Improve your love life with this exclusive excerpt from Harville Hendrix.
In recent years, I’ve added another key exercise to Imago Therapy. Its purpose, like the purpose of all the exercises I’ve described in this chapter, is to help couples leave their negativity behind them and move on to higher ground. This final exercise is the grand finale, the ultimate expression of love and regard between couples. I call it “Positive Flooding.”
In its basic form, two people in a love relationship write down all the things they appreciate about each other. The list can include what they love about each other’s bodies and character traits, appreciation for favors or activities they’ve done in the past, and overall statements of love and adoration. Then the partners take turns “flooding” each other with these specific expressions of love.
In the second part of the exercise, each person gets out a piece of paper and makes a list of all the qualities her or she would like to have praised. “Tell me that you appreciate how hard I work to support us.” “Tell me that you like how intently I listen to you.” “Tell me that you like my long, shapely legs.” Then the partners exchange lists and take turns flooding each other with their specific requests. It’s like making a list of all the things you want for Christmas, only in this case, you get to have them all.
Helen and I practice the flooding exercise regularly. Even though we designed the exercise and have watched it performed over and over again, we still feel moved by the intensity of the love and affirmation we receive from each other. It makes us feel deeply, thoroughly loved.
In the workshop version of the exercise, all the couples perform the exercise simultaneously. One person in each couple sits in a chair while the other partner circles around the chair. For the first minute, I ask the speakers to describe what they like about the partner’s physical features—a graceful curve to the lips, silky skin, a handsome nose and so on. For the next minute, I ask them to speak a little louder and talk about their partners admiral character traits—trustworthiness, honesty, kindness, bravery, intelligence, etc.
The third time around, I ask them to speak louder still and proclaim their gratitude for favors their partners have done for them—nursing them through a cold, putting chains on the tires in the middle of a snowstorm, going willingly to a family reunion, being a source of comfort when a family member had died.
At the culmination of the exercise, the admiring partners proclaim their overall feelings of love and appreciation—“I can’t believe I am married to such a marvelous person.” “I love you, I love you, I love you.” “You are the woman of my dreams!” “You are my best friend and lover!” The energy is contagious. There are shouts of laughter, bear hugs, and tears of joy. Most of us have never heard someone say to us in a strong voice, “I love you.” “You are wonderful.” Instead, we’ve heard people yell, “Be quiet!” “Go away.” “Mind your own business.” “You are crazy!” This exercise opens the flood gates and inundates people with joy.