What if there were a guide written to help you not only communicate better with your partner, and experience love more deeply – but that would also heal the triggers that keep creating conflict between you and your partner? As it turns out – that guide exists! This week, our guests are Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D, authors of the classic book, Getting the Love You Want which was just updated and re-released. Both are internationally-respected couple’s therapists, educators, speakers, and New York Times bestselling authors. Together, they have written over 10 books with more than 4 million copies sold, and created Imago Relationship Therapy, a leading tool for helping couples bridge the gaps and deepen their connection. In addition, Harville appeared on the Oprah Winfrey television program 18 times! This week, hear them reveal how they have put Imago into practice in their own relationship – which will give you some helpful direction on making this work practical for your life and relationship as well.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Our sponsor today is Blinkist. Blinkist is the only app that takes the best key takeaways and the need-to-know information from thousands of nonfiction books and condenses them down into just 15 minutes that you can read or listen to. Go to Blinkist.com/ALIVE to start your free 7-day trial.
Visit Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix’s website to learn more about their work.
Pick up your copy of Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix’s book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide – perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Visit http://www.neilsattin.com/imago3 to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix.
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters – Check them Out
Please check out our earlier episodes with Helen and Harville:
Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Here on the show, we are having conversations with the pioneers of what makes relationships work well. And today’s guests are celebrating the recent re-release of their classic book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. And along with celebrating that re-release, we are so excited to have them back here on Relationship Alive to take an even deeper dive into their work so that we’re not going to reinvent the wheel. If you want to know more about things that we’ve talked about, well, we have two other episodes that you can listen to. But we are going to cover some new ground today and also, hopefully, get some personal insights from our two esteemed guests. Their names are Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix.
Neil Sattin: And like I said, they’ve been here on the show before, and it’s… We, Chloe and I, have actually taken a workshop of theirs at Kripalu in Massachusetts. And it’s just always such a treat to have you back, especially to be able to celebrate with you the re-release of your groundbreaking book, Getting the Love You Want, which has created a difference for so many people. In fact, I posed the question in my Facebook group, “Does anyone want to ask Helen and Harville anything?” And I had a couple of people who said, “Their book changed and saved my marriage. Saved my marriage.” So I know you probably hear that all the time, but I just want to tell you, there are at least a couple more people for whom that’s true.
Harville Hendrix: Good. Thank you.
Neil Sattin: So as per usual, you can download a transcript of today’s episode by visiting neilsattin.com/imago3. That’s I-M-A-G-O. And it’s imago3 because imago2 and imago are other episodes, episode 22 and episode 108, where Harville and Helen have joined us previously to talk about their work. And you can always text the word “Passion” to the number 33444, and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode. And we have show guides for their previous two episodes. I think that’s it for me. So Harville and Helen, thank you so much for being here with us again today on Relationship Alive.
Harville Hendrix: Thanks, Neil. We are delighted to be here with you. Thanks for having us back on.
Neil Sattin: It is…
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yes.
Harville Hendrix: We’re becoming a regular.
Neil Sattin: You are. Yes. And it’s a pleasure. I couldn’t think of two people I’d rather be regulars with.
Harville Hendrix: Aww.
Harville Hendrix: Thank you. How kind of you.
Neil Sattin: So I’m curious, for you, what… Let’s just start by talking about when you were surveying Getting the Love You Want, which is such a classic. You were on Oprah 18 times to talk about Getting the Love You Want. What needed to be revised in the book? Why the new revision? And what were some of the main things that you felt needed to be updated, from your perspective?
Harville Hendrix: Basically, what is in the new book, as a revision and update, is a first chapter, which is a contextualizing of the book in today’s cultural environment. The first chapter sort of brings us up today’s… Sort of speaking to today’s audience and making… And acknowledging how a relationship, culture has changed in the past 10 years or some, but certainly a lot in the past 30 years. And obviously, the thing everybody is concerned about is social media, and iPhones, and text, and what is considered to be the dissolution of connecting and as replacement with technology. And so that the audience reading this would know that we are speaking to, with some self-awareness, a new market. So that’s the major thing, is to… The major first thing is the social context. And the second is that, since 19… Since, yeah, since 1988, especially, and even since it came out a new issue, but not too modified, 10 years ago, at its 20th anniversary, we have made some, I would think, two major shifts.
Harville Hendrix: One has been a clarification that connecting is the code word for Imago. Connecting is the code word for human yearning, how that connecting is the sort of… Misused everywhere by everybody now that even tech people and telephone people do sales and all that, you’ll see connecting everywhere. But we posit that connecting is the nature of nature, and that we are living in an interconnecting universe of which we are participants, and that we have moved out of a universe set up by Newton in which individuals were in… Were separate and independent and isolated and in competition with each other, to a new universe in which we are not individuals and cannot live outside of relationship. So we made really clear that there’s a… Quantum physics has given us a new view of what humanity is, what nature is, therefore what humanity is, and we tried to bring that into an understanding of marriage.
