If saving your marriage is a priority but you’re having a hard time communicating and reconnecting with one another, consider the following five steps, which are based on sound concepts and Imago Relationship Therapy techniques.
Shlomo Slatkin is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist (Advanced Clinician), an ordained Rabbi and creator of The Marriage Restoration Project: The Five-Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage. A detailed action plan based on his years of training in Imago Relationship Therapy and working with couples, as well as his own personal life experience.
Before we get into the five steps, we figured that we should first give you a brief introduction to Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT).
What is Imago Relationship Therapy?
Imago Relationship Therapy was originated by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples,” in partnership with his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD.
The term Imago is Latin for “image,” and refers to the “unconscious image of familiar love.” Simply put, there is often a connection between the frustrations experienced in adult relationships and early childhood experiences.
For example: If you frequently felt criticized as a child, you will likely be sensitive to any criticism from, and feel criticized often by your partner. Likewise, if you felt abandoned, smothered, neglected, etc., these feelings will come up in your marriage/committed relationships.
Most people face only a few of these “core issues,” but they typically arise again and again within partnerships. This can overshadow all that is good in the relationship, leaving people to wonder if they have chosen the right mate. However, when you can understand each other’s feelings and “childhood wounds” more empathically, you can begin to heal yourself and your relationship, and move toward a more conscious relationship.
Practitioners of IRT, as well its proponents claim that with the “Imago Dialogue” process, you can transform conflicts into opportunities for healing and growth, and connect more deeply and lovingly with your intimate partner.
Here’s a short video where Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. explain what Imago Therapy is and how to do it.
The Five Steps to Saving Your Marriage
Based on Rabbi Slatkin’s experience in dealing with couples, along with his Imago expertise, his five steps are:
2. Seal Your Exits
3. Detox Your Marriage
4. Acknowledge the “Other”
5. Love Infusions
While reading through The Marriage Restoration Project, we remarked that during the period when we were reconnecting with one another and throughout our own marriage rebuilding process, we performed these same five steps. We surely didn’t know anything about IRT at the time and we certainly made our share of mistakes along the way that set us back, but we eventually did complete them – and they made a difference for us.
Here’s a brief summary of each of the steps:
1. Committing to the Relationship. The foundation of any successful relationship is commitment. There is no way a marriage can withstand a crisis of any magnitude if there is no commitment. Thus, couples that successfully get through crisis are the ones who are committed to their marriage. Commitment requires a decision to be dedicated to the relationship and making it a priority in your life. For many, this is probably the most difficult step.
That decision to commit is followed by an attitude that your marriage comes first and you are willing to do what it takes to improve it. Finally, your actions for your marriage are the manifestation of your decision and your attitude.
2. Seal Your Exits. Once there is commitment to the relationship, it is time to get down to business. In order for a marriage to be a vibrant, living entity, energy must be present in the relationship. Before you can refocus yourselves on the energy between you and your spouse, you must make sure that no energy is leaking outside. An exit is an energy leak.
So the first thing to do is to protect the marriage against external, negative influences that drain that energy from the relationship.
Essentially, an exit is any behavior you take when you don’t know how to talk about your uncomfortable feelings with your spouse. They are conscious or unconscious behaviors meant to avoid dealing with each other. You either withdraw inside yourself or you go elsewhere looking to get your needs met. Whatever you choose, you will drain the relationship of its energy until it becomes lifeless.
Examples of exits include things such as overeating, avoiding eye contact, throwing yourself into your work, exercising, infidelity, divorce.
Becoming aware of your exits, sealing them, and learning how to revive your relationship can breathe fresh life into your marriage and make it thrive.
3. Detox Your Marriage. Once there is a decision that you want your marriage to work, you must remove the negativity. If you are in a sealed room filled with poison, your odds of survival are not too good. Removing the negativity allows you to take all of the poison out of your relationship.
This can be very hard (especially after infidelity) because you’ve been hurt. How can you not dwell on past wrongdoings? Yet to move forward, you must eliminate blame, shame, and criticism to the best of your ability.
As you begin to eliminate the negativity, ask yourself, “What do I want?” Underneath every frustration we experience lies a request or an unmet need. What do you need from your spouse?
4. Acknowledge the “Other.” This means being in your relationship in an entirely new fashion, by learning how to listen and talk with your spouse in a manner that brings about greater connection and less reactivity. This involves two steps.
The first step to acknowledging the other is keeping the goal in mind. This means that when you engage in your relationship, you need to have a clear intention of what you want to accomplish.
Do you want to connect or disconnect? When you speak to your spouse, what are the desired results? As you examine the intended results, think about how you can achieve those results. Is yelling at your spouse going to bring you closer together? Probably not, so it is important to act in a way that helps you achieve your goal of connection. Creating a safe environment for which to share is of the utmost importance.
The second step to acknowledging the other is to enter his or her world. What this means is to really be able to listen to another person and understand him or her in the context of his or her reality, not your own.
The number one reason people are not able to really listen to their spouses is their inability to enter the other’s world and validate his or her experience. Ego and self-absorption prevent us from making this “trip.” We’re worried it means giving up our own opinions or losing ourselves if we fully listen.
This does not mean that you must be a doormat and let others walk all over you; it means being able to make space for the other in the relationship. This is where the Imago Couple’s Dialogue comes into play. The Imago Dialogue is a structured and safe process for taking your listening to the next level. It helps control reactivity and makes it possible to truly enter the world of the other, resulting in deep connection and relationship change.
5. Love Infusions. Love infusions are necessary to increase the positive energy in any relationship. Here, the element of practicing random acts of love, kindness and togetherness comes into play. We’re talking about caring behaviors – specific acts that are done unconditionally to make your spouse feel loved and cared for.
One example of a love infusion is appreciation. Rabbi Slatkin really stresses the importance of expressing appreciation for your spouse along with expressing the reasons for your appreciation.
When you are feeling in pain, betrayed and resentful it may be hard to see the good in your spouse, yet it is precisely at that moment that you can make the shift from negativity to feelings of fondness.
The more you express what you appreciate about your spouse, the better you will feel. In turn, your spouse’s resentment will diminish, as he or she realizes that you appreciate him or her. It will also reinforce positive behaviors which can cause a build-up of positive energy in your relationship and at the same time decrease resentment.
Even when we do not have positive feelings for our spouse it is important to engage in actions that demonstrate our care and love. When we act with love, we not only increase our spouse’s feelings of love for us, we begin to develop more feelings of love for our spouse.
From surveys that we have conducted over the last few years, it is very apparent that a large percentage of our readers are in a situation where one spouse is less than enthusiastic about working on the relationship. That could be the case for a variety of reasons.
For instance, one spouse may still be involved in an affair, there could be many built up resentments or possibly the feeling exists that the marriage is beyond repair.
So, what’s nice about the steps presented in the program is that success can be achieved even if there is an unwilling spouse because it is not about changing what’s wrong with your spouse but about taking personal responsibility for your relationship. The premise being that if you work on yourself, those changes can have a ripple effect on your relationship and your spouse can also change.
We’ve only briefly summarized the five action steps as Rabbi Slatkin provides much greater detail, explanations, descriptions and exercises for each step in his program. Click the following link for more information about The Marriage Restoration Project: The Five-Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage.
Please feel free to leave comments below. We are also curious if any of you have gone through Imago Relationship Therapy and what your experiences have been.