may be the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have, not only to heal and grow into the person you want to be, but also to have the marriage you’ve always dreamed of.

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Want to live “happily ever after” in your marriage? Here’s something even better!

Peter and Kathy had an amazing marriage breakthrough! But after a few months they found themselves stuck again in the same vicious cycle of blaming and defensiveness that almost ruined their marriage before. Only now it seemed worse.

Here is a couple who was able to dissolve all the anxiety that was driving their Power Struggle and connect with each other in a deeper way than ever before!  Their marriage moved from the brink of failure to a picture of marital bliss! They were so happy! So was I as their coach!

But a few months later all those feelings were gone. They felt like all the ground they had gained in their relationship had been lost. Once again they were considering separation.

What happened?

It was something that I discovered only recently.

When a couple rekindles Romantic Love, it hurls them back into the Power Struggle!

What?!! That’s right!

Most marriages begin with Romantic Love. Then comes the Power Struggle.

Then, with a commitment and the right tools, a couple can move through the Power Struggle to Mature Love and to the World Impact Stage where the changes in their marriage begin to positively impact their children and their world.

Here is the graph I made to depict that journey.

The problem with this model is that it suggests that when you get to the World Impact Stage you’ve arrived!

Then your marriage is one of eternal bliss that continues “happily ever after” as you ride off into the sunset to go out and change the world!

Right!!

I wanted to believe that! I really, really did!

But that was not the case with Peter and Kathy. Actually it’s not the case with the other couples I help. And it’s certainly not the case with Sandy and me.

Why? Because…

Marriage is a journey of healing and growth that doesn’t end with the first breakthrough you have.

There is no place of arrival where you are both healed and where you no longer need to grow.

You and I will always long for new levels of healing. And we will always discover areas where we need to stretch and grow and discover lost and undeveloped parts of ourselves.

And that’s why, when we rekindle Romantic Love, it hurls us right back into another round of the Power Struggle!

So the Couple’s Journey actually looks more like this:

Couple's Journey

Instead of a linear path, the Couple’s Journey is a progressive cycle that repeats these four stages.

As you go through this cycle, there is connection, rupture, repair, and then reconnection that occurs over and over again.

Realizing that this is normal helped Peter and Kathy feel better, and regain hope that they could get back on their journey toward healing and wholeness.

As we worked through this “second power struggle”, Peter and Kathy discovered some childhood adaptations that were fueling this new Power Struggle. Some unconscious defenses they had never been conscious of before.

Peter realized he would withdraw from Kathy whenever she was “overreacting”. He did this without even knowing he was doing it.  Through the Couple’s Dialogue, we discovered that this defense was deeply connected to the way he felt smothered as a child by his mother.

Kathy would explode when she felt Peter “leaving her”. This defense was deeply connected to the times when Kathy felt like her mother was not emotionally available to her when she was a child.

Through the process Peter saw that his own unconscious reaction to Kathy was just as powerful as her outbursts. It’s just that his defense, which was to withdraw his emotional presence, was silent while Kathy’s was sometimes very loud.

Why did they not see this before? I don’t know.

But when they became conscious of these newer, deeper dynamics, two things happened.

Peter began to grow by staying present with Kathy rather than leaving when she was upset. This immediately had a healing effect on her wound of rejection.

Kathy began to grow by regulating her emotions, making it safe for Peter to stay present. This had a healing effect on Peter as he overcame his fear of intimacy and his childhood feelings of being smothered by his mother.

This process of working through the second Power Struggle helped Peter and Kathy reconnect once again and get back on the path toward healing and wholeness. They were able to use the same skills they learned before to go even deeper this time.

It feels like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Sandy once said that our progress felt like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes we land on a chute and slide all the down to where we were before.

It sometimes feels like you’re starting over. But that’s not true. You’re actually going deeper.

It’s something even better than “happily ever after”.

Even though romantic love fades away, romance never has to end.

Staying on the journey where you experience more and more healing and growth, and where you experience a greater and greater sense of safety, connection, and full-aliveness is even better than our fairytale concept of “happily ever after”.

Why?