Harville Hendrix: The basic yearning, we think, with couples is to be connected, and to feel connected, and to know how to sustain connection. And so we brought that into consciousness and gone all the way through the book, removing the vestiges of the individual, isolated individual that was there in 1988 because that… That was the… The foreground in 1988 was the self. And now we’re saying the self is a derivative of context, of ourselves conscious enough at the time that we were simply espousing what was ordinary in the culture. Although, behind what we were doing, was this un-languaged awareness of that… Of interconnectivity, but now it’s languaged. And then we have some additional exercises at the end of the book. The part three is basically exercises that help people work with that. One of them is the removal… One of them is the addition of a process we call zero negativity. And Helen wants to comment about that.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah. Could I please mention then…
Harville Hendrix: Please.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: In addition to what Harville has said, may I mention three things?
Harville Hendrix: Sure.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Absolutely.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: To add, we have a new definition of the self that typically… I’m sorry, a new definition of a relationship. What is a relationship, people think, “Well, Harville and I have a relationship. The relationship is Harville’s and me talking to each other in our history or whatever.” But our new definition of a relationship is, there’s Harville and then there’s me, but there’s a space between us. It’s a space, and it’s actually that space between us that determines… How we steward that space between us that determines the quality of our relationship. It’s sort of a whole new definition of what is a relationship. And second, we bring in ideas like zero negativity.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: And you all know the dialogue process that helps the space between become safe, so that when you’re talking, you know who’s talking, you take turns talking, and there’s a structure, but also zero negativity. And then third, we used to have a process that, oh my goodness, we thought was going to be the best process for Imago therapy, which… This is way at the beginning, that if people could express their anger and not keep it locked inside, just let it out, like express… Take turns expressing your anger. And it was called the Container Exercise, where one partner would contain the anger of the other, and not only did we recommend it to couples, but Harville and I did it all the time… And…
Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah. I know where this is going.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: We had a horrible marriage. And that was before neuro… The neurosciences say that with neuroplasticity and all the brain, what you focus on is what you get. And Harville and I looked at this exercise and went, “Uh-oh. I think this wasn’t the right thing for a couple to do practice being angry to each other.” And this is where we tossed that out and we’ve put in exercises only that creates safety between the two and help focus on what our partner is doing right instead of all the things they’re doing wrong, even if there are many, many, many. You just try to focus more on what your partner is doing right. And we also then had that process of what to do about the things you’d like them that you wish they did differently.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah, and that’s… It was important not to say to people, “You can’t have your anger.” What we had to say to people is, “You can’t abuse your partner with your anger. So here is a way to talk about it so that… ” And it’s not the Container Exercise, it’s more of a behavior change request process. Here’s the way to talk about it so that the need behind the anger gets expressed, rather than the anger becoming so toxic, too. Because the other thing Helen and I have discovered, it was really interesting, because psychotherapists always work with memory. But somehow, there was like, “Well, all the memories you have are in the past.” And one day it dawned on us that we’re making memories all the time.
Harville Hendrix: And since our partners look at us, and cannot not look at us through the veil of memories they have of us, it’s really important that you decide what memories you want your partner to have of you, and then create those memories. And if so… If you have a, even a therapy exercise in which there’s a screaming face, your amygdala doesn’t care whether this was in therapy or not, it just remembers the screaming face. And you may have regulated it. So we’ve gotten tremendously focused on this space between being the domain where safety is there so that you can deal with difficult issues without hurting each other, and that way you maintain connection while you’re dealing with the difference.
Harville Hendrix: I think the other last thing is that we have emphasized more now of the need for affirmation, and that affirmation has become not just a, “Thank you, that was nice,” but affirmation, sort of like Martin Buber long ago in the I-Thou relationship talked about, to affirm another person in their being is the function of the I-Thou relationship. And that has impacted me again, and many years after reading Buber, that to affirm another human being… But what we’ve added to Buber is that, “When I affirm you in your being, I simultaneously experience my being as affirmed.” That the brain is a twofer; what you do for and to another person is simultaneously experienced by you. So that I think nature set it up so you couldn’t cheat, because if I hurt you, I hurt me; If I care for you, I care for me. And that it works that way, that principle of simultaneity. So we’ve done some stuff like that in the new book.
Neil Sattin: Wow. There’s so much that we just covered, so many directions to go. In reflecting upon what you were saying, Helen, about anger and realizing its effects on if you were giving it full expression, and also what you both were talking about, in terms of how we’ve evolved from a very self-oriented theory of relationship to a very… A more relationship-centric orientation, a relational orientation with the space between. I’m thinking about how going through the dialogues, in particular, how that helps everyone get to the hurt that’s beneath that anger, and how that creates safety to be able to identify with your partner, the wounded part of your partner, as opposed to be identifying with a part of yourself that’s really angry about whatever it is they did. Or for them, identifying with their angry part instead of by really getting in touch with, “Oh, this is how I’ve been hurt.” And from there, it’s a much more generative place. It would be like if your relationship space is a garden, to borrow maybe an overused [chuckle] metaphor, if you find a little plant that has broken in places, you want to tend to it. You wouldn’t just necessarily yank it out if it was what you were trying to cultivate.
