This Popular Book Lauded by Oprah Perpetuates Domestic Abuse. It’s Gotta Go

… why is it even still around?

There’s a book from the 80’s called “Getting the Love You Want.” It’s been making the rounds on the self-help circuit and is championed by Oprah (Ref).

Oprah sees it as powerful, I see it as taking away power.

But the book is counterintuitive to personal growth. It’s negatively impactful to mental well-being and forwards outdated & limiting views on relationships and healing.

Not only abusive relationships, the book isn’t helpful for anyone or any relationship.

Quick Deets:

  • Authors: Married couple, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and Helen Lakelly Hunt Ph.D.
  • Back Cover Claim: “helped millions of couples attain more loving, supportive, and deeply satisfying relationships.”
  • Over two million copies sold
  • New York Times Bestseller

Book Overview

Husband and wife team of relationship therapists deliver their method for relationships called “The Imago Method”. It’s founded on the theory that we’re attracted to our partners because they represent an opportunity for us to heal childhood or relationship wounds.

They suggest that what we refer to as “love at first sight” is actually our unconscious reminding us of childhood and unfinished business. We don’t see our partner as an autonomous being, but as a utility we can use to heal our wounds and repressed issues.

The authors suggest that when we’re in a relationship, the purpose of the relationship is to heal childhood wounds. This in an effort to become whole.

General Review

This book does not heal, it has the potential to harm. The Imago method encourages readers to stay in relationships they’ve outgrown and with partners that may be unhealthy for them. It is not healthy for any relationship, and is particularly damaging for those in a relationship where there’s manipulation, narcissism or abuse present.

“Getting the Love You Want” is counterintuitive to mental health and well-being.

The authors are completely tone deaf to abusive relationships. Their methods perpetuate abuse and advocates for codependency. Hendrix also forwards his religion under the guise of psychology, uses outdated Freudian Theory and low key shames people for getting divorced or leaving a bad situation.

There’s a lot to breakdown. Below are sections outlining how the book is harmful. Each linked to the title headings so you can jump around if you’d like.

The Imago Method Advocates for Codependency

Hendrix suggests we’re responsible for our partner’s psychological and spiritual growth. And that we’re obligated and need to stay in a relationship for a lifetime to help our partners heal their childhood wounds. Translation: he suggests and encourages codependency.

If codependency occurs neither partner is whole. And while in a relationship we can help our partner work through past trauma but we are not responsible for their growth.

You’re not responsible for your partner’s growth. They are. Of course you should support and encourage them, but there’s only so much you can do. If you take on the responsibility of their growth, you’re going to lose yourself. It’s very likely you’ll become depressed, anxious and sad. It can feel like you can’t leave the toxic relationship.

If you want to be in a healthy relationship, you need to focus on being the best you. Your partner can focus on being the best them. Let people take on their own responsibility. There’s enough to go around.

The Imago Method Hinders Personal Growth

While it may seem the Imago method is helping to uncover “old wounds”, it’s actually hindering growth. We all need outside help, but growth is made by the individual and doesn’t need a partner.

To suggest we need a partner to grow is to suggest codependency. We cannot grow if we focus on others or need to rely on others for our growth.

Readers of the book are encouraged to make unhealthy compromises for their relationship to work. All at the sacrifice of their own autonomy. This will not help in other areas of life and also will not help in future relationships.

While the reader may feel things are getting better, it’s not genuine progress.

The Imago method encourages readers to stay with partners who may have traumatized them or who they may have outgrown. It also encourages boundary reduction and self-sacrifice to make ensure “to death do us part.”

When we grow we change. I’m not suggesting people leave their marriages, but I AM suggesting they choose themselves over a marriage. This book does the opposite, to an unhealthy extreme.

The Imago Method Perpetuates Abuse

When I talk about abuse, I mean any type of controlling, manipulative behavior. It can be physical and/or mental. And can include narcissists and other bad actors.

The whole “staying for life to fix your partner,” is pointless when dealing with abusers. Abusers are going to stay as long as they are getting benefits from the abuse. Why would they leave?

If anything, an abuser wants you to read this book so you won’t leave. Then they know they can abuse you and you’ll stay forever trying to help them “fix” their wounds.

The Imago Method Validates Abusers

A common excuse for abuse is that the abuser had a troubled childhood. “Getting the Love You Want,” reinforces this excuse. Hendrix forwards the misguided idea that relationship issues are because of childhood wounds. He then encourages readers to help fix their partner’s wounds.

I don’t care how horrible someone was treated in childhood or if they feel they have a childhood “wound”. There is NO excuse for abuse. None at all. Millions of people who were abused are not abusive.

If an abuser is using the excuse that they’re abusive because of their childhood, this book, and the doctor who wrote it, only supports that excuse. The book validates the abuser while it invalidates the abused partner and tells them they need to stay with their abuser forever.

The Imago Method Can’t Heal Wounds

Someone who’s abused is more likely to find themselves in a relationship with another abuser during their life. Because what feels familiar is not always healthy.

Victims of abuse reading this book are told they need to stay with their abusive partner to heal their wounds. When really they need to be away from an abuser to do that.

Abuse is normalized. Only when out of the abusive relationship and separate from the abuser will the abused individual be able to heal.

Victims of abuse are attractive to abusers. Abusers see victims as easy targets. Victims can be more likely to put up with abuse because they either don’t know any better or sadly do not realize they deserve better.

