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Imago Relationship Therapy: Giving Couples a "Talking” Chance at Marriage

By M. D. Caprario

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We’ve all seen the headlines about David Duchovny’s, Tiger Woods’, and now Sandra Bullock’s hubby, Jess James’, reported infidelity.   At a time when every newspaper is splashing its front page with stories of outlandish sex scandals and million dollar divorces, internationally-known couples’ experts Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt and the practitioners in their worldwide Imago Relationship Therapy network are in great demand.

Dr. Harville Hendrix and his wife, Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, have devoted their lives to helping people enjoy better communication and better relationships


Dubbed by the media “The Marriage Whisperer” after his Emmy award garnering appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Harville Hendrix has some forty years of experience working with couples and, as he calls it, “sitting on the bench” and observing couples’ interaction and communication.   Over the course of that time he has identified changes in society in the 1950’s as responsible for pushing the divorce rate for celebs and “ordinary citizens” in the United States to 50%- an instability that continues.   In response, he and his wife, Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, a research scholar and champion of gender equity, co-created  Imago Relationship Therapy.

Author of what many consider the seminal books about relationship (“ Getting the Love You Want” and “ Keeping the Love You Find"), Dr. Hendrix combined his observations with self-discovery:   components of Imago also arose out of his experiences when he first met and married his partner, Dr. LaKelly Hunt.   Both divorced, themselves, each was seeking the best possible marital relationship.  

Dr. Hendrix took some time to talk with me about couples in the news, the pressures with which celebrity couples must contend, and Imago.

“Couples usually tend to focus on personal needs rather than relationship needs,” Dr. Hendrix told me, “and divorce occurs when the relationship does not meet the needs of the individual.”   Dr. Hendrix feels that most couples do not know how to create and sustain connection.   The “cure,” if you will, for divorce is to train couples to focus on their relationship as a priority rather than individual need, to create what he and Dr. LaKelly Hunt have termed the “conscious marriage.”   While this may sound simplistic, it requires specific behavioral retraining, so to speak, since Dr. Hendrix discovered this is best achieved not only by changing mindsets but also the way in which a couple talks to one another.  Focusing on a conscious marriage strengthens the union by increasing emotional connection and creating safety- for each individual as well as for the marriage.

“Affairs occur because there is no secure emotional connection,” Dr. Hendrix explained.   “This stems from childhood, when there might have been inconsistent (parental) care taking and no secure emotional connection.   Affairs occur when intimacy produces anxiety.”   The key, he feels, to addressing infidelity is to create within the individual the capacity to connect without being frightened.   This requires very special communication. 

An Imago therapist helps a couple establish true Dialogue

Imago aims to stimulate dialogue- true dialogue-that has a horizontal rather than vertical approach, i.e., communication that is equal and without judgment.   The three steps of the Imago Dialogue include mirroring, validating, and empathizing.   These allow, as Dr. Hendrix describes, for discovery of the other person, growth of each party of the couple into his/her potential, and a better connection between the two parties. It is Dr. Hendrix’s and Hunt’s hope that practicing this technique will foster a relationship that includes a real element of safety to the degree that individuals can be authentic selves within the couple, and thus create an entirely different kind of couple.

“The purpose in these unions,” Dr. Hendrix added, “would be healing and wholeness of the individuals.   But the modality would be the focus of the relationship and its care.” Without a safe family environment, the resulting fear and anxiety, as Dr. Hendrix explains, can later cause “acting out” and inappropriate behaviors.   We talked about this situation as cause for what we are reading in the news about celebrity couples' difficulties since “acting out” can manifest as a myriad of things, including infidelity.

“Most couples are the source of abuse (in this world),” Dr. Hendrix added, “and they come to see me because they are tired… of the conflict and all that.   We can do the conflict resolution all we want.   (But consider) that couples are the source of culture.   They are the ones who have the babies, and the babies grow up and leave home and they replicate what is at home.   So you could actually say that all abuse and all violence… arise out of connectional rupture in relationship as a child.”   The two responses to abuse and violence being depression and anger, one can see how a cycle of unhealthy emotions can, ultimately, set an individual up for failure in the world and, further, create a sort of “failing” in our world for each other.   Addressing this through Imago could be an answer- a huge answer- to even problematic global issues.

“What if we could change every child’s context?” Dr. Hendrix proposes.   “We could end all violence because, really, all violence begins in poor coupling skills.   The question then becomes, ‘Well, how do you do that?’   Well, you have to have a home that is safe enough that a child grows up and maintains (his/her) empathic instinct. Every child has internal (empathic capability), and if s/he is parented well, with what we call ‘empathic attunement,’ then that child cannot hurt things because it feels.   That child cannot even hurt trees, can’t kill frogs, eventually won’t even throw plastic out of a car and into the ocean because s/he feels.   Empathy means (resonating) with the “not self,” and that I know that it’s somehow connected to me but I resonate with it because it’s also not connected to me.   In empathy you also know everything is connected, so whatever you do to something else or someone else is done to you.”