Harville Hendrix: Right.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Right, right. And so what I think we try to do is stay away from anger as much as possible, because it releases cortisol. And you know who feels horrible when cortisol is in their own body, and that’s the person being angry. You think you’re hurting someone else, you’re also hurting yourself. So we do as much… What I appreciate about Harville is he has people more and more, in a simple way, circle what my wound was from childhood, just circle it, and not necessarily re-experience it. The cathartic thing that in the ’70s and ’80s, psychology said to get your feelings out about your parents, what they did wrong. Like if you express it, then you’ll be getting it out of your system, and you don’t have to carry it locked inside anymore. Well, guess what? That theory was wrong. [chuckle] Do you remember primal therapy by…
Neil Sattin: Oh, yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah, okay. So you would buy therapy or books to lay down on the floor and scream, and express your anger to your parents, your pretend-parents, to get it out. Well, so we are realizing that that’s really damaging for the brain and damaging for the person expressing it. Harville has ingeniously headways a couple can identify the wound by circling it on a piece of paper. This wound is then a challenge from the past that they’ve brought to the relationship. And then they circle what is the need that they have from their current partner now, and changing an anger and frustration into a need and making a request. So we quickly accelerate someone on that path of something that your partner did wrong, well, you gotta name it. You gotta name it and maybe say how that made you feel, but say as quickly as possible what your partner should do, so you’ll never feel that way again. And so the whole emphasis is making a request of what you want instead of telling your partner of what you don’t want.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And in the dialogue process then, what we do to operationalize that is that we’ll give people the sentence stem. Which when they say what their frustration is, then Helen is very adamant about moving from frustration to, “What do you want?” And then we’re giving a sentence stem as when I have that frustration that reminds me when I was little, and people then go to the hurt. And that hurt that I go to when I say, “It reminds me when in childhood my dad was not there,” or, “My mother yelled at me,” or whatever, that hurt then triggers in Helen, as my listening partner, empathy for me instead of judgment about me. And that revealing of the safety to reveal my hurt is created by the structure of the dialogue process, because I… By the way, the dialogue process works. We finally figured out is something that Dan Siegel said one time was, “Do you know why meditation works? Meditation works because the brain needs to know what’s coming next.”
Harville Hendrix: And in meditation, the brain knows you’re going to breathe in and then you’re going to breathe out, and there won’t be any changes in that. And the brain doesn’t care what you’re focusing on, whether it’s God, or a mantra, or your breaths, or whatever. The predictability of what’s coming next helps the brain relax. And in dialogue, when I heard him say that, I thought, “Oh, so that’s why dialogue works.” The brain knows that when I talk to you, you’re going to say, “Let me see if I got that,” instead of, “What in the hell did you mean when you said that?” Or, “No, you shouldn’t say that.” So I can predict, when I talk to Helen, that she’s going to say, “If I’m getting that,” rather than, “Why are you talking about that?” So, that predictability. So in the dialogue process, you know that your partner is going to check and say, “And that reminds you in childhood of?” And I’m going to say, “Well, it reminds me, blah, blah, blah, when my mother wasn’t there,” and then she’s going to mirror me.
Harville Hendrix: So what’s happening is that she’s regulating her prefrontal cortex by holding me in the dialogue process. And when she asked me, “And what did it remind you of?” and I tell her about my hurt, she is then going to experience, in the amygdala, an emotion called empathy. And so she will get empathy at the same time that I’m feeling safe with expressing my vulnerability with her. And when we shift that, we then move into curiosity rather than judgment, and when we go to curiosity, we’ve been deep in safety, and therefore, we can talk about vulnerability without fearing that somebody’s going to say, “Well, that sucks, it’s just too bad. You need to get over your childhood”, which is kind of what is interesting, is what the message underneath psychoanalysis is, is that you finally have to go to adulthood and give up that fantasy that you ever… I remember my therapist now, nearly 40 years ago, when I was in analysis, saying to me, “Harville, you are never going to get what you want from Helen.”
Harville Hendrix: “You must come to terms with that.”
Harville Hendrix: I was like, “Oh, let me give you a book.” I think we had… No, I think this was after Getting came out, that I was working with that therapist and I said, “Could I bring you a book?” [laughter] “Getting the Love You Want, in which I take opposition to your point of view.” And he said, “No matter what you wrote in the book, it is still an illusion.”
Harville Hendrix: What we have to say is, I got it from Helen. I didn’t have to give up. You can’t give up the desire, it’s connected to your survival. It has to happen, but it has to happen with somebody with whom you are engaged, who will be present so that you can have your vulnerability and they stay in the curious and empathic place.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: And partner isn’t going to do it unless their partner asks in a respectful way. Like Harville has brought his needs to me, explaining what it was like in childhood, and thus exactly what he needs from me, and he and I actually work on this not just once, but over time. Because I’ll say, “Honey, I just still want to know exactly what you wish. If I did it perfectly… And tell me exactly what it is you need from me.” And he’ll say it to me kindly, instead of saying, “You never do this and you never do that.” Well, that… What is it? Squelches my motivation. I get discouraged when all I hear is what I’m not doing.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. It disempowers you.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: And so the power for a couple just to shift from judgment to curiosity and wonder to each other, and shift from being critical to asking for what they want with sender responsibility.
Neil Sattin: Right. And when you say sender responsibility, you’re talking about, as the sender, the one speaking, the one making a request, taking responsibility for how you are making that request?