Because in the fairy tale ideal of “happy ever after”, there’s no program for healing and growth.

Without conflicts brought about by the power struggle, our relationship would eventually die anyway. It’s a principle of nature that, if something is not growing, it’s dying.

Also, relationship science tells us that, ironically, you and I would never really be happy with someone who doesn’t push our buttons and help us finish the work left undone in childhood.

As Peter and Kathy made the choice to recommit and work through this second power struggle, they were encouraged by what happened.

And they discovered it does actually get easier.

They learned that each time around the cycle the rupture feels less catastrophic, the repair process happens faster, and the connection feels even deeper than before.

Also as they continue around the cycle, the emotions connected with the Power Struggle become less toxic to the relationship as understanding, curiosity, and compassion grow.

So this is WAY better than merely “happily ever after”!

What about you? Have you had real progress in your marriage only to be set back?

It happens. But like Kathy and Peter, you can stay on the journey no matter what.

Even though it will recycle through the Power Struggle, and you may feel like you’re in a game of Chutes and Ladders, eventually you will get there!

And you will have a marriage filled with safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness!

Which is better than “happily ever after”!

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Build your dream marriage part 4: Be willing to grow into more of who you really are

Marriage is the best place for you to grow in ways you never would otherwise. It’s where you can, not only discover, but to also recover those lost parts of yourself that were never developed growing up.

And building your dream marriage depends on this kind of growth.

“Chuck, I know I need to grow and change, but it feels like my partner wants me be someone that I’m not.”

Actually…

Your partner’s deep desire is not really for you to become someone you’re not. It’s for you to become more of who you are!

And, as you grow to into more of your authentic self, it will bring increasing measures of healing to your partner in a way that nothing else can.

Building your dream marriage requires growing and recovering parts of yourself that are lost and buried in your unconscious.

How did parts of me get lost?

As you grew up, certain things may have been taboo, or not talked about, or not allowed. Maybe comparisons were made between you and your siblings or peers. Or perhaps society may have suppressed your potential because of the color of your skin or your gender.

These are the kinds of things that can work to repress our thinking, feelings, senses, or actions. When that happens our growth can be cut off.

Maybe you grew up in a home that frowned upon expressing anger. From the time you were an infant, the message was instilled, “If I’m angry, mom won’t be happy and she’ll leave me.”

Or perhaps you grew up with the unspoken message that sex is bad or shameful. You were scolded for touching yourself in certain places, and sex was never talked about. When you grew up and began to have sexual impulses, it was scary and you felt shame.

For some reason my grandmother grew up believing that she couldn’t do stuff. So she never learned to swim or drive. I often wonder what messages she received growing up that repressed her desire to gain those and other skills.

Our growth is cut off when we’re not allowed to express our full aliveness in “forbidden areas”, or in areas where we’re told we are not capable or good enough.

Whenever a child is given the choice between expressing full aliveness, and connecting with a parent, the child will sacrifice the growth that comes through expressing that aliveness. This happens when a child fears losing connection with the parent.

This is what results in adaptations that block development in those areas of thinking, feeling, sensing and doing.

“Well, if part of me is ‘lost’, as you say, or buried in my unconscious, how do I find it?”

To find out where you need to grow, simply look for what your partner needs most that you’re least able to give.

What?!! That’s right!

What your partner needs most points to where you need to grow most.

This is one of the wonders of the marriage relationship.

The drive to grow these lost parts of yourself is one of the unconscious reasons you chose the partner you did!

We tend to choose a partner who “has what I don’t”.

If you’re sexually repressed you may be drawn to someone who is free in that area.

But after you’re married you discover that it’s actually not being with a partner who is sexually free that makes you whole. What’s really happening is that your partner’s freedom is calling you to reclaim that freedom that you never developed.

Make sense?

Growing into more of who you really are happens in one or more of these areas:

THINKING

…unlocking all those suppressed intellectual powers that you actually have, but never developed, because of messages you received growing up that you were slow or dumb.

Yolanda gives her husband Chris the “still face” every time he comes home sharing an intellectual breakthrough he had in his work as a design engineer.  Can you guess what Chris needs most from her?