Hendrix encourages this, and tells victims to stay with their abusers to “fix” them. He dangles the love these victims so desperately seek (and rightfully deserve) in front of them. He tells them he will teach them how to get it. Then he tells them to accept abuse.

Related Article: How to Start Using Inner-Child Work With the Circle Technique

The Imago Method Victim Shames

The book low key shames people for getting divorced or leaving a bad, abusive or hostile relationship. Hendrix then forwards his bias and tries to manipulate the reader into staying in a bad relationship by shaming them for leaving.

This is like how victims are guilted into going back “for the kids”. People tell victims to be forgiving of their abusers and that “people change.” Abusers DO NOT change unless they are forced to. They WILL NOT feel any force to change if they continue to get benefits and their victims never leave.

The Imago Method Is Religion Under the Guise of Psychology

It’s blatantly clear Hendrix has a negative inference of people who get divorced. Surprising since he’s divorced himself. Hendrix lets his bias slip while discussing how people get divorced and get remarried to just have issues again.

In one patient account, he discusses a male patient who apparently wished he had discovered the Imago method. The patient thought he would still be married and with his children. I can only wonder if Hendrix was wishing he was married to his first wife still as well.

The religion shines through in other aspects and was abundantly clear when he states: “We have come to believe that couples who decide to make a lifelong commitment should make every effort to honor their vows to stay together “’til death do us part”—not for moral reasons, but for psychological ones: fidelity and commitment create feelings of safety that allows couples to work on their unconscious issues and heal their childhood wounds—the unconscious purpose of all committed love relationships.”

It was only after I made this deduction that I found out Hendrix has strong religious affiliations.

The Imago Method Uses Outdated Freudian Theory

Freud turned his back on his patients. Basically, it was good for his rep to hang out with elites, so he pushed their pedophilia under the rug. An act that continues to negatively impact women today.

Freud’s “construct started a hundred-year history in the mental health field of blaming victims for the abuse perpetrated on them and outright discrediting of women’s and children’s reports or mistreatment by men.” Lundy Bancroft.

Freud not only covered up, but also contributed to the world of pedophilia and abuse. His stance on women and many of Freud’s other theories (including homosexuality) have been discredited.

(I typically let this stuff slide because I assume those referencing Freud don’t know any better. But as a psychologist, Hendrix knew of Freud’s past and references him in this book targeted towards a female demographic.)

Couples Counseling Doesn’t Work With Abusers, Manipulators or Narcissist

Couples counseling doesn’t work for abusers, narcissist or people who are not willing to change. Especially when done by a tone-deaf psychologist. In fact, it can perpetuate abuse by reassuring the abuser of his distorted reality he uses to justify the abuse.

Abuse expert Lundy Bancroft discusses this in his book, “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.” (Note: Lundy uses “men” because a large majority of abuse is by men. However, Lundy makes the disclosure that women can be abusive.)

In his book, Lundy explains the difficulties he’s had while working with abusive men and how therapy typically encourages their abusive behavior. Lundy explains, “couples counseling sends both the abuser, and the abused woman the wrong message.”

“The abuser learned that his partner is “pushing his buttons” and “touching him off” and that she needs to adjust her behavior to avoid getting him so upset. This is precisely what he has been claiming all along. Change in abusers comes only from the reverse process, from completely stepping out of the notion that his partner plays any role in causing his abuse of her.” Lundy Bancroft

We Deserve Better

If you want healthy relationships, the book “Getting the Love You Want” is not what you need. Even if you’re not in an abusive relationship, the book will not help or heal you.

In fact, it suggests methods that will hurt your mental and emotional well-being in the long run. So while it may feel good now, you’re not helping yourself long term.

“On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.” (Ref)

Similar to the field of psychology and couples counseling, the authors (and recommenders) of this book are completely tone-deaf when it comes to abuse and trauma.

So much in fact, that they are unknowingly perpetuating abuse. While this may not have been done with malicious intent, this is a serious matter that needs to be approached with greater care.

In the United States three women a day are murdered by their domestic partner. Sometimes in front of their children. This book could very well have contributed to a woman’s murder. I know this sounds extreme, but abuse is extreme. We deserve better.

Note to the Authors

Author’s like Lundy Bancroft and Melody Beattie helped me find myself and overcome very difficult times. That’s what self-help is all about. Had I not read their books before I read yours, your book could have had the power to put my life in a dangerous direction.

I would have stayed with an abusive partner because I thought I needed to “heal” them. When really I needed to get away from them.

Thankfully, Melody taught me that there’s enough responsibility to go around. And thankfully Lundy taught me not to accept excuses for abuse—the ones that you forward.

People who are struggling turn to you for guidance. They trust you and your expertise. You let them down.

Image by Lubos Houska

Domestic Abuse Hotline and Resources

If you are impacted by domestic abuse there are resources to help. Please call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (available 24/7). They also have a live chat here.

1.888.799.SAFE (7233)
TTY: 1.800.787.3224

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Published by Lyndsey Getty

Hiya, I’m Lyndsey and I'm following my dream of being a writer! Just a few months ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to share my writing. But I gained confidence by utilizing the very things I write about, EQ, betterment, philosophy and psychology. Please Support My Writing! 👍 Like articles and share them with your network. 💬 Comment on posts to LMK your thoughts! ️⬇️Follow me on social 🍓 Sign-up for my weekly newsletter, the Mid-Week Snack 

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