“Empathy,” Dr. Hendrix explained further, “allows for more attentive and purposeful child raising- and emotionally healthier children.”  He believes that, absent of instillation during childhood, individual empathetic confidence can be built through a couple’s union.  It is his goal to make this achievement as widespread as possible.  The sum total of this practice might be an explosion of empathy across the planet that could, for example, prevent individuals from cheating on their spouses or expressing road rage, or even prevent them from being war-minded.  To that end, he and Dr. LaKelly Hunt have co-founded an organization of over 1,000 therapists offering Imago Relationship Therapy around the world.

One of these practitioners is Marcia Ferstenfeld, M.A., CIRT, a therapist in the Detroit, Michigan area who discovered Dr. Hendrix- and Imago- on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

“I caught a promotional spot in which Oprah Winfrey said that her upcoming program was her best ever,” Ferstenfeld told me when we connected after my interview with Dr. Hendrix, “and that it featured Harville Hendrix who was a specialist in relationships, and that it was a must see!  I took it to heart!  Watching Harville demonstrate some of what happens on a Getting the Love You Want workshop, and speak about the underlying issues behind the confusion and struggle, I was riveted.  I found myself nodding as pieces of clarity fell into place.  I ran to the bookstore to purchase my first copy of Getting the Love You Want and raced through it once, then read it again with my husband, and began to 'bootleg' the material into my therapy office with couples.”
Ferstenfeld took the Imago Basic Clinical Training in 1993-4 and over the course of several years, coordinated and assisted at subsequent Michigan Trainings.  She also gained certification as a workshop presenter for couples and individuals and became deeply involved in the development of Imago Parenting programs.  Having just completed immersion in a newly designed parenting program, Ferstenfeld is preparing to present her first Basic Clinical Training in Michigan in May.  It’s her hope that her work and that of her colleagues worldwide will help  spread the empathy and understanding that Hendrix and Hunt teach.

An Imago therapist helps a couple reconnect during a seaside workshop

“In an ideal world,” Dr. Hendrix feels, “relationship skills would be taught in school. They would be considered as important as spelling, writing, mathematics, etc.”   That absent, in the Imago Relationship Therapy program, couples now have the tools they need for change.   It’s worth noting, too, that a program for single individuals, preparing for committed partnership and marriage, is also available.

Imagine a world in which no tabloid had a sex scandal or messy divorce to report.  Imagine a world without road rage.   Imagine a world without abuse, domestic violence, rape- or even war.   All of these begin with change in individual relationship and, ultimately, this creates for us a perspective to better interact with and respond to the rest of the world.   Through Imago's healing with peaceful words, we could achieve world change, one might say, "one couple at a time."

“Polarities (in couples) can create an option,” Dr. Hendrix said, “and it’s a co-creation of a third reality, a joyful union.   Ending conflict is the key.   As I look forward, I’d like (the Imago technique and result) to be my personal contribution to world growth and change.”
More information about Imago Relationship Therapy can be obtained by visiting the following web sites:  www.Imago-marriage-counseling.comwww.HarvilleHendrix.com, and www.NewWaytoLove.com.  

© M. D. Caprario April 2010
M. D. Caprario is an author, editor and journalist working in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, covering for the media good things in the literary, film and entertainment industries- and also good peple and projects aiming to change our World for the better.  Reach her at [email protected].

Dr. Harville Hendrix holds a doctorate in psychology and theology from the University of Chicago and has received an honorary doctorate and two distinguished service awards. He is the author of a number of very popular self-help and guidance books, including Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, and Keeping the Love You Find: A Single Person’s Guide to Achieving Lasting Love, both New York Times best-sellers. With his wife, Dr. Harville coauthored Giving the Love That Heals: A Guide for Parents, also a best-seller, and Receiving Love: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved.   Their books are published in more than 57 languages.

Dr. Hendrix and his wife’s professional partnership and collaboration have resulted in 9 books on intimate relationships and parenting. They have also written three meditation books, two study guides, and a video for couples seen on more than 300 public television stations.  Their practice encompasses private client intensives to targeted group workshops, to major professional conference gatherings.

Dr. Hendrix has spoken at length about their work with Imago Relationship Therapy and has been written about in numerous newspapers and magazines internationally, including the November 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, where he was referred to as the “marriage whisperer.” He also is a member of the Redbook Marriage Institute, serving on the magazine’s team of marriage experts.

Dr. Hendrix has appeared on many national television shows to publicize his concept and practice Imago Relationship Therapy.  Those appearances have included sixteen (16!) guest appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show. One of those appearances won Ms. Winfrey an Emmy award for the “most socially redemptive” daytime talk show and also earned a spot on her Unforgettable! Oprah’s Top 20 Shows list.

Drs. Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt have six children and live in New York and New Mexico.

Books, CDs, & DVDs
“Getting the Love You Want:   A Guide for Couples”
“Giving the Love that Heals:   A Guide for Parents”
“Keeping the Love You Find:   A Single Person’s Guide to Lasting Love”
“The Couple’s Companion:   Meditations and Exercises for Getting the Love You Want.”
“Receiving Love:   Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved”
Schedule of Upcoming Workshops

Imago workshops are held around the world.  To find one near you visit www.gettingtheloveyouwant.com/couples/workshops.