He needs her to celebrate with him and experience with him the joy of his accomplishments…something his dad never did.

Yet, this is the thing Yolanda is least able to do, because Chris’ accomplishments make her feel dumb, just like she felt growing up with three siblings who were “brainiacs”.

Building a dream marriage requires that Yolanda grow and unleash her own intellectual powers that are there but never developed. Then, instead of being threatened by Chris’s intellectual accomplishments, she can celebrate them.

When Yolanda grows in this way, it brings healing to Chris.

FEELING

…learning to be in touch with your feelings and share them freely with your partner.

Gary has trouble sharing his feelings with his wife, Laura. Can you guess what Laura needs most from him?

More than anything Laura needs Gary to be present emotionally for her when she’s angry – one thing Gary is least able to do.

Building a dream marriage requires that Gary stretch and grow in his ability to be aware of what he feels, and to be brave enough to share his feelings in a way he never did growing up.

It’s a scary thing, but when Gary grows in this way, it brings healing to Laura.

It’s amazing how your partner’s need for healing becomes a blueprint for your own growth!

It also works the other way around.

Laura has trouble regulating her anger. Can you guess what Gary needs most from her?

More than anything Gary needs Laura to control her emotions when she’s angry so he can feel safe to be present with her – the one thing she’s least able to do.

Building a dream marriage requires that Laura grow in her ability to regulate her emotions and not overreact in anger toward Gary.

When Laura grows in this way, it brings healing to Gary.

SENSING

…being in touch with the sensations in your body.

Jim has trouble responding sexually to his partner, Martha. Can you guess what Martha needs most from him?

More than anything Martha needs Jim to express his love physically – the one thing Jim can’t do.

Building a dream marriage requires that Jim overcome his inhibitions and develop a mutually satisfying sex life with Martha.

When Jim grows in this way, it brings healing to Martha.

ACTING

…courageously stepping out of your comfort zone, and doing what you’ve never done.

Wesley longed for his wife, Kathy to mountain bike with him. Growing up, Kathy was never allowed to do anything remotely dangerous, so for her, this was completely out of the question.

If Kathy took some courageous steps to overcome her fear of adventure by developing new skills, this could be a great step toward building her dream marriage with Wesley.

Being willing to grow into more of who you really are is a win-win proposition.

Not only does your partner find the love that heals, you will feel more fully alive because of new skills you are integrating into your life!

Here’s to growing into more of who we really are…for our partner, and for ourselves!

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

Build your dream marriage part 2: Turn conflicts into healing and growth opportunities

We’ve been programmed to believe that conflicts in marriage are bad! That’s NOT true!! Conflicts in marriage can bring us to new levels of healing and growth we would never experience otherwise.

A dream marriage is a true partnership where you find the healing and wholeness you’re looking for. Conflicts are what provide opportunity for that!

There are four reasons conflicts provide our best opportunities to heal and grow.

1. We marry our “IMAGO”.

We marry our what?!

Imago is Latin for “image”. Dr. Harville Hendrix coined the term to refer an image we carry around in our unconscious minds.

In order for us to fall in love with someone, that person must match that image, or we simply won’t fall.

The Imago consists of…

(1) the positive and negative TRAITS OF OUR EARLY OUR CARETAKERS, and

(2) the LOST PARTS OF OURSELVES; i.e. skills in our thinking, feeling, sensing, and doing that we never developed growing up.

All the child development theories tell us that children create representations in their minds, pictures of their caretakers. This picture recedes into our unconscious and becomes what we now know, according to modern science, a neural network in our lower brain (brainstem and limbic system).

Because this part of our brain only sees images, this “Imago” is kind of like a Monet painting, a fuzzy image that is a composite of our parents’ positive and negative traits.

As you seek a life partner, this image filters out of consideration everyone whose traits are not similar to your early caretakers.

And it draws you to a person who not only matches your parents’ traits, but one who also exhibits those disowned, denied and lost parts of yourself.

Are you kidding me? Can this be real?

