What is really happening in LOVE relationships?


I’m sure you’ve heard the divorce statistics, 50% of marriages end in divorce, over 60% of second marriages end in divorce. But the reality is that 95% of marriages fail to achieve what we’re all hoping for, to find real love. I believe that this extremely high failure rate is due to the lack of knowledge that we all have when we enter into the most important relationship of our lives. It’s not about whether we married the right person; it’s knowing the purpose of committed partnerships and understanding what we’re really getting into.

As adults, we all think we have freedom of choice in selecting our partners. We fall in love with the person of our dreams who helps us to feel alive, connected and whole.   Then, before we know it, that magical, connected feeling disappears. Some of us attempt to coerce our partners into regaining the magic through intimidation, crying, withdrawal or criticism.  Others may continue in the unsatisfying relationship hoping that one day, things will change or resign themselves to “this is as good as it gets”.

There are many of us who plunge forward into a new partnership, hoping to do it differently and think yes…..  “I have done it right this time”. Unfortunately the same result or pattern arises and they find themselves in a similar space of disillusionment, sadness, upset and even anger. The question arises “What is going on?” Why does it start out so good, only to turn sour?

Shattered dreams are painful and gruelling. But there is hope. It is not because we have fallen out of love or chosen the wrong partner. We have just misunderstood what love relationships are all about and are unable to recognize that we actually have been guided to the right partner who can help us to feel whole again.

The unconscious forces that attract two people together, has a purpose and the inevitable conflict in the relationship is growth trying to happen. Ever wondered why we are attracted to certain individuals and not others? Imago theory can help explain this.

Our true nature is one of relaxed joyfulness and we are born into this world with a full sense of aliveness, connected to everything around us. With the unintentional aid of our caregivers, we experience ruptures of connection, painful hurts and unmet needs. Even in the best of circumstances, our parents are not able to satisfy all of our feelings and needs of security and comfort. As a result, these painful transactions are stored in the memory banks of our “old brain” and help to form a composite picture of the positive and negative characteristics of our caregivers.  This image or picture is what Harville Hendrix Ph.D. calls the Imago. Deeply imbedded in the primitive part of the brain, this image begins forming at birth and reaches its completion around the age of 6, 7 or 8.

Meanwhile, some of our childhood needs of love and acceptance, security and comfort are fulfilled by our caregivers, many are not. In order to satisfy the yearning and maintain a feeling of being loved, we learn and adopt certain behaviours and patterns. Some of us even deny that we have needs. These learned adaptations help us to survive and stay safe in our childhood.

Now let’s fast forward to our adult life.

As adults, this primitive part of the brain has an unconscious non-negotiable drive to have our feelings of aliveness and wholeness restored to the level we came into this world with.  To accomplish this, we must repair the ruptures of connection experienced in childhood by a partner who can give us what our caregivers failed to provide. Therefore, we go out into the world with a scanner looking for someone with these positive and negative characteristics, a match to our Imago. When we find a match, our brain literally lights up (as shown on MRI scanners of individuals in love).

Our brain sends the signal to release hormones, such as dopamine.  A ‘brain in love’ is essentially anaesthetized with a chemical cocktail and we are given a taste of what is potentially possible.

Thus, we move into relationship with our beloved and we eventually bond and mate. For many, the early beginning is a time of euphoria, rekindling our sense of aliveness, close to what we born with.  However, this attraction phase also known as romantic love comes to an end, and the love drugs wear off.

This illusionary romantic stage is supposed to end and we unconsciously move into the next phase of relationship as planned. It is in this stage, known as the power struggle that we begin to notice and experience the negative characteristics of our partner that we were previously blind to. The conflict in this stage is a signal that we are on the second step of the love journey, a normal succession in love relationships.

Unfortunately, it is these negative qualities that interfere in our relationships and we are fresh out of skills in learning how to reconcile them. With the surfacing of the painful & negative aspects, couples are thrown into a fury of confusion and disillusionment, questioning what has happened and many believe they have made the wrong choice. Many couples will choose to exit their relationship at this time or call up tactics and strategies to coerce their partner into becoming what they want. These are futile attempts and usually add more fuel to the pain of the existing situation. Other couples move into a parallel divorce, living their lives as roommates or uninterested partners. The pain may continue for years, resulting in couples resigning to an uneasy truce. Undeniably, what has actually happened is the recreation of the childhood experiences and the relationship encompasses everything that the couple needs for healing and growth.

What needs to be understood here is that conflict is supposed to happen! It is growth trying to happen and it is supposed to come to an end!  Nature has intended for it to be this way.

Two incompatible people are bonded due to the glue of romantic love and are now trying to coexist as a couple.  In the power struggle, the defenses and protective behaviours learned in early childhood are activated because our old brain has a mission to survive and is unable to differentiate the past from the present. These habitual protective behaviours of crying, anger and withdrawal are no longer useful in helping us get our needs met and it means that learning more effective coping mechanisms are required.

With Imago Relationship Therapy, couples in this expected stage have the potential of moving through the impasses resulting in a deepened state of intimacy and connection, more real than the illusionary romantic stage. Thus Imago creates a safe context in the relationship for the unconscious to become conscious, helping one another to finish the unfinished childhood business. The effective communication tools learned in Imago help to restructure the frustrations. Through a new way of articulating these frustrations and unmet childhood needs, couples are able to be heard, validated and understood. This is a powerful aphrodisiac and an excellent catalyst for connection.

In Imago, we change to give our partners what they need, no matter how difficult it is and no matter how much it goes against our conditioned habits. We stretch to become the person our partner needs in order to heal and the benefit is that we grow into more of a whole person.

By applying the Imago processes and dialogue with conscious intention, we discover our partners’ needs and create safe and renewed partnerships with a deep sense of real love and connection. Thus, we recognize that we are in fact with our dream partner, the one who reminds us of our primary caregivers and has the blueprint for our growth and healing. Through the mutual commitment to one another of meeting the needs of the other, the relationship can reach its highest potential of a conscious, safe and passionate one. This is the story of real love!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *