I am looking for thoughts and opinions on Getting the Love You Want : A Guide For Couples, by Harville Hendrix.
May 5, 2011 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for thoughts and opinions on Getting the Love You Want : A Guide For Couples, by Harville Hendrix. This book was recommended to me by a therapist after our initial session, and now I’m even more confused.

I decided to see a therapist so that I can stop pestering my family, friends and Metafilter (well sorry, one last time) about my apparent inability to move on from my daughter’s father, even though I am the one who ended our on-again off-again relationship each time. My main objective is to gain validity in my decision for not staying with him. Although I can’t even seem to remember ever being extremely attracted to him, and the poor guy irritated me with everything he did, and we didn’t laugh very much, given his good qualities definitely outweigh his bad, I’m plagued with a constant feeling of ambivalence toward him and our relationship. I’m constantly questioning whether or not I should have tried harder to value his good qualities, if I’m just too picky and/or impossible to make happy, if I only feel comfortable in a volatile relationship, or a bigger issue – if I have too little self worth to accept someone truly loving me, so I create issues or put up a wall by finding fault in everything he does. Basically, it’s an exhausting problem, and I’m a mess.

Having just picked up the book yesterday, from what I can gather after a quick skim is the author of this book is suggesting that people unconsciously pick mates with strikingly similar traits, both positive and negative, as their primary caretakers, (in most cases, their parents). He goes on to say that many relationships do not work out because people unknowingly are expecting their partners to help heal their wounds from childhood, and obviously, this is not something a partner will or should be responsible for. Although I haven’t yet had a chance to really get into the book or do the suggested exercises (and I’m not really sure I want to), I really don’t see my parents in my daughter’s father, except for that one very important thing that keeps me unsure about my decision to not be with him - that I know deep down to his core he is a good person.

I’m confused as to why my therapist would suggest this book, mainly because I sensed yesterday she did seem to see some very convincing reasons as to why I always came to the same decision with my daughter’s father. However now I’m left until next week thinking maybe I was getting the wrong vibe from her and she actually feels I do have some deep rooted childhood issues that keep me from being in a relationship with and accepting love from a good person. Yes, I am crazy. But I am trying to move on. I am trying to make some changes and concentrate on only my daughter and myself. I honestly think I just want someone to tell me, “You made the right decision. Move on dammit!” However, I don’t want to wake up 5 years from now regretting what I’ve done, and realizing I only did it because I didn’t let myself have that kind of love. I don’t want to grow old alone.

If anyone has read the book I would be immensely appreciative of hearing your thoughts and opinions about it…how it related to your personal experiences in relationships and/or if you think it applies to mine. Thank you.
posted by aprilc34 to Human Relations (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"They" all love Harville Hendrix. If you do couples therapy, you need to adopt a "theory" and Harville packages a great theory in very understandable terms.

That said, just because there are unconscious reasons for doing something doesn't mean:
1) That it must be a bad idea
2) That there aren't also conscious reasons
3) That your conscious reasons aren't valid.

However, if you become acquainted with your unconscious reasons, it becomes easier to evaluate your decisions because you're not involved with trying to justify them for ulterior motives.

Generally speaking, we learn the vocabulary (of thoughts, feelings, values, etc.) of how to be a human from those we grew up with. We're more comfortable with (that is we understand) people who are speaking a similar language to that we grew up speaking. Others feel more alien and are harder to establish intimacy with. This is separate from what they may be saying in that language, which might even be the exact opposite of anything you may agree with.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:08 AM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've read it and done the exercises, and I found it very helpful. My guess is that your therapist is thinking that the exercises might give you some insight into your decision-making patterns -- not to endorse or condemn your decision to break things off, but to help you avoid repeating what is evidently a pretty stubborn and unpleasant cycle.

I also found David Richo's How to Be an Adult in Relationships very useful.
posted by jon1270 at 9:10 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I honestly think I just want someone to tell me, “You made the right decision. Move on dammit!”

If that were really true, you wouldn't need to come back to AskMetafilter again and again, right? Because we've certainly said it to you and you still need more. I think that's normal. External validation isn't going to be enough for you on this. You have to figure out how to accept it inside.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:19 AM on May 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don’t want to grow old alone.

I can't comment on the book, but I can comment on this. The way you describe your ex, you would be growing old alone if you settled for him.

Staying with someone who irritates you constantly, doesn't make you laugh, and makes you feel like you're crazy (whether or not that's their intention) is not going to give you the satisfaction you seek in a relationship. Hold out for someone who inspires you to be the best version of yourself.
posted by vytae at 9:28 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't read your other questions, but I want to throw something out there:

Maybe you should look at the possibility that in some way, you do love your daughter's father. Maybe just a small tiny bit. But you're not compatible. You're not good together. You don't work. That there is something about him and something about you that together as a couple doesn't work --- at least for you, but maybe there is still love in that unequal equation. And that can be hard place to be, especially when rationally and logically you know that neither of you are a bad person. You can't think of a real reason why the relationship wouldn't work, and you know that he's a good person. That should be enough, shouldn't it?

