How to Mend a Broken Relationship in 3 Easy Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is your relationship broken? What steps should you take to fix your relationship problems?

We all have a deep-rooted need to be loved, but often a rift opens between our romantic partners and ourselves. In Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt explain why this happens and how to rescue your failing relationship.

Continue reading to learn how to mend a broken relationship in three ways.

The Path to Healing

To learn how to mend a broken relationship, the authors stress that each partner must feel emotionally safe. You must learn to see each other as separate individuals, and then gradually change to become the person your partner needs you to be. In making this change, you’ll eventually discover that you’re healing yourself as well.

To enable this to happen, Hendrix and Hunt devised a program of exercises around the core concepts of mirroring, validation, and empathy. These exercises fall into three broad categories designed to create feelings of mutual safety, explore your childhood needs and frustrations, and guide you to making the hardest changes of all.

1. Create Safety for Growth

Hendrix and Hunt insist that each partner must commit to the process and agree to remain a couple for at least three months. This creates a feeling of security for a partner who fears abandonment, while the time-limited nature of the commitment can be calming for a partner who feels trapped in an unhappy situation.

The next step is for both of you to identify and limit the ways in which you “escape” from the relationship. This can be by working late, staying out with friends, or spending excessive time pursuing hobbies. It’s also important to discuss the reasons and fears behind these escape routes, using the scripted conversation technique.

Finally, in order to return the relationship to a state that doesn’t inspire the need to escape, it’s vital for a couple to have fun again, and to act the way you once did when you first fell in love. This can be very hard for couples who have been at odds for years. Hendrix and Hunt provides specific exercises to identify ways each partner can show their love and engage in spontaneous fun.

2. Learn Each Other’s Truth

Once a setting of safety has been established, it frees you to become open about your unmet needs. Part of this step in mending your broken relationship requires individual work that begins when you visualize your primary caregivers. This can be either parents, grandparents, or anyone else who was responsible for your upbringing. 

  • Create a list of their positive and negative characteristics without differentiating between which caregivers the traits belonged to.
  • Imagine your greatest childhood frustrations—what you wanted most that your caregivers never gave you.

Once you and your partner have established the general traits of your caregivers and the unmet needs left over from childhood, you’re ready to engage in the “Parent-Child Dialogue.” This scripted exercise is much like the Imago Dialogue, except that one person speaks from their point of view as a child, while their partner takes the role of a parent. The “child” speaks about a negative childhood experience, while the “parent” responds with validation and empathy.

For Hendrix and Hunt, what’s more important than any specific childhood issues is the way in which you and your partner interact. It’s vital that you listen to each other with curiosity and compassion so you can recognize each other as separate individuals and not merely placeholders for your unconscious parental images.

After exploring the ways in which your childhoods shaped you, you will then make a list of your partner’s traits as you perceive them. Many of these will match characteristics that you ascribed to your primary caregivers. With this information, it’s possible to consciously spell out the unconscious needs that you brought into your relationship.

3. Mutual Transformation

Through this process of mending a broken relationship, you can become more aware of the unconscious drives that led you to seek out and create a loving bond. More importantly, you can also learn to understand your partner’s unspoken needs. This is where the hard part begins.

When a relationship is in crisis, we often wish our partner would change to meet our own desires. In a relationship where the couple are conscious allies, we commit to changing ourselves in order to meet our partner’s deepest needs.

The tool that