Helen LaKelly Hunt: How it lands.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Such as your partner sticks their fingers in their ears and goes, “La la la la la.”
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Let’s say… And then you could ask your partner, “Could you coach me in how I’m asking for what I want? Could you coach me so that I could ask for what I want in a way that might make it something that we could have healthy dialogues around?” And just be curious about your partner, when they do shut down, were you part of the reason they shut down?
Harville Hendrix: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and I’m thinking back to what it feels like when there is anger, or disappointment, in the room, and how disconnected. I can feel that cortisol and maybe the powerful anger response happening, but in the end, what I really want to get back to is connection with my partner. And so I love how this process creates that shift back to the ways that we open to each other. Curiosity, understanding, compassion, versus staying in that shut-down place where you might be making demands or levying your judgment of the other person.
Harville Hendrix: Yes. Right.
Neil Sattin: I appreciate, too, that you’re using yourselves as examples a little bit, and that makes me curious, and you can pass on this question if you want, but I’d love to know, for you, what are the things that… If you could name something that you continually have to revisit? Because I think a lot of people have this illusion that we who are talking about relationships all the time and writing relationship books, we have perfect relationships, meaning there’s never conflict, there’s never negativity. None of that. So I’m wondering if you could share a little bit with what that journey is like for you, and what is the thing where you might revisit, you might find yourself revisiting over and over. “Oh, right, that’s my thing that I’m working on.”
Harville Hendrix: You want to go first?
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Right now, it’s easier for me to share something that I always do wrong, or get feedback that I’m doing wrong. So could I start with that?
Harville Hendrix: Sure.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Because I am so great at multitasking. Oh, I am awesome at it.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: But when Harville is talking to me, that is so insulting to him. Like my great gift is making him feel invisible. And I get that, and I love that when he speaks, and especially if he’s excited about something, excited positive or excited negative, my job is to stop what I’m doing right there and then, and turn around and be as excited as he is about something, or as frustrated as he is, and just be present for him as he’s experiencing his feelings. And I used to try to fit that into my schedule, but I was doing important things, and he would understand if I wasn’t looking at him while he was saying something important… Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And no, if he wants me to stop, “Wow, your… ” What’s more important, or what’s more holy than getting to be present for Harville’s experience of life. So over time, I’ve gotten clear that, “Wow, that’s my number one job.” So that’s what…
Neil Sattin: And just I’m curious, Helen, is there something that you’ve done to remind yourself so that when you find yourself… Harville is sharing something with you, and you’re in the middle of 20 things which you excel at, do you have a way of bringing yourself into presence in those moments?
Helen LaKelly Hunt: I do. When you came to our workshop, do you remember the video, the Still Face experiment?
Neil Sattin: I do. Yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Okay. If anyone listening would look up, Google online the Still, S-T-I-L-L, Still Face experiment. A lot of psychiatrists at Harvard and psychiatry schools all around the country conducted this experiment, and Harville had picked that three-minute video to show in our workshops. And when the mother was present for their child, when the child was looking at the world, boy, was the child happy, but the moment the child… The mother had a still face that is not animated with the child, but just still, not angry, not distant, but just a still face, the child would try to get their caretaker to respond.
Neil Sattin: Engage. Yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Engage. Engage and resonate with what the child was feeling. And in this little three-minute video, the child begins to go into shock that the mother has a still face and decompensates and starts screaming and yelling, even though the mom is about five inches away. The mother is right there, but it’s the look in her eye that the child is missing. The mother is present but doesn’t have presence. And so after watching that video for some years, I woke up to the fact that, “Oh, my goodness. Why don’t I practice being the mother in the still face that is resonant face?” It’s like… And it’s a whole lot of fun to do that. I am having so much fun doing my best to when Harville might need me to drop everything, turn around, and just practicing presence.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And what’s interesting, and… But ordinary, is that you can imagine, therefore, that I grew up with a mother who had eight children plus me and no husband, he had died on a one-horse farm, and she was always busy. I have no images of her paying attention to me. None.
Neil Sattin: Wow.
Harville Hendrix: She died when I was six, but I, in that six years, I do not have a single picture. She was a wonderful woman. When I talked to my oldest sister, who at the time was an adult when I was a child… She is the most wonderful woman you can imagine. She was kind, loving and caring, and you look at all my family. They had to have a pretty good mother, because nobody went crazy and did drugs, and nobody killed anybody and so forth. But I was the last, and my primal memory of her is trying to get her attention and failing. So when I walk into the room and Helen is busy at the stove, at the fireplace, doing what my mother did, but hers is on the… Usually on the phone. That memory pops in, like I’m not going to be able to get her attention. So Helen has a practice of when I walk into the room, she’ll take the phone away and check and see if I want to talk to her or… Or the other thing is, on Helen’s side, is that asking her, “Is now a good time to talk?” is a way of establishing her availability, and she can say no. So we’ve moved out of, “You gotta always respond to me when I walk into the room,” to, I can ask, “Are you available for a question right now?” And she can say no, and come back to it later.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: And the key thing for me in terms of being vulnerable is, a big request I’ve asked is if you would coach me before presentations.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. So it’s that…
Helen LaKelly Hunt: So that’s a childhood thing.
