On Marital Therapy
by Harville Hendrix
the Love You Want
When I began my career as a therapist, I counseled both individuals
and couples. My preference was to work with one person at a time.
My training was geared towards individuals, and when I saw clients
singly, I felt competent and effective. Not so when a couple walked
into my office. A marriage relationship introduced a complex set
of variables that I was not trained to deal with. I ended up doing
what most therapists did - probem-oriented, contractual marriage
counseling. When this approach didn't work, I'd split up the couple
and assign them to separate groups or counsel them individually.
In 1967 my confusion about the psychology of love relationships
was compounded when I began to have problems with my own marriage.
My wife and I were deeply committed to our relationship and had
two young children, so we gave our marriage eight years of intensive
examination, working with numerous therapists. Nothing seemed to
help, and in 1975 we decided to divorce.
As I sat in the divorce court waiting my turn to see the judge,
I felt like a double failure, a failure as a husband and as a therapist.
That very afternoon I was scheduled to teach a course on marriage
and the family, and the next day, as usual, I had several couples
to counsel. Despite my professional training, I felt just as confused
and defeated as the other men and women who were sitting beside
me, waiting for their names to be called.
In the year following my divorce, I woke up each morning with an
acute sense of loss. When I went to bed at night, I stared at the
ceiling, trying to find some explanation for our failed marriage.
Sure, both my wife and I had our ten reasons for divorcing, just
like everyone else. I didn't like this about her; she didn't like
that about me; we had different interests; we had different goals.
But beneath our litany of complaints, I could sense that there was
a central disappointment, an underlying cuase of our unhappiness,
that had eluded eight years of probing.
Time passed, and my despair turned into a compelling desire to
make sense out of my dilemma; I was not going to walk away from
the ruins of my marriage without gaining some insight. I
began to focus my efforts exclusively on learning what I could about
relationship therapy. As I researched the professional books
and journals, I was surprised to find few meaningful discussions
of marriage,* and the material that I did find was invariably slanted
towards the psychology of the individual and the family. There seemed
to be no comprehensive theory to explain the intricacies of the
male/female relationship. No satisfactory explanation of the powerful
emotions that can destroy a marriage. And there was nothing that
explained what I found so painfully missing in my first marriage.
To fill in the gaps, I worked with hundreds of couples in private
practice and thousands more in workshops and seminars. Out of my
research and clinical observations, I gradually developed a theory
of marital therapy called Imago (Ih-MAH-go) Relationship Therapy.
My approach was eclectic. I brought together dpeth psychology, the
behavioral sciences, the Western spiritual tradition, and added
some elements of Transactional Analysis, Gestalt psychology, systems
theory, and cognitive therapy. In my view, each of these schools
of thought made a unique and important contribution to the understanding
of the psychology of the individual, but it was only when they were
all brought together in a new synthesis that they illuminated the
mystery of love relationships.
When I began implementing my ideas, my work with couples became
immensely rewarding. The divorce rate in my practice sharply declined,
and the couples who stayed together reported a much deeper satisfaction
in their marriages. As my work became more visible, I began to lecture
to both singles and couples. Eventually I developed an introductory
workshop for courples, called Staying Together. In 1981 I began
a training course for professionals. To date, more than thirty thousand
people have been exposed to my ideas through counseling, workshops,
and seminars . . .
* LiveReal Editor's Note:
"I began to focus my efforts exclusively on learning what I
could about relationship therapy."
Note that this happened after many years of already being
a professional marital therapist.
What does this say about marital therapy in general? Is the whole
business a sham, as many claim? If there are "few meaningful
discussions of marriage" in the "professional books and
journals" . . . then what are they doing?
Why did Henrix have to embark on a personal search for answers,
if, as "marital experts" suggest, they already know what
We are grateful that Hendrix did do what he did, and was honest
Your trusty LiveReal Editors venture on . . . .