But it's not.

Two good people is not enough for a good relationship.

I have no way of knowing if this is the case, but sometimes relationships don't work out for reasons well beyond love and compatibility. This may be one of those times where there isn't a fathomable reason why it couldn't work except that it just doesn't. It doesn't make either of you wrong or bad or unable to have another meaningful relationship. It just means it didn't work. And neither of you should have to settle.
posted by zizzle at 9:44 AM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

it's less a matter of trying "harder" than trying differently.

Yes, absorb this word of advice and be set for life. I would discuss the book with the therapist and ask them why they recommended it. Personally, I'd prefer my therapist just tell me he thought I have weird issues with my family and it's affecting my relationships, rather than obliquely hint at it through giving me books.

If you're not happy with the therapist's answer, or feel it doesn't appropriately match your interpretation of what you're feeling, *my* suggestion would be to challenge this with the therapist and see where you get. I feel like my therapist is very responsive to "i don't like this approach; let's change it" and he does without sort of gripping to a particular ideology, if that makes sense.
posted by sweetkid at 9:48 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I’m left until next week thinking maybe I was getting the wrong vibe from her and she actually feels I do have some deep rooted childhood issues that keep me from being in a relationship with and accepting love from a good person

Many, many of us have deep rooted childhood issues that keep us from accepting love. This does not make you crazy, nor is it a rare issue to have. Your therapist sees people with those issues every single day. You are too close to this situation to really get an accurate impression of it, so I think giving the book a shot is a good idea.
posted by crankylex at 10:06 AM on May 5, 2011

I've read a lot of the book but I haven't done the exercises. I've found some of the stuff useful.

There's a singles version called something like, "Getting the Love You Need."
posted by luckynerd at 10:12 AM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: I did like the book a lot. Enough people I respected recommended it although it's not my usual cup of tea.

I feel for you, I think you are confronting a seriously scary big decision, and I think wrestling -- no, agonizing -- over it is entirely appropriate I will push a bit against the wisdom offered here and repeat myself. (I'm old -- that's one of the perks!)
posted by thinkpiece at 10:21 AM on May 5, 2011

I can't comment directly on the book, but I can comment on the idea behind choosing partners that have traits similar to your parents.

I can easily identify the commonalities among my ex-significant others (the ones that I dated for months and years, and even married one), but it has taken me a long while to figure out how they were similar to my parents...in this case, my father. But I'm slowly starting to get it. The short version is that growing up, I never felt quite "good enough" and felt like I always had to somehow "earn" validation and approval. It wasn't obvious behavior from my parents, but the undercurrent was there and I picked up on it at a very early age. Now looking at my past relationships, these guys aren't obviously like my dad (no one would describe them as being similar) but all of the relationships had the same feelings of me needing to "earn" validation and love from my exes. So in that case, I was finding myself in relationships that was similar to how I felt in childhood but it wasn't very obvious.

In short, your therapist may be picking up on a pattern that is "unspoken" in your mind right now. Like I said, it took me a while before that lightbulb came on, and even then I wasn't really looking for the similarities...it just came out one day while talking. Sometimes if you think to hard about it you will get frustrated and it won't make sense.

FWIW...you made the right decision!! It takes time for that doubt to fade, and I've found that occupying myself with things I want to do for me has helped distract my mental energy from focusing on stuff like that. You are doing the right thing...keep going!
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:25 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, so sorry! Here.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:27 AM on May 5, 2011

Best answer: My ex and I read the book when we were together, about 5-6 years ago. He seemed to get quite a bit out of it-- he definitely recognized that experiences with his mother had shaped who he is and his behavior and what he wanted out of a relationship. I thought a lot of the stuff in the book made sense and was glad that it helped me get a better insight into him.

One of the exercises at the end of the book is that both parties individually write down a list of traits that they want for the relationship. Like, "we cook together x number of nights a week" or "we'll have kids and split the parenting tasks evenly" or "we allow a time-out period when we argue". Then you put the lists together and congratulate yourselves on commonalities and discuss the differences and come up with a shared list. When my ex and I did this, I had a pretty good idea of what he was willing and/or able to do in a relationship, so in writing my desires for the relationship I self-selected the things that I knew he would be willing to do. So if I wanted something from the relationship that I already knew he wasn't going to agree to, or was going to go bad (in this example, it was "let me cry and don't try to fix it"), I left it off the list and in doing so wasn't completely honest and didn't allow it to enter into the discussion. So obviously the book isn't perfect, people aren't perfect, and I probably need to go back to therapy.