Harville Hendrix: That Helen did not grow up being empowered by the people around her to function.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: He’s such a great speaker. Oh, wow. He just is so good, and I don’t mind not being as good, I just want the memories of him coaching me. So that’s been our thing.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And when you say that, I just… I get the feeling of what that must be like to be supported by him, to have all that attention and encouragement coming from him.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Exactly, exactly.
Harville Hendrix: Except that right now, she’s so good on the stages that people… There is a line up with her at the end of the workshop, and I’m over putting away my computer and nobody’s talking to me. Everyone’s talking to her. [chuckle] That’s how good my mentoring has been.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah, but I get that. But that was you were not empowered as a child. And so to say, “Here’s how you could do that, practice projecting, clear up this concept, make eye contact when you’re talking, move around,” anything that makes it charismatic, because speakers who had done it on stage a long time know how to hold an audience, and you don’t hold them by standing there lecturing out of your throat. You engage them. And so she is… You do that with such magnificence. Well, you saw her do that with such magnificence, so… But the thing that’s important is, we have talked about the new book. I think we finally clarified that healing is a medical term, and that it applies to the body getting well of a wound, but psychic healing, memories are not healed ever, that they are always resident in the… The emotional ones in the amygdala, and the event ones in the hippocampus. They’re always there and can be activated by a behavior. So that what we work on is creating a relational environment in which we don’t trigger the memories. And if we do, we have a repair process, in which we’ll quickly put those memories back in the background, but they’re not going to go away.
Harville Hendrix: We used to think, when we were working out of the medical model for psychotherapy, which came from Freud and he was a physician, so he did what he knew how to do, that all emotions were a disease and had to be treated, and now we know that emotions are triggered by memories and that those memories will always be there. And what you wanted is… When we talk about creating new memories to replace the old memories, but when the old memory is triggered, that you move quickly in and all old memories are triggered by the absent caretaker. Whether they are missing in their bodies or missing emotionally, although they’re in the room, they are not present to the child, and like that baby in the Still Face experiment, not being able to get the resonant face is terrifying. So if we… We know that all the time we have to live with that kind of conscious intention that we want a play… Our relationship to be safe enough that we don’t trigger each other’s painful childhood memories. And when we do, we move to repair quickly.
Neil Sattin: Can you talk for just a minute about… And I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of you also offering if you have something to share about your own personal thing that you revisit in the relationship, that you’ve been working on, Harville. But before we do, I’m curious, how do you encourage reciprocity in a relationship? I think, particularly in processes that require a lot of generosity of really listening with intent and being present and helping someone through a hard moment and being willing to come back to the table and repair, all of these important things. There’s a danger that people perceive, which is like, “Well, I’m always giving and/or I’m always willing, but my partner isn’t necessarily.” So I’m just wondering if you have some guidance to offer around how to encourage partners to both be able to come to the table.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Do you have a comment about that?
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Thank you.
Harville Hendrix: Well, I’d have to think about that because I’m thinking that I’m not associating that with us.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, actually… We actually did when we were in a low point.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: We created a calendar of on-duty and off-duty days where before going to bed at night, one person was in charge of making sure that they and their partner were connected before they turned out the lights, and the next day it was their partner’s job to make sure they were connected. And that was something that really brought us both in charge of participating and making sure the relationship was healthy. Because in most relationships, one person might be a little bit more active doing that. And if one person is more active, the other might go, “Well, it’s their job to do that,” [chuckle] or withdraw. Every relationship has a turtle, as well as a hailstorm. So these on-duty… This calendar that invites a couple to co-create accountability for reciprocity is a beautiful way that, no matter what, you have to be connected before you go to bed. The other person on their on-duty day has to figure it out.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And I think we’ve talked about that some. I’d say that was a really good training process, but I don’t experience now, you and me saying, “Well, I did five things that were positive and you didn’t do any,” that we’re not in the tit-for-tat consciousness. We do have a ritual every night that, before we go to bed, we give each other three appreciations, and rather than point out three things that we did wrong in dealing with the zero negativity calendar, that we moved that out and…
Helen LaKelly Hunt: We both are really responsible for the relationship these days.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: But if someone… If it’s one-sided, that’s a suggestion.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. And so that really is an amazing structure, that you have a day on which you are the one who is going to contain whatever is chaotic, and the next day you’re off-duty. What we discovered, though, is we like the days on-duty better.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: It felt better to be on-duty than off-duty.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah, because you’re working out of your prefrontal cortex and you’re not into your reactivity. And if you do feel reactive, “I’m on duty, I can’t drink.”
Harville Hendrix: So you go and do the other piece, and you wind up feeling better because you have not gone into your negative emotions. And then after a while, we were both feeling better so that we kind of made that we are both on-duty every day for the quality of our relationship. And given that, we don’t have a whole lot of things to clean up, and when we do, I think the thing I would say about that is we have got this repair process down so that if one of us does miss out, we just go fix it in the next five or 10 minutes.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: So that’s the zero negativity process.