Of note:  Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt will be presenting at the upcoming July 2010 Smart Marriage Annual Conference in Florida a unique program entitled “Women: Why Marriage?!"  During this time, she will speak about why healthy marriages should be the rallying cry for women’s empowerment and why marriage education is the needed breakthrough for women and girls- and for creating enlightened society.  Other presenters scheduled that day are Pat Love, Nisa Muhammad, and Patty Howell.

April 17-18  Getting The Love You Want: A Workshop for Couples
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 877-944-2002     Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers
April 19  Imago: A Theory and Therapy of Couplehood
Wisconsin Association for Marriage & Family Therapy Conference
Registration information
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 608-848-1994     
April 30-1  A New Way to Love
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 713-985-3817     St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Houston TX
May 7  IMAGO: Helping Couples Connect
Presented by Dallas Group Psychotherapy Society
Registration information:
Phone: 214-352-8262    The Center for Community Cooperation 2900 Live Oak Street. Dallas, TX
May 10  Feather Your Nest Speaker Series
Relationships "Getting the Love You Want"
Registration Information:
Ritz Carlton Dallas, TX
May 21  New York State Psychological Association Annual Convention
Helping Couples Restore Connection Workshop
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (800) 732-3933     The Woodcliff Hotel and Spa, Fairport, NY
May 22  New York State Psychological Association Annual Convention
Keynote: The Five Non-Negotiable Conditions of a Healthy Intimate Relationship
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (800) 732-3933     
July 7-8  Smart Marriages Annual Conference
Couplehood Programs, Imago Connects, & Conflict to Connection
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 866-992-9399     Shingle Creek Resort Hotel, Orlando, FL
July 8  Smart Marriages Annual Conference
"Women: Why Marriage?!" Learn why Healthy Marriages should be the rallying cry for women's empowerment and why Marriage Education is the needed breakthrough for women and girls – and for creating an enlightened society. Presented by Pat Love, Nisa Muhammad, Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, and Patty Howell.
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 866-992-9399    Shingle Creek Resort. Orlando, FL
July 10  Smart Marriages Annual Conference
IMAGO Dialogue: Structured dialogue, the very core of the powerful Imago model, helps couples learn to switch from monologue to dialogue and from judgment to curiosity and affirmation to make important new love connections. Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 866-992-9399     Shingle Creek Resort. Orlando, FL
July 10  Smart Marriages Annual Conference
A New Way to Love – TOOB This Imago faith-based course guides couples in finding God's purpose for their marriage, deepening their connection, and starting a grass-roots movement of couples teaching couples
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 866-992-9399    Shingle Creek Resort. Orlando , FL
July 16-18  Getting the Love You Want: A Workshop for Couples
Registration information:
Phone: 866-200-5203     Kripalu Center Stockbridge, MA
July 19-23  IMAGO: A Theory and Therapy of Couplehood
For more information: Click for Website
E-mail: [email protected]
Registration information:
Phone: 888-394-9293     The Cape Cod Institute, North Eastham, MA
August 3  A New Way to Love: Teaching Dialogue as a Spiritual Practice
2010 AMFM Marriage & Family Ministry Training Conference
Registration information:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 480-718-3020    Phoenix , AZ
August 6-8  Getting the Love You Want: A Workshop for Couples
Registration information:
Phone: 512-225-1075     The Crossings Austin, TX
August 27-29  Imago Relationship Therapy: A Theory & Therapy of Couplehood Registration information:
Phone: 877-944-2002     Omega Center, Rhinebeck NY
October 1-3  Getting The Love You Want: A Workshop for Couples
Registration information:
Phone: 877-944-2002     The Omega Center Rhinebeck, NY
October 15-17  A New Way to Love
E-mail: [email protected]
Riverside Church, New York NY
October 21  Summit for Clinical Excellence
What about IMAGO: Proven Strategies for Helping Couples Get the Love they Want
Registration information:
Phone: 800-643-0797
Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort
October 22  Summit for Clinical Excellence
What We Know About Healthy Marriages
Phone: 800-643-0797    Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort
October 28-30  7th Annual Imago International Conference
Atlanta , GA
December 3-5  Getting the Love You Want: A Workshop for Couple Registration information:
Phone: 866-200-5203     Kripalu Center, Rhinebeck NY
December 10-12  Getting the Love You Want: The Imago Process
For more information
Phone: 707-775-3500     IONS Retreat Center . Petaluma, CA

Splash Worldwide publisher’s older sister, Marcia Ferstenfeld, M.A., CIRT, is offering in the Detroit, Michigan area Couples Weekend workshops, based on Dr. Hendrix’s book Getting the Love You Want, on July 9-11, 2010 and October 15-17, 2010.  She is also offering Personal Growth Weekend workshops, based on Dr. Hendrix’s book Keeping the Love You Find, on May 15-16, 2010 and December 11-12, 2010, and  one- or two-day or 8-week courses for parents entitled “Supporting Our Children,” based on Dr. Hendrix’s book Giving the Love That Heals and the Imago model.  For more information, please contact Marcia or Larry Ferstenfeld by phone at 248/557-8621 or fax at 248/557-2751, or email Marcia at [email protected].

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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