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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - May 2018 - Kansas City
Love Can Change Everything
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
I am watching the tender spring flowers growing into lush summer greenery. The beautiful blooms fade, giving way to sturdy green plants. Watching this process, I am reminded of the journey of our relationships. What starts with great beauty and promise, giving way to strength, sometimes begins to wither.
Young relationships begin this way but as time goes by and life happens, this love is tested and often falters under the strain. It seems that love demands something after the honeymoon. Now the love relationship requests that we develop further as people. The effect of childhood wounds shows up as our partner’s behavior may trigger anger, fear, sadness or resentment.
Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., in Getting the Love You Want suggests that part of the attraction to a person is that we unconsciously believe this person will fill our unmet needs and desires. We may, on some level, have similar wounds. One of the themes of the Imago theory of relationships that he and his wife and colleague, Helen LaKelley Hunt, Ph.D, developed is that the purpose of our relationship is to assist each other in the healing of emotional wounds.
To change the often negative conversation from the four destructive forms of communication; criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling (J.Gottman) we need a different approach. Offering sentence stems that help the couple acknowledge the problem, the feelings it evokes and the possible source is a powerful reframe. This is how the couple is asked to voice the concern:
“When you…(e.g.,) ignore me when I come into the house”
“I feel…hurt and invisible and
“It reminds me of…my dad never acknowledging my presence or ideas.”
“What scares me about that is….I will never be recognized or important to you or anyone.”
This exercise helps us to dig into the unconscious roots of our reactivity. Earlier psychoanalytic theories and newer neurobiological information concur that our experiences from conception to about seven years old are the unconscious container for our physical and emotional experiences and memories. About ninety percent of the time we are drawing from this personal unconscious as we react in the present moment.
Here is the reason for that. The limbic, or mammalian brain, along with the reptilian brain (survival brain) are our operating tools until about age seven. At this time our frontal cortex begins to develop. This process continues until we are about twenty-five. So, though we think we are in the present, our brain is retrieving information from earlier limbic brain experiences.
As the couple practices the dialogue for understanding this, both begin to become aware of their own needs and desires and that of their partners. Each begins to ask the other for a change of behavior which will help and nurture them. As awareness and empathy grows, the healing process is happening.
Watching couples become more aware of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, I see a softening, opening, changing, and deeper connection. The process of healing one’s own wounds and the wounds of our partners becomes a great dance of understanding and empathy.
Another tool that enhances a couple’s communication is the skill of mirroring. A beginning exercise is for each person to think of an appreciation. As one person expresses the appreciation, the other then mirrors or reflects back what he or she heard. This is difficult to do as we usually want to defend, change the subject, or quickly shrug it off. This process helps us to really hear the other person and acknowledge him/her.
Try this out. Anytime you are having any conversation, especially a difficult one, mirror the other person’s words. This keeps us from jumping into the four destructive forms of communication (Gottman) we often use. The repetitive, go nowhere argument, is interrupted and understanding often begins to occur.
I hope, as you use these tools and others you may have, your important relationships can continue to grow in all seasons, producing beautiful blossoms and deep roots.
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Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to