On Marital Therapy

by Harville Hendrix

excerpt from Getting the Love You Want

Personal History

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...

excerpt from Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix

* LiveReal Agent's Note:

Let's repeat again exactly what Dr. Hendrix said above:
"I began to focus my efforts exclusively on learning what I could about relationship therapy."

Note that the above took place AFTER many years of getting certified and working a professional marital therapist.

Let's repeat that, just to be perfectly clear: after many years of working as a professional marital therapist, he then "began to focus...efforts...on learning what I could about relationship therapy."


What does this say about the state of marital therapy in general?

Is is safe to generalize that the whole business a sham, as many claim? Is it at least safe to generalize that being "certified" and working for a few years as a therapist doesn't necessarily that a person knows much about relationships?" If there are "few meaningful discussions of marriage" in the "professional books and journals"...then what, exactly, if we can be so bold to ask, are they doing?

Why did Henrix have to embark on a "personal search for answers" if "marital experts" they already know what they're doing?

We are grateful that Hendrix did do what he did, and was honest about it.

Your trusty LiveReal Agents venture on...


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