Couple Laura Girardeau, left, and Chris Hundhausen enjoy the sunset from their home in Manoa Valley.

the language of imago

The honeymoon may be over, but
with some guidance and practice,
couples may find bliss through the
principals of Imago relationship therapy

By Nancy Arcayna

Many of us live through the failure of our romantic fantasies. The "happily ever after" just doesn't seem to last. After two lovebirds move in together or marry, their relationship is subject to change due to all manner of stresses they never anticipated.

The first casualty of this change is the illusion of the "soul mate." All of a sudden, one's perfect partner seems to possess unbearable qualities. The special someone who was supposed to make you feel complete and connected doesn't exist. The romantic bliss transforms into frustration and disappointment, and individuals may find themselves living with their worst nightmare.

"Everybody's got issues," said relationship therapist Jacqueline Winter. Most people aren't conscious of the healing and growth they are supposed to experience in a relationship. So, they end up continually wounding each other, she said.

Winter, the only Certified Imago Relationship Therapist on Oahu, works with couples and individuals. According to Winter, Imago Relationship Therapy is designed for couples who are experiencing difficulties and want to resolve their conflicts, are beginning a relationship, are considering divorce but want to work things out, or those who want to enrich their relationship. Singles can learn to understand why past relationships didn't work, how to create fulfilling relationships, how to break destructive patterns, and heal old hurts and frustrations.

Imago Therapy, recently the subject of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," was founded by Dr. Harville Hendrix, the author of "Getting the Love You Want," during the early 1980s. Hendrix believes that individuals who grow up in Western cultures unconsciously bring unfinished business from childhood into romantic relationships for resolution.

Relationship therapist Jaqueline Winter is the only counselor on Oahu who is certified in the Imago method recently discussed on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"People want magic pixie dust. They want everything to be resolved in one session," said Winter. Unfortunately, 10 to 12 sessions are the norm.

Among those she has counseled are Laura Girardeau and Chris Hundhausen, who have been married for nearly seven years.

"Like most people in our society, I entered our relationship with the myth that good relationships are free of conflict, and that if I loved my partner enough, we would live happily ever after," said Hundhausen. "We were strongly attracted to each other from the start, and we went nearly a year without even so much as an argument."

The couple started practicing the Imago therapy concepts after reading Hendrix's book and made their first visit to Winter's office about a year ago.

The Imago process has changed our lives, said Girardeau. "We're both interested in personal growth, so we've taken advantage of counseling even during the good times.

"In some methods, the counselor acts as an expert and the couple becomes dependent on them. In Imago, the relationship itself is seen as the 'expert,' offering partners an opportunity to heal childhood wounds and grow spiritually."

Jacqueline Winter counsels a couple and teaches them how to communicate with each other using the intentional dialogue process recommended in Imago Relationship Therapy.

THE BASIC PRINCIPLE of Imago Relationship Therapy is that individuals must repair damage from unmet childhood needs. According to Hendrix's theory, this healing must occur within a relationship and that is why we seek out partners possessing traits of our caregivers.

"Imago" is the image of a person who will make a partner feel whole again, and although it's unintended, individuals gravitate toward the very traits that are running from, even though it's not obvious in the beginning of a relationship, said Winter.

"Even though we choose a partner who will drive us crazy sometimes, that conflict is the path to intimacy," said Girardeau. "By learning how to share our hurt feelings with each other in a safe way, we grow closer and have more energy to share with the community."

"It's really helped me get through some confusing times," added Hundhausen.

Winter said, "Basically, it's not so much about solving the problem. It is more so that they can tell the truth, even though they don't agree and not pollute the sacred space in between by name calling, yelling, hitting or avoiding the issues."

Girardeau described her father as a distant man. "He was a professor who worked on the weekends when I wanted to play with him, he rarely came along on family trips to the zoo or to the park.

"Originally, I thought I had chosen my husband because he was so different from my father," she said. Instead, she found a mate with the same tendencies, which led her to feel abandoned.

"She felt abandoned because of my workaholism," explained Hundhausen, who grew up in a family where he was loved conditionally, based on performance.

"I was working on a dissertation and thought the only way I could be loved was to excel academically." At the time, he was unwilling to admit that he used work to cover up his own need to be loved for who he was. "This insight came later," he said.

"We read 'Getting the Love You Want' together and began to see our struggles as connected to our own childhoods, and not about the present day. What attracts me to Hendrix is the higher level theory that we are drawn to our partners for the purpose of resolving the unfinished business of our pasts," he added.

"For many years, I struggled with the idea that giving Laura what she asked for would somehow be admitting that there's something wrong with me. What I've learned is that giving Laura what she asks for is a gift to her, and says nothing about me," said Hundhausen.

"Building trust requires me to do certain things including giving her the love she needs even though it is difficult for me," he added. "In the process, I reclaim a part of me and I heal as well."

THE FOUNDATION of Imago Therapy is the practice of intentional dialog, according to Winter. The dialog includes repeating the content of your partner's message, validating the other partner's response, empathizing and responding. It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of coaching and practice, she explained. If a married couple can work through their problems together, they can achieve both physical and spiritual wholeness, she added. Criticism is not a part of the process.

"We still have our struggles," said Hundhausen. But rather than viewing them as a sign that we aren't meant for each other, I've learned to accept them as a great teacher. My relationship has become my spiritual path."

Girardeau said, "Now, when I share how I feel, my husband hears how it was for me as a girl, and feels empathy for me. He is now more willing to make changes, such as reserving Saturdays for hikes and picnics.

"At first, it was hard for him to stretch this way. But now he has gotten in touch with his lost self, the adventurous boy who wanted to play, but instead had to do homework and clean the garage," she said. "This is the magic of Imago -- as we understand our and heal our partners, we also heal ourselves."

For more information, call Jacqueline Winter
at 735-1053 or visit

Creating intentional dialog

Imago Therapy calls for the following communication techniques:

>> "Mirror": Accurately reflect back the content of your partner's message. "Let me see if I got that. You were saying ..."

>> "Validate": Tell your partner that what they have conveyed (and that you have mirrored) makes sense -- that they are not crazy or stupid. To validate, does not mean you agree. It recognizes that a partner's subjective experience is as logical as your own.

>> "Empathize": Convey to a partner that you recognize and can imagine what he or she is feeling.

-- Provided by Jacqueline Winter

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