Getting the Love You Want

Getting the Love You Want

Improve your love life with this exclusive excerpt from Harville Hendrix.


IN THE ORIGINAL EDITION OF THIS BOOK, published in 1988, I included an exercise to help couples release their repressed sorrow and anger. I called it “The Full Container Exercise.” It was based on the psychodynamic model of psychology that views the self as a container that is filled with pent-up emotions. According to this school of thought, purging those emotions helps people relieve their anxiety and depression and go on to live more satisfying lives.

I agreed with this theory, so I adapted a new technique for couples. Here’s how it went. First, I asked a couple to sit down in chairs that faced each other. I designated one partner “the sender,” and the other “the receiver.” Then I asked the sender to identify a chronic frustration that was interfering with their relationship: “You’re always late.” “You don’t really listen to me.” “You don’t help with the housework.” “You’re on my case all the time.” “You don’t value what I have to say.” Then, I asked the sender to think about how that frustration might be linked with painful childhood experiences.

Once the connection was made, I encouraged the sender to express that frustration to the partner, amplifying the annoyance until it turned into outright anger. To protect the psyche of the receiver, I asked the receiving partner to create an imaginary shield to deflect the partner’s anger and keep from feeling under attack. “The anger is not just about you,” I would advise. “Its roots are deep in your partner’s childhood.” Once the catharsis was over, I helped the couple deal with the original frustration by using the Stretching Exercise described in the previous chapter.

Years ago, I viewed the Container Exercise as one of the flagship techniques in Imago Therapy. But as time went on, I saw that it produced mixed results. The final portion of the exercise, the Stretching Exercise, always worked. But, sometimes, the emotional catharsis had the opposite effect of the one I intended. Couples would become more conflicted than they were before.

Eventually, I discovered literature from other therapists that confirmed my experience. I stopped using the Container Exercise in workshops and private sessions, and I have removed it from this revised edition of Getting the Love You Want. Having two people in a love relationship vent their anger at each other—even within the confines of a structured exercise and under the watchful eye of a therapist—could cause more harm than good. This was a clear example of reality not fitting the theory.


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