Wondering if there’s hope?

How did things get so bad?

Do you remember when you first fell in love? What a great feeling! Where did it go?

Many psychologists explain this using “Attachment theory,” which is now widely recognized as a theory of love. Earlier in the 20th century research showed that children in hospitals who were isolated and deprived of love died, whereas those with similar illnesses who received love had much more chance of recovery.

Further work showed that from childhood on-wards, we survive through our social links to others. Being loved is a deep need. The deepest emotional needs are met through long-term, committed partnerships. When we fall in love, we open up our hearts to our partner, and that is opening up some deep vulnerabilities.

However perfect your partner is, the chances are that they can never meet all your emotional needs all the time. Something they might do, which feels quite unimportant to them, can often have huge emotional significance to you.

The things which are significant are usually as a result of how you were brought up. For example if your parents weren’t particularly interested in you as a child, it might be very important to you now that your partner demonstrates a great deal of interest in you.

This works both ways. There are probably things you do which you never meant unkindly, and may even be insignificant to you. But for your partner, these trigger some deep emotional needs.

Each time this happens, it can be painful for one or both of you. So naturally you might both take a step backwards and protect yourself from more pain. Or you might have big fights, desperately trying to help your partner understand what you need from them.

Over time the emotional warmth of early love becomes replaced by hostility or coldness. No wonder it can feel hopeless, because love feels so far away.

But it doesn’t mean the love is not still there. It’s just gone underground for a while.

Is it really possible to restore connection?

In the previous section, I explored the reasons why things get so bad that they can feel hopeless. The reasons you fell in love with your partner in the first place haven’t changed. What is needed is to find a way to manage the things which drove that love underground and made things feel hopeless.

A great start is to re-visit those things you first loved about your partner. That’s also a good way to start learning some new communication skills you will need later on, when you talk about deeper emotional issues together.

For these sensitive conversations, Imago teaches a communication technique which involves careful listening without judging the other person. Instead, one important step is for the person who is listening to show that they accept that what the other person is saying makes sense, and to connect with the feelings that lie underneath.

That’s why you will find quite a bit of Imago is about learning to use the Imago Dialogue process. Discussions about feelings and love can get tough when you are listening to something your partner is very upset about, and at the same time managing the feelings which these bring up for you. The Imago Dialogue is very important to create a space for you both to share things which really matter to you.

What we learn, time and time again, is that once couples have been able to use the dialogue to move away from reacting to the their partner, they learn to deeply understand their partner, and what their partner needs to be fulfilled. Surprisingly, it’s often quite easy to support them with this, once all has been made clear.

These discussions are not at all about who is at fault or finding someone to blame. They are about creating the understanding and empathy for each other that makes it safe for love to flow again like a river. Imago has a few suggestions we make for how to kick-start that, too.

Could I be with the wrong partner?

When things feel hopeless, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if you aren’t even with the right partner. It might feel even more likely if you find your partner quite frustrating at times.

The sad reality in our society is that within 10 years of marriage, one in three couples will decide they were with the wrong person, and break-up. Unfortunately, when these couples try again with someone else, they are usually even less successful.

How can you tell if you are with the right partner? It helps to understand a little bit about how we choose the person to fall in love with. It’s no accident – there are many people we meet in life who have no attraction for us at all. There’s a powerful process of attraction going on, and that means anyone you fall in love with has the potential to be the right partner for you for the rest of your life. Why do I say that?

Remember further up the page, where I talked about “Attachment theory” and our powerful need for love. Our first experience of love was from our parents, and for most of us that’s well meaning, but never quite perfect. There’s always some area – perhaps small, perhaps large – where we never completely felt loved by our parents.

That experience leaves us with a kind of emotional map of what love looks like for us. We call this the “Imago,” and it is a blueprint for what perfect love looks like. It’s natural to hope that when as adults you choose a partner for life, they love you completely. But instead you choose someone based on the “Imago,” who you recognize from your earlier experiences of what it feels like to be loved. Inevitably the person you choose will be fantastic for you emotionally in many ways. But there will be some critical areas where you hoped to experience their loving nature, and painfully find that they aren’t very good at loving you that way.

But that doesn’t mean they are the wrong partner! Chances are you are going to be attracted to someone with this kind of emotional make-up. It just means there’s a little work to do together, so you can both grow into loving each other a little more completely. It’s not particularly hard work once you have discovered what’s needed through the Imago dialogue. The consequences of this work together is that you can make your lives far more fulfilling and rewarding as you both discover your hidden potential.

How can Imago help?

Further up the page I outlined a process that you can go through to restore the vitality and sense of connection to your relationship.

This involves learning a new communication approach, and then using this to understand what is going on for your partner and yourself in much more depth.

Many couples have done this work on their own, perhaps reading “Getting The Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix, PhD and following the exercises. We have many other free resources online to help you, and a variety of DVD-based programs to use at home.

However, do consider that your relationship is one of the things that most influences how much you get out of life. You can do much more powerful work, and have a much higher chance of success if you are guided through the process by an expert.

A great way to start is to come to an Imago Weekend Workshop. That’s where you can be guided through the whole process I described and much more, in just two days. Most couples leave with their relationship transformed! Then it often makes sense to consolidate all that progress by visiting an Imago couples therapist for a few sessions.

We would like to help you to create a lifetime of connection together.