Sure! Let’s say you meet a person who is beautiful, or handsome, or smart. They seem compatible, and share common interests with you.

Think of how many people you’ve met like that. Hundreds perhaps!

But, have you noticed, no matter how great they are, if they don’t have, for example, your father’s anger, or your mother’s depression, or the withholding nature of a grandmother who helped parent you, they are absolutely, totally uninteresting?!

Sure this is a theory, but I’m finding it to be true more and more as I continue to practice Imago Couples Therapy based on this concept.

When a person comes along who matches these traits, especially the negative traits, your lower brain signals the release of the chemicals that cause you to fall blindly in love.

Take Mario and Rosa for example.

MARIO’S IMAGO

Mario’s mother’s had many positive traits including LOYALTY, and some negative traits including DEPRESSION and DETACHMENT.

As the third born of four children, Mario grew up feeling left out and invisible. Lost in the chaos surrounding a single mom struggling to meet the needs of four children, he often felt abandoned. His way of surviving that wound was to always be in control, and to be aggressive enough to get the attention he needed.

So who does he marry?

Rosa, who had traits similar to his mom. Mario was drawn to Rosa’s loyalty, and he later discovered her depression and “distant nature” triggered his old wounds of abandonment.

Rosa’s Imago

Rosa’s father’s had many positive traits, including WORKING HARD, and some negative traits including ANGER and the need to be in CONTROL.

She learned early on to stay out of the way, to detach emotionally, and avoid the conflict that seemed to always surround her dad.

And who does she marry?

Mario, who had traits similar to her dad. Rosa was drawn to Mario’s hard working nature, and she later discovered that his angry outbursts and controlling nature triggered her old wounds and fear of closeness.

OK, wait! Why would I be drawn to someone who triggers my pain and brings out the worst in me?!

Keep reading. This will all make sense. Trust me.

The Romantic Stage

When you meet your Imago, you become intensely attracted and fall in love, because your lower brain signals the “ok” to release dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin into your system. That’s when you realize there’s “chemistry” between you.

When Rosa and Mario fell in love, they felt fully alive and saw life in vivid color! They felt they had finally arrived! They felt they had found someone who “not only understands me, but is willing to meet all my needs”!

In this “drugged up state” they were totally unaware of how their negative traits would eventually affect each other.

Can you relate?

This is called ROMANTIC FANTASY and it doesn’t last! The drugs wear off and the rose-colored glasses are soon ripped from your face.

The Power Struggle Stage

About nine months after Mario and Rosa said “I do”, their romance began to fade and the Power Struggle began.

When Rosa felt the slightest inkling of Mario’s anger and control, she would detach emotionally in order to feel safe. This is what she learned to do growing up with a father who could explode at any provocation.

Rosa’s withdrawal would then trigger more of Mario’s anger and controlling behavior. It activated the lonely feelings he felt when his mother couldn’t be there for him. He learned to be aggressive to get what he needed growing up.

And, you can probably guess how it went down from there…

Mario’s angry reaction triggered more withdrawal in Rosa causing him to become even more angry and controlling…

And it was “game on”! The Power Struggle.

A destructive cycle of cat and mouse!

It was Mario, overly aggressive in his pursuit of connection, and Rosa, withdrawing in her fear of connection.

Rosa and Mario fell in love not just because Rosa was beautiful and Mario was handsome, or any of those normal reasons we imagine, but mainly because they were an Imago match!

Becoming aware of their Imago match was the first step toward seeing conflict as the key to healing and growth.

The second step was to realize…

2. Our unconscious relationship agenda is to HEAL the past.

This matching of Imagos is driven by an agenda to heal past wounds.

It’s actually two lower brains colluding to fulfill nature’s drive to heal wounded emotions.

What?!

Rosa’s lower brain perceived Mario as one who, because he was similar to her dad, could activate the old wounds she experienced from her dad’s anger.

OK Chuck, now you ARE talking crazy! How could this be a good thing?!!

Because experts tell us our emotional wounds heal best when they are activated by someone similar to the one who caused the wound.

If this person triggers that old pain, and then responds in a healing way rather than a hurtful way, there is nothing on the planet that can facilitate your healing better than this!

