saving your marriageIf 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?

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt
Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD.

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.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUSKejGLZe8

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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:

1.  Commit

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.

Rivka and Shlomo Slatkin
Rivka and Shlomo Slatkin

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.


Couple having an argumentFrom 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.

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    18 replies to "Five Steps to Saving Your Marriage"

    • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

      Been there. Done that. I really like the Imago work, and felt it helped me understand myself and my needs much better. Bottom line: I’m not going to share. I’m not going to wait for things to get better when it becomes clear I’m being lied to and cheated on continually. All that does is prolong the pain. It’s time for healing in my life, because over 40 years together was not enough for my ex to want to get real.

    • gizfield

      This looks like a good valid technique, but it’s a lot of information to take in. I’m like Saw the Light, I’m done with the shit, and if my husband ever decides to dish it out again it will be the Last Time. I sincerely hope he learned but only time will tell.

    • sierrac

      I agree with their points and see aspects I can use in my own daily choices to do my best that day.
      The detox; this addresses emotional choices. I am wondering has anybody been able to deal with inanimate objects such as the bed where PA took place several times? He sees the bed as just an object (a $4,000 object) I have to make conscience choices to control the ghosts in that bed. I get tired of warding off the emotions that the bed triggers. I feel a real challenge in applying the detox that this inanimate object presents to me. Any gems of help? I hope to be able to replace it next spring, financial constraints are part of my life.

      • exercisegrace

        On d-day I gave my husband ONE HOUR to get the bed gone from my house. I told him if he did not, I would light it on fire where it sat. I can honestly say I think I might have done it. Then plead insanity to the arson charges, LOL LOL.

    • Saw the Light

      Not only could I not be in the same bed, but I couldn’t even live in the same house once I fully discovered what had taken place there (we were physically separated for a year, divorced and then remarried). Finances are always an issue, perhaps you can sell the current bed but it seems to me, Sierrac, the bigger problem is your H thinking you are overreacting to his having a physical relationship with another woman in the same bed he shares with you. A bed is far more than an inanimate object; it represents so much more. No wonder there are ghosts. In the weeks before my second D-Day, the night before our 35th wedding anniversary, I had a nightmare in which my H was on the phone with another woman and I was basically invisible to him. The worst thing later was not the dream itself but how he responded (or really, didn’t respond but shut down). The lack of regard is extremely telling.

      • sierrac

        Thank you for your thoughts. He has told me I can get rid of it if it bothers me, it does not present an issue for him. I guess there is a difference when you are not the BS! (sarcasm ,yes…)
        I have been learning CBT and other self help and emotional control practices. We have been using most of the 5 steps to varying degrees prior to even reading this article. We are 18 months post Dday and it is a long hard road as we all know. I have been trying to be more “logical” regarding objects and controlling my thoughts so to lessen my own pain and try to put things into a reality and perspective.
        We have moved to another state and have started a new life together. The OW was immediately removed after she outed him and it has just been us since that day.

      • exercisegrace

        Unfortunately for me we are not in a position to sell our house. But we plan to and we are working towards that goal..seeing the moving van head out of the driveway will be a very happy day!

    • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

      Well, that seems like a good thing, it was what I had hoped for too, but…didn’t happen. The ‘no contact’ is huge and being far away sure makes that easier! It sounds like a beautiful bed, though…and it’s hard to make changes when I’m sure you originally picked it out, probably together. I’m thinking that it would be worth whatever loss you would absorb, to have a bed that didn’t conjure up stuff that in so many other ways the two of you are moving past.

    • gizfield

      I would get rid of the damn bed, and sleep in the floor if necessary. It could not possibly be good to keep it under any circumstances. Just my thoughts.

    • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

      Short and sweet. I love you, Giz, and all your comments! Also, are you from NC? because I have a funny story about being “in the floor”…

    • Gizfield

      Thank you, Saw the Light!! I would love to hear your story. I’m not from NC, but from Tennessee. They were originally one state, and are very alike, I think.

    • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

      Yes, well, out west we never say ‘in the floor’ because that would imply somehow being inside it. My father, in his last illness, began falling. His sister, from NC, would call me and say, “Your dad is in the floor again…” and despite the gravity of the situation, I always had to at least smile. I love the expression now…

    • Gizfield

      What a sweet story, STL. I’d never really thought about “in” vs. “on” the floor before, but it makes sense. My father had issues with falling too, due to brain cancer, so I know what it’s like. But after a while you forget the bad and remember the good. I love traveling out west or to the north cause I get a lot of attention due to my southern accent. And probably due to some”odd”terms I use, lol.

    • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

      Well, you can come visit me anytime! I mean that! And while our version of hospitality may leave a little to be desired vs. Southern style, you’d never have to sleep in the floor at my place!

    • Gizfield

      Thank you, STL, I may just do that. Sounds fun! I have a busy time coming up. I finally ordered my new dining room and bedroom furniture, and it will be delivered early next week. Need to clean, and straighten up, and paint. And shop a bit…I’m very excited about this.

    • Saw the Light (formerly Roller Coaster Rider)

      Super cool! I hope your dreams are all exceeded by the final outcome, and it will all be worth every ounce of work to get there. I am getting ready for the holiday season. Not always the most fun time for the soon-to-be-divorced. So, for Thanksgiving I’m going to visit friends in the Middle East, and for Christmas, I’ll be with other friends in the beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala. I’ll still probably cry. But my surroundings will be different, and I will most likely be distracted, and if nothing else, jet-lagged.

    • Michelle

      Isince don’t know if this where I am supposed to do this, but I need HELP. It’s been almost 2 years since my D-day and catching my husband’s emotional affair. Instead of feeling better and starting to recover I feel like I am going backward. I chose to stay with him because I loved him and 21 years is hard to walk away from. He is a wonderful man EVERYBODY says so and the affair was so out of character but it still happened. He says that they never actually met in person, it as all by texting and setting, not even actual phone calls. Yea right. Anyway, the first several months after discovery were some of the best and worst of our marriage but now things are awful. I’m starting to question everything he says again and can be very hateful for no apparent reason. The triggers are happening more an more often instead of less. I believe that a big art of my problems is due to the fact that he refuses to talk about the affair. He changes the subject or completely ignores me whenever I say or ask anything. I know deep in my soul that he has NEVER told me everything or been COMPLETELY honest with what he did tell me. I have tried to explain to him that I don’t think I will EVER be able to move forward unless he does this. I don’t know what else to do. I love him very much, but am afraid he is forcing me to do something drastic so he will come clean. I really need any and all advice you may have.

      • Shifting Impressions

        Michelle
        Two years after d-day I was still pretty up and down with my emotions. After three and a half years I’m calmer and doing much better.

        Are you the one being hateful or is he?? I wasn’t quite sure.

        Anyway, no one can force you do anything drastic…..you have choices. I do believe that you can tell him that not discussing the affair is simply not an option. If he doesn’t want to do it with you perhaps he is open to going to counseling with you.

        Only you know how strong of a stand to take. My husband wasn’t willing to go to counseling but he was willing to discuss and talk through. I don’t believe i got total honesty either. It’s all such a long painful process. Often the CS does not want to face what they did. I often had to fight for those “talks”.

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