But when I read your question, I see the underlying concern you have about your ambivalence towards this guy. Having been in a few relationships where I've felt ambivalent, here's what I always end up telling myself: you can't force yourself to feel something when you don't. Sure he might be a good person, but that's not enough to incite your heart to feel something more than ambivalence. If feelings are on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is outright hatred and 5 is meh and 10 is unicorns dancing on rainbow smiles, you're probably at a 5 I would guess? It doesn't sound like 5 is high enough for you, and that's okay. The effort to force your feelings from a 5 to even a 6 or a 7 can be like climbing Mount Shasta, to a 10 like climbing Mount Everest without a sherpa. And the opposite, to go from a 5 to a 3 or 4, is as easy as stepping down a staircase.

Maybe there are people who can do that, who can trick themselves into feeling something more than they really do. I have no doubt it happens often in the early part of a relationship when people are in the infatuation/"new relationship energy" stage. But not for me. If the feelings aren't there at the outset to support the actual relationship part, I get ambivalent and unhappy. I made myself miserable for a year with my ex, trying to figure out if we should stay together. A year!! And, yeah, I feel like a total jerk for that. I feel exactly like you describe-- that I'm too picky or just can't accept that I am worthy of someone loving me. But it is what it is-- I just do not have the ability to force myself to feel something.

But just as you deserve someone who truly loves you, the other person in the situation deserves someone who can truly love them. Not this on-again-off-again ambivalence that you are giving him. And it sounds like you've been in that gray area for a long time. You have had ample opportunity to figure out how to have a solid relationship with this person, and you haven't. I suspect you (and your therapist, natch) aren't so much concerned with "why can't I love this person enough to make it work?" but are really asking "why can't I make a decision about this and stick with it?" I think your fear of growing old alone speaks to that. I think your unease with reading the book and doing the exercises also might speak to that-- maybe you are afraid of doing serious introspection because then you will have to face your decisions and live with them? Maybe this gray area is really working for you, and you are afraid of leaving your comfort zone.

And to bring this way-too-long answer back to your actual question, the book speaks to that as well: how we make relationship decisions and how that behavior is influenced by our past experiences, and how we can recognize that within ourselves in order to move on.
posted by sarahnade at 12:53 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ah, I can so relate to your anxiety and ambivalence here.

- you do not have to be perfect to break up with someone
- even if a perfect person would stay with them, you are who YOU are
- you need to find a relationship that works for your actual human imperfect self, not stay in something wrong forever
- staying in something wrong in hopes of becoming different or dealing with it differently and thereby fixing the problem becomes hubris after a certain point. You are not a superhuman god. You are a mortal who will be happier if you honestly accept and work within your limitations
- even if one day, you grow into a new person who could have made the relationship work, (doubtful), I can tell you from experience, you likely won't be angry at that younger self for ending the relationship. You likely will feel compassion for that suffering younger, stupider self, and feel gratitude that you are a tiny bit wiser
- You grow and learn at your own pace, and even if you think you can overcome some aspect to yourself some day, that takes time.

It may also help to focus on this as anxiety, not entirely as a quest for truth. You sound plagued with worry. You sound tortured by second-guessing yourself. I would identify this to the therapist as what you want to change.

How do you react to other hard situations, like if something goes wrong at work? I blame myself ten different ways before I notice the major contributions others made to the failure. I have to control that tendency to keep from crippling myself. You? You do seem to be thinking you hold enough responsibility that you could change the outcome here. Surely that take-responsibility attitude is helpful in your life, but does it ever go too far?

You are probably under great stress and pain related to the breakup. It is probably making any self doubt worse than usual. Some people (like me) react to pain by looking for what we did wrong. (It's natural; as kids, the pain in your hand was from touhing the hot stove.) It's hard to accept that some pain just has to be.

The Hendrix book is worth reading, I'm sure. Who doesn't get something out of thinking about how their parents relate to their relationship choices? But it may or may not be what you need right now. You might tell your therapist that it heightened your anxieties that if only you were "fixed" that the divorce could've been prevented. Tell him/her you need help accepting your decision, not troubleshooting your relationships. Tell them that in your view, resources for troubleshooting relationships are not helpful in accepting that you chose not to troubleshoot this one. Then listen to them explain their theory in recommending it, which may be a different reason altogether.

Good luck. You have a lot going on all at once. It takes a long time to process a divorce. It may take more talking, therapy, books, AskMe q's, and months, and that's ok.
posted by salvia at 4:47 PM on May 7, 2011

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