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Find healing in the union of opposites

We are always challenged by how our partner is different from us. Obvious but instructive, we can learn about ourselves and hope for a happy relationship if we can only pay attention to the genius of our dilemma.

Here’s a quote from Joyce Brothers: “The cynic finds love with the idealist. The rebel with the conformist. The social butterfly with the bookworm. They help each other balance their lives.”

My wife and I can be generally found in this struggle. We are opposites in many ways. I’m kind of a thinker and she’s a doer. And then sometimes she can be sensitive and I can be insensitive.

That’s the method behind my struggle with coupling that comes across in these articles. Whether at home or in my office, I’m learning, feeling, doing — and sometimes suffering — through the lessons of coupling.

Imago Therapy, as described by Harville Hendrix, has a particular insight in this age-old struggle. He describes the process of picking our opposite based on unfinished childhood business. It seems that we pick our partner based on an unconscious desire for them to heal our childhood wounds.

It is an exquisite model. See, we pick a partner with the same wound but the opposite response or defense. That’s where the word “Imago” comes from. They are our mirror image but opposite, like in a mirror.

It is one of those odd phenomena of perception. If you look in the mirror, you actually don’t see yourself, you see a reverse image of yourself. A picture, on the other hand, is the actual image.

So we see in our partner the same wound but a coping mechanism we wish we had. We love how tough they are but don’t want them to be tough on us. Or, we appreciate how kind they are and then get frustrated with their indecision.

You’ll just have to trust me that we really do marry them hoping we can learn to do what they do. I have to remind myself of that, too.

She’s organized, I’m not. I want to stack my stuff. You’re familiar with the old file by pile method. She has actual files, alphabetized and all. We both get frustrated with each other in our respective fastidious or slovenly approaches.

Our coupling work is to accept the other, learn and further develop our weakness or wounded approach. Our coping is essentially a reaction against threat of loss. We act the way we do because that is what worked best with our parents.

Are you a clingy lover or do you want your space? Without doubt, this is what worked best for you in your family of origin.

Problem is, you probably married your opposite and you are forever trying to get them to love you the way you want to be loved. That is, to heal your childhood wounds.

As we mature, we have the ability to trust our matured self to heal the child hood wounds and then allow our partner to love us the way mature adults can love one another. That is through acceptance, encouragement, trust, compromise, a lot of service and a little humor thrown in for good measure.

Bruce Conn is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and works with individuals and couples. Contact him at or call 478-742-1464.