Harville Hendrix: That’s the zero negativity process.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Which Harville could talk about for a long time. We do a better job at that, but…
Harville Hendrix: Let’s see what Neil wants.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Well, I would definitely love to have you share that, but is there something, Harville, in particular, that you’d like to share about something that you’ve had to revisit in your relationship with Helen that’s kind of your thing, that you’ve been working on, and maybe a struggle that is less and less of a struggle over time?
Harville Hendrix: Well, I’m thinking about that. I think that my growth edge is to listen until Helen finishes her sentences. That I interrupt her, and then that triggers her invisibility vulnerability. And to… Because my brain quickly is listening and has something to say to add to it, or an alternative, and I rationalize it by, “Well, it’s a conversation, it’s not a dialogue. We’re playing tennis, we’re not having a dialogue.” But all interactions are and should be dialogical. And I still work on, as the co-creator of all of this, implementing it all the time. I would think that’s… Would that fit with you? Your view of my growth edge? What else would you see as my growth edge?
Helen LaKelly Hunt: I think me finishing sentences.
Harville Hendrix: Finishing sentences, not being interrupted and deflected.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Mm-hmm. And I said the coaching.
Harville Hendrix: And the coaching. Because I think when you were little, nobody listened to you in the household, the family, the parents.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: I didn’t talk. I didn’t even try.
Harville Hendrix: Well, and you didn’t talk because nobody was listening. That was not cool. [chuckle] So interrupting her, but… And also appreciations, to notice what excellent things, more than just the ritual at bed time, that during the day I’m trying to grow into awareness that the way she just handled that phone call was amazing, and to say that instead of, “Well, we got another task done.” That’s the affirmation process, to be engaged in that. Because I grew up on the farm, and where I grew up on the farm was people didn’t spend much time thanking you. It was like, “Did you milk the cow?” And then they didn’t say, “Wow, what a good cow milking you did.” [chuckle] It just was, “Did you do it? And did you feed the horse before you came in?”
Helen LaKelly Hunt: And all of those affirmations…
Harville Hendrix: So appreciations was not a part of that, and affirmations.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Appreciations and affirmations create safety, and that’s bottomline.
Harville Hendrix: Yes, absolutely. And they then empower you, you know what you did that made a difference. And if you do something, like you did feed the cow or milked the cow real well, and nobody noticed it, then you don’t know whether you did it right or not, or if you even want to do it again. But if somebody says, “Good milking. Wow, see the horse was fed. Good job.” That’s the kind of affirmation, appreciation, that becomes spontaneous rather than just the ritual at the end of the day.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, and that reminds me, too, of John and Julie Gottman’s work around having that ratio of 20:1, positive to negative, interactions in normal day-to-day life. They were just on the show talking about the importance of cultivating cherishing in their relationship as well, so…
Harville Hendrix: Yeah, I like them.
Neil Sattin: It makes sense that you’d be on the same page.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah, yeah. John and I were talking one time at his home on the island, in San Juan Islands, where he lives, we’d gone out there to visit him. And at the time, there was some kind of… We’re not sure we’re on the same page and so forth, but he pulled me aside and he said, “Having been here for two days and talking, so forth, I think we’re basically all doing the same thing, we just phrase it differently.” And I thought, “Good! That means we pass your approval.”
Neil Sattin: It does feel good.
Harville Hendrix: And I love the word “cherishing”, that… I love that word, “cherishing”. And I think the repair process, we prefer to call it the “reconnecting process” because repair seems so mechanical, but the methodology of that, the quickness of repair as a sign of a healthy relationship is another thing they threw into the world that we have picked up and said, “That’s really important,” is how quickly you get this thing fixed and get back on the road.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to repair that you’ve brought up a few times?
Harville Hendrix: Well, yes. The zero negativity is a pledge that you make, and we know that because of the wiring of the brain to be paranoid means that to change your brain to affirmations, goes… Is by changing the evolutionary patterns so big, so that when you commit to zero negativity, you gotta blow it. And we say to people, “We’re telling you a great thing to do, but we know you gotta have difficulty doing it. So let’s just say that upfront. But it’s okay if you blow it, if you repair it.” And because when you blow it, you’ll disconnect, and what we want you to do is reconnect, which we like the word “connecting”. So what we… There’s a range of repairs, and one is to say, “Could I just do that again? Could I send that again?” Or Helen might say, “Would you be willing to send that in a different way that doesn’t sound negative to me?”
Harville Hendrix: So, the re-do process. And then a sort of parallel to that is, if I’m not clear what you want, I could say, “Will you model it for me? So I can see how you want me to look, the tone of voice you want me to have, the words that you want to say.” And the agreement is that we will let our partners teach us. Then the third thing is that we discovered some people don’t need to do all that, they just need an apology. “I’m really sorry that I had that tone of voice.” Helen likes apologies. I like behaviors, because when I grew up, people who apologize just hit you again. So apologizing means nothing to me. But if, stop hitting me and do something different, so then I will have to ask her how something she wants. A hug? We both respond to hugs, sometimes, “Just hug me,” or, “Look me in the eye.” A connecting behavior of some sort may repair it quickly.