This is why marriage is the best place to find healing. Better than any therapist alone can facilitate.

Rosa’s need for healing

Rosa’s unconscious relationship agenda was that Mario, when triggered, would not explode in anger, but respond in a different way. She needed Mario to be present with her making it safe for her to stay connected with him.

Her hope (and her real reason for falling in love) was that Mario would heal the wound that her father’s anger inflicted.

This is the love that Rosa always secretly longed for. And she discovered that the best person to give her that love and help her heal her past was Mario, the one who happened to have the greatest potential to bring her more pain!

Mario’s need for healing

Mario’s unconscious relationship agenda was that Rosa, when triggered, would not withdraw like his mom did, but respond differently and stay present with him.

His hope (and his real reason for falling in love) was that Rosa’s presence would heal the wound that his mother’s emotional distance inflicted.

This is the love Mario always secretly longed for. And he discovered that Rosa, while being the least capable person to give that love, was the best person on the planet to help heal his past!

The Couple’s Dialogue

The Couple’s Dialogue provided a process for them both to validate each other, and to empathize with each other in a way that began to turn their conflicts into this kind of healing connection.

And here’s a wonderful reality that brings lots of hope!

Our lower brain doesn’t register time. It exists in a constant present tense. Therefore, when you finally get the love you’ve always longed for, it doesn’t complain, “Well you’re about 15 years too late! That’s what I needed as a child!”

No, it says, “Finally, I’m getting what I always needed!” And the healing begins!

So conflict becomes an opportunity for healing when we discover our unconscious agenda to heal the past.

There’s a final reason to embrace conflict…

3. Our unconscious relationship agenda is to GROW toward wholeness.

Mario’s need for growth

Rosa’s need for healing was a call for Mario to grow in the skills needed to regulate his anger, and patiently wait for Rosa to respond to his need for connection. It was Mario’s growth in this respect that would bring healing to Rosa.

This required Mario to stretch grow and discover a part of himself that was there all along, but was lost or never developed growing up.

As Rosa learned to voice her frustrations in the form of positive requests, Mario grew in his ability to regulate his anger, and to let go of his need to be in control. This made it safe for Rosa to stay present with him.

Rosa’s need for growth

On the other hand, Mario’s need for healing was a call for Rosa to grow in her ability to stay present with him and to overcome her fear of closeness. It was Rosa’s growth in this way that would bring healing to Mario.

As Mario voiced his frustration in the form of positive requests, Rosa grew in her ability to lower her walls of protection and become vulnerable and emotionally present with Mario.  She learned the skills needed to share her feelings in a way that helped her gradually overcome her fear of intimacy.

From Rosa’s and Mario’s example, we can see that…

Your marriage partner’s need for healing provides a blueprint for your own growth, and vice versa.

Conflict is a sign that growth is needing to happen. It’s a sign that something new is wanting to emerge in your life and relationship. It’s your partner’s need that points to the specific area you most need to grow.

When you give your partner the very things you feel you just CAN’T give (because you never developed that ability), you end up getting a piece of yourself you never had before.

Partners who grow by stretching into these new “caring behaviors” often report feeling more fully alive than they ever have before. It seems they benefit even more than the partner who receives healing!

What about you?

Is your relationship in conflict?

Has your romantic love faded, turning your dream marriage into a nightmare?

Does it seem like falling in love was simply nature’s way of getting you to hook up permanently with the most incompatible person on the planet?  

Are you asking “Why would nature drive me into the arms of someone who ends up frustrating me to no end?”

Well, now you know!

It was your inner drive to heal past hurts, and to discover and grow lost parts of yourself that caused you to fall in love.

And there’s no better person to heal and grow with than the one you’re with right now!

Click here to download a Brief Relationship Workup that will help you learn about your own Imago.

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Why incompatibility is the basis for a great marriage

Marriage incompatibility can be transformed into an intimate partnership for healing and growth!

Ever feel like you’re married to the most incompatible person on the planet?

You’re not alone. Turns out “opposites” DO attract!

And being opposite can feel like you’re incompatible.

