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by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 7th 2005

Getting the Love You Want Audio Companion

Listening to this Audio Companion to Getting the Love You Want makes me both wistful and wondering.  The basic assumptions of its authors are simple.  It is for couples that are having deep troubles in their relationships.  They explain that people were hurt in their childhoods because their parents or caregivers fail them in significant ways.  As we grow up and start looking for partners, we consciously look for someone quite different from our parents.  However, unconsciously we yearn to solve the problems of our childhood and seek out people who duplicate the personalities of our parents, and thus we end up experiencing the same difficulties with our partners as we did with our parents.  Thus relationships are bound to run into difficulty.  They are for carrying out the unfinished business of childhood. 

Furthermore, Hendrix and Hunt believe that couples can solve problems by dialog with each other.  In their formal dialogs, one person takes the role of sender and the other takes the role of receiver.  One person aims to understand and communicate his or her understanding of what the other is saying.  This helps to ensure accurate communication and allows each partner to feel understood.  As couples go through the different sessions week by week, they examine the past and learn about each other.  They come to see how the other was wounded as a child, and this helps them to understand why they act as they do.  This should help them to become less angry when their partner acts in ways that fail to meet their needs. 

The authors recommend a process of understanding and coming to communicate better so that each individual in a couple can come to get what he or she wants out of the relationship.  One of the greatest problems for couples is that their dialogs become negative and unproductive, so the exercises spend a great deal of time helping people to express their desires in positive rather than critical ways, and to express feelings as personal emotions rather than as hurtful judgments.  These can be useful skills that would benefit many couples.

The program is organized into 12 sessions, with one week between each session.  There are between-session assignments and couples must do work in order to keep the program.  Each session should last about 2 hours.  So this is an intensive piece of work, and will last 3 months or so.  Any couple that is committed enough to carry out this program must be strongly motivated, and it is easy to imagine that many couples will benefit from this process. 

Personally, listening to this audiobook takes me back quite a few years, to the time when I first started to learn about psychodynamic thinking and read such like-minded books such as Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child.  Much of their discussion of "childhood wounds" now seems rather dated, given that much research seems to indicate that children are generally quite resilient and parents have relatively little effect on the emotional lives of their children.  Of course, this sort of research is controversial and presumably therapists such as Hendrix and Hunt would argue that there is good evidence for their methodological assumptions.  But it is pretty clear that the tide has turned against simplistic psychodynamic models, and now therapists tend to focus on cognitive behavioral models that are more concerned with the present than delving into the past and looking to understand how parental failures have caused our emotional problems in adult lives.

Despite their readiness to talk about unconscious influences on our conscious choices and the importance of the past, many of the exercises the authors give are in fact centered on the present relationship, and encourage ways of giving positive feedback and reinforcing pleasing behavior as much as voicing dissatisfactions, so it would be misleading to say that the authors' approach is incompatible with more modern cognitive-behavioral methods.  They call their view "Imago Therapy" which as a name has a slightly cultish feel to it, but the basic approach of the audiobook is probably not very different from that of most couple's therapists. 

As with individual psychotherapy, it helps very much to be highly motivated to work on a relationship, and it is difficult to get both people to be motivated at the same time.  I find it hard to imagine that a couple with serious troubles is going to be able to sit down and use this audiobook alone to sort out their difficulties.  Presumably they would do best to find a good couple's therapist to work on their issues, but it can be difficult to find a good therapist, and often these days health insurance and other third party payers will not pay for couple's therapy.  So for couples facing a lack of intimacy, especially when this is not linked to separate mental illness of one or both of them, this audiobook could be a useful resource, if used in conjunction with other books and workbooks aimed at couples.  I wonder how many users of the program actually complete it, but so long as it is helpful, it may not matter too much if  not every single session and exercise is followed.  

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.