Harville Hendrix: And then if, however, the memory that was a real sensitive one, we have the option of going into a full dialogue and talking about how that negative thing I experienced from you, triggers this memory for me, so that she can know or I can know that, then get curious, can know that I need to go to empathy and to holding that. And then we have a really complicated one. If it’s really difficult, I may need more than empathy. I may need an actual request for behavior change, and we call that the behavior change request process. And that means we go through a process to arrive at a behavior that I need to have from you so that I can predict my safety with you. And then Helen will agree to initiate that maybe, or if it’s on my side, I will initiate that behavior, so that the repair… But that’s when it’s really deep.
Neil Sattin: Right. I remember, in going through that dialogue in your workshop, how nice it was… I believe you have us come up with three or four options.
Harville Hendrix: Right.
Neil Sattin: So it’s not just like, “This is my request, honor it. Please honor it.” But, “Here are a few options for you. And any one of these things would satisfy me, or would feel like a step in the right direction.” And I feel like that’s important.
Harville Hendrix: It really is important because if it’s just one thing, “Here’s my hurt, here’s what I want,” it sets up a power struggle instead of a collaboration. But if they’re, “I’m hurt. Three things, any one of three things would help with that,” then I get a choice about which one of those I can do, which one I will do, and which one will not stretch me at all if I did it, and so I’ll pick one that’s challenging because I want to grow. But if I have choices, then I can participate. But we found that if I don’t give you a choice, it’s going to trigger your resistance. Then even if you did something, it wouldn’t matter, because the psychological energy of a generosity is not there. But if I have a choice, I can be generous; If I don’t have a choice, I’d be resentful. We don’t want a therapeutic process that creates resentment.
Neil Sattin: Speaking of, I’m curious about the way that Imago handles shame. I could see, for instance, you take the zero negativity pledge and one person or the other dumps something toxic into the relational space. It happens. So how would you want to handle the shame that one might feel from having done that? Or we’re in the Getting the Love You Want conversation, a lot of people have shame attached to their desires and to the very thing that they want to ask for. It might bring them shame to ask for it. So I’m just wondering if you have a way of holding that?
Harville Hendrix: Well, to me, the shame is dealt with by holding the request or holding the failure, so that you… I think the reparative or the healing or the reconnecting process always is that if it’s guilt that you mirror back at, so you’re feeling guilty about that, so shame… So that felt shameful to you. I’m getting that, there’s some more about it, so then don’t shame back or guilt back. But once a person has become… Has had their… And you know those emotions are all connected to developmental processes. If you’re always into guilt, you’re probably not into shame, you’re into… You did bad behaviors. But if you’re into shame, which is an earlier developmental issue, you’re into not being a good person. And so…
Harville Hendrix: But in either case, they are all created by the parent who does not hold the child’s behaviors and experiences at the time. And when those are held without judgment but with curiosity, that for us is what restores connection, whether it’s shame or guilt, is it’s… I don’t end up… Haven’t been able… I know there are shame books and guilt books and all kinds of things, but as I have read the literature for the past 40-50, nearly 60 years now, underneath all of those things, there’s something that repairs everything. So it’s not a shame repair. And what repairs shame and guilt and anger and all of that is presence. If I can be present to you without judgment, and hold you with curiosity, something will happen inside of you around that transaction, whether it… Whatever it was, guilt or shame. And it will be mitigated by the fact that it’s not repeated in our interaction.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I am so appreciative of your time and wisdom again. I just want to remind everyone that if you want to download a transcript of this episode, we’ve had so many valuable action items and takeaways from this conversation, you can visit neilsattin.com/imago3. That’s I-M-A-G-O 3, after their Imago therapy and Imago dialogues. And I also encourage you to listen to our first two episodes together, episode 22 and episode 108, where we go into more detail about how to do dialogues in the structured way that we’ve been referring to today. And also, we talk a lot in episode 108 about creating lots of positive force in your relationship.
Neil Sattin: Before we go, I just… I want to mention something that feels super important to me, and it’s kind of funny that we waited until the end to chat about it, but one of the most important changes that I noticed in the book, along with all of the wonderful updates to the content that you mentioned, is that now, Helen, your name is also on the cover of the book as an author. And I just want to acknowledge that you write about it beautifully in the preface, both of you, about your process of how that came to be. Do you want to give us just a quick snapshot of that now? Because I know a lot of people ask about that and why, for so long, Helen, your name wasn’t on the cover when you so clearly were involved in creating this work.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, thanks for asking, and maybe I’ll go first.