But here’s a secret…

Incompatibility is the basis for a great marriage!

“Ok Chuck, I get it that opposites attract. But incompatibility…the basis for a great marriage? Give me a break! Is this going to be another post where you say the opposite of what we’ve always thought? Like ‘Conflict is a sign you married the right person’?”

I could hear your objections already and you’re not alone.

I googled “relationship compatibility” and found many who agree with you. Countless articles warning you NOT to be in a relationship with someone incompatible with you in areas like…

  • Strict punctuality vs. hang loose “I’ll get there when I get there.”
  • Neat-freak vs. slob
  • Spend-thrift vs. stingy-sourpuss
  • And God forbid you get into a relationship with someone who is not “sexually compatible” with you.

“Experts” are saying that differences like these will make life miserable!

“So don’t commit!  Find someone compatible!!” 

But recent neuroscience discoveries are turning what we thought about the marriage relationship on it’s head.

Think about it:

Each of those differences listed above represent opportunities for healing and growth…but only when those two “incompatible” people are together in a relationship!

Get my drift?

Here are two reasons I’m convinced “incompatibility” is the basis for a great marriage.

1. Incompatibility creates opportunities to heal the past.

Case in point: Nate and Susan.

Nate was a very intelligent, but very quiet young man in my premarital counseling group. When I tried to point out traits in Susan, his fiancé, that foreshadow future areas of conflict, he said, “No way! Those are the things I love about her!”

Nate was sincere, but he was also in the Romantic Stage of the relationship, and was seeing Susan through rose-colored glasses.

Isn’t it cute the way she’s so expressive with her emotions! I can listen to her talk all day.

So why is it that after only a year of marriage he found himself leaving the house because…

She never shuts up!  

hmm??

At some point after the wedding vows, the neurotransmitters that induce the romantic love coma subside.

That’s when we wake up to the fact that we have married someone different from us.

Surprise!

The rose-colored glasses are ripped off. Welcome to the Power Struggle Stage.

So what was going on with Nate and Susan?

Nate had married his “Imago match”.

His what?

Harville Hendrix uses this term, “Imago”, to describe an image you carry in your unconscious “lower brain” (brain stem and limbic system).

And that image consists of…

1) The positive and negative traits of your primary caretakers.

and

2) The disowned, denied, and lost parts of yourself.

Imago Relationship Theory posits that the selection of a romantic partner is partly unconscious, driven by an agenda which is to…guess what?

Finish childhood.

What?

To finish childhood. To resolve the wounds, unmet needs, and frustrations that occurred while growing up.

That’s why we fall in love and marry someone who is like our parents!

Not in just their positive traits, but even more significantly in their NEGATIVE traits.

Now why would I want to do that? That doesn’t make sense.

Did I say that it happens unconsciously?

Those positive and negative traits in your partner feel familiar. This explains in part why you’re drawn to his person and why you fall in love.

But as you encounter the negative traits, old wounds are activated.

Nate had that mysterious quietness that Susan was drawn to.

And when we talked about how his childhood defenses could make her feel abandoned, she was confident that would not happen.

He just won’t. Because we’re in love. He’d never do that.

Don’t you just love the naiveté of the Romantic Stage of a relationship?

But at one point, when Susan felt Nate withdrawing from her, it did activate those feelings of abandonment. And that’s when their conflicts began.

Growing up, Susan’s mom was busy caring for younger twins, while her dad seemed married to his work. And then her dad spent whatever time left over with her brothers.

Her method of coping was to break the rules, act out – anything to get someone’s attention.

So when Nate activated this same feeling of rejection and abandonment by simply pulling away from her, she would become upset and demand to be heard and recognized.

And the more he withdrew, the louder and more controlling she became.
And the louder she got, the more he withdrew.

At that point, so early in their journey, there was no way that Nate could have understood the pain that was driving her.

But during therapy he was able to empathize with Susan, and to see how his pulling away from her triggered those deep feelings of abandonment from childhood.

He realized he was not the source of her upset. He was only the “trigger”.

In the Imago Dialogue process, Susan began making “change requests” of Nate that involved him being present with her during times of conflict, rather than “abandoning” her.

She asked Nate for things like this…

“The next time you feel like leaving the conversation, can we just stop talking, and will you just take my hand, look into my eyes, and just be silent with me for two minutes?”

As he granted those requests, Susan’s wound from childhood began to heal as her longing for connection was no longer being frustrated by Nate leaving.

Our lower brain holds pain from the past in an unconscious state, and also in the present tense (as if the wound happened yesterday).

And the lower brain does not distinguish between individuals. It only apprehends the traits of a person.

So when that past wound is activated by someone similar to the one who wounded you…BUT this time their behavior gives you what you needed, healing is the result!

And your lower brain doesn’t complain, “Well, you’re about 20 years too late!”

No! The love you’re receiving registers deep in your psyche, “Finally, I’m getting the love I wanted.” And it’s healing.

Do you see how your marriage can be an amazing partnership for healing you never even imagined before?

Incompatibility creates opportunities to heal.

Wow.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Hold on a minute.

It sounds simple, but…it was extremely hard for Nate to grant that request.

Why? Because Nate had spent all his years protecting himself from this kind of vulnerability. A step like this was threatening…actually terrifying!

This leads to the second reason I think incompatibility makes for a great relationship.

2. Incompatibility creates opportunities to grow.

What Susan needed to heal pointed precisely to where Nate need to grow.

Nate had never had to be present and share his emotions until he married Susan.

Incompatibility provides an opportunity to grow and recover parts of youself that were lost and never developed growing up.

Nate was drawn to Susan because she was so effusive and free to share her feelings. Something Nate had never developed growing up.

How did Nate miss out on this?

His mother was controlling. So he discovered early in life that one way to maintain a feeling of autonomy around his intrusive mother was to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself.

Without this information, she was less able to invade his space.

Nate learned to hide behind a psychic shield he erected as a child to protect himself from an overbearing mother.

He felt smothered by his mom growing up, and now he was feeling smothered by his new wife.

So Nate would respond to Susan’s “intrusions” in the same way – by doing a disappearing act where he could hide his feelings from her.

Susan didn’t realize that when Nate left the conversation, he was only trying to survive his own pain and not trying to “punish” her.

But notice how Susan’s “change request” was a challenge for Nate to begin to learn to stay present and connect emotionally. Something he’d never had to do. Something he’d never developed. But something that he was actually very capable of doing.

Because, in doing this, Nate was recovering a lost part of himself.

So for Nate to provide what Susan needed most (his presence during conflict), required him to stretch. To stretch into behaviors he never learned as a child. And it was not easy.

But through this process Nate began to feel much more “whole” as a person.

So…not only can incompatibility create opportunities to heal, it also creates opportunities to grow.

“But, Chuck,” Nate could have said (he didn’t say it, but many partners do), “That’s just not who I am. I’m not a ‘feelings’ person. I feel like Susan wants to change me into something I’m not.”

I hear that a lot.

This growth challenge is not about changing who you are. It’s about becoming more of who your are.

It’s about recovering those things that are actually in us, but have been walled off by our childhood adaptations and defenses.

That’s why Nate felt more whole as a person after this.

Here’s a super big takeaway:

Your partner’s need for healing will always point to your need for growth. And vice versa.

An amazing thing this thing called marriage!

What about you  today? Does your partner trigger this kind of upset in you? Or do you trigger it in your partner?

Have you felt like giving up on your marriage because you’re “incompatible”?

If what I’m saying is true, the best place for you to be is right where you are.

So stay put. And work toward building this kind of mutual partnership of healing and growth.

And let me help you. I can coach you though through this process online.

Click here for more info about my six-week starter program.

Now let me encourage you to share your responses, thoughts, insights and questions with us in the comment section below.

Go ahead! Don’t be shy! Leave a comment! Others will learn from you! And so will I!

Until next week…

Chuck

Hey if you’re not yet on my mail list, you can subscribe below and receive my weekly posts delivered directly t0 your inbox every Saturday. Actually Sunday if you’re in Australia. 🙂

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