Harville Hendrix: Okay.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: I look back now and am surprised at my own disassociation of the idea of being on the cover. At the beginning, I vehemently fought against it because I had a prominent last name and was from a family that had sort of, not world recognition, but in certain industries, world recognition. [chuckle] My last name is known around the globe and in certain places, certain industries, and Harville was a sharecropper’s son and both parents had passed away by the time he was six. He was the youngest and was almost sent to the orphanage. So while I saw his brilliance, I didn’t think his last name… Well, I just wanted this chance to have the theory so powerfully presented in this book, I just felt like it should be his name. It was his idea to focus on this book and so much of the content was him, and I was the ideal number two for him, we both think, but I wanted his name on it.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: But I just kept… Once he became so famous, I really missed that I wasn’t recognized very much at all, but I dreamed I would be on the cover, and that was Harville’s idea. But from the very beginning, there was some sort of dissociation that women have that I was a part of, that I had been, and that I recently wrote a paper on all of the things I did to prepare myself as a therapist before I met Harville. I got a master’s in counseling psych, went halfway through a PhD in clinical psych. I love this stuff, but I just sort of dissociated from it. And it’s a tremendous, joyful, beautiful thing that Harville had the idea of including me, and that I get to be visible as his number two.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Well, and the reason her name is on the cover is that she is the co-creator of Imago. The first few sentences in the first year, in 1977, when we met, the conversation led to Getting the Love You Want, and Helen facilitated finding a writer and facilitated the research, all kinds of things, plus the conversation about content was there and the contribution, like Helen invented dialogue, it was her idea to do that structured process. Zero negativity came from Helen. And so I pick up a lot of things that she would say, and since I’m a systemic thinker, I then build that into the system, but… So a lot of pieces in the system… I take full credit for the structure of the system, but not for all of the limbs on the body of the system. So it was clear that we are co-creators with equal and unique contributions to it, and that Helen refused to have her name… That she was offered to have her name on in 1988, then she said no. But after a while, it began to agitate both of us that there was something wrong with this public recognition of me, part of which could be explained, because I was on the Oprah show.
Harville Hendrix: But that was also part of the problem that Helen, not being on the cover, didn’t get on the Oprah show. So I’m the visible person, and she is the supportive housewife, even if she does have a famous name. I suddenly became as well-known, if not better known than her last name. So it began to just look like that. So when we got to the 30th, it occurred to me, and then I had this epiphany that it’s not like a deserved thing. She deserves to be on it, or I want to be generous. It dawned on me one day that I colluded with the cultural devaluation of women, and that I’m married to one of the most powerful women in the world, who was a co-creator of a book and she’s invisible around one of the things she loves the most. Helen colluded, too. She’s a feminist, she is probably ranked as the second most influential feminist in America in terms of her contribution to women. But somehow, she disassociates herself from… Not from that work, but from our work.
Harville Hendrix: So it dawned on me, as we were getting ready to write the preface to the new book, that, just like an epiphany, “Wow, look at this. Can you imagine, if we colluded with the cultural trance, how could we understand everybody else’s collusion with the cultural trance? No wonder it’s so hard for women to get the right jobs and break through the glass ceiling, and be pastors in churches and bishops in Catholic churches, and everything where women are unequal. It’s just wrong, and it needs to be righted.” So we did it to cleanse our own souls and to make a statement to the culture, that gender inequity is basically a pathology. And hopefully, we have awakened from that trance and into at least a smidgen more health as a result of that. So her name is where it belongs. And another thing, it’s a justice. Social justice is when equity shows up. And so this is a relational justice or partnership justice, in which we are truly partners, and she’s not my helper. She’s a partner, and we are equal in this project.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Well, and for me, I was known for being in the Hunt family and getting dividends. I started using dividends and I’m known as a donor, and my work in feminism is my head, but Imago is my heart and…
Harville Hendrix: Yeah.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: That’s who I am at my heart. And so it’s a beautiful experience, getting to have my heart seen more and being more of a partnership. So thank you for asking.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And just, for me, it was super powerful to pull the book out of the wrapper and to see both of your names there. I had a visceral experience, so…
Harville Hendrix: Are you…
Neil Sattin: Yeah, I did.
Harville Hendrix: Yeah. Great.
Neil Sattin: Yeah.
Harville Hendrix: Oh, we’re glad. And I think, as it occurs to me, while we’re talking, is you cannot really become without the resignating other. And so it’s really helpful to me, and I think probably helpful to you, that people can say, “Yes, you all are equal partners. And Helen is an equal partner with you.” Makes her an equal partner. There’s something about the resonance of you and the public to that, that helps Helen integrate it. Otherwise, the disassociation is hard to overcome for both of us, because I was disassociated too.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And for me, this is a reminder too, for everyone who’s listening, to just think about what you, in your relationship, what you are creating together, and to acknowledge that the ways that we do create things or support each other, but even in the support, it’s truly a co-creation.
Harville Hendrix: Yes.
Neil Sattin: Things wouldn’t be possible without… And that’s the beauty of it, right? Is we get to create amazing things that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Harville Hendrix: And you’re co-creating each other all the time, just like you create a baby together, then you co-create each other as parents, in where every interaction changes us. So we’re constantly co-creating, but we don’t know it, but it’s so subtle. But it is the primary reality, we think. So thank you for asking.
Neil Sattin: My pleasure. And thank you both for being here and being willing to talk about the theory, the mind stuff, and the heart stuff, and to share some of your own personal journey. It’s super powerful and such a treat to be able to talk to you again here for Relationship Alive.
Harville Hendrix: And for us, Neil.
Helen LaKelly Hunt: Thank you.
Harville Hendrix: Thank you. We love talking to you.
Neil Sattin: My pleasure.
Harville Hendrix: We read your newsletters every time they come out.
Neil Sattin: Do you? [laughter]
Harville Hendrix: Yes.
Neil Sattin: Well, hopefully, you’ve been entertained lately. [laughter]
Harville Hendrix: We keep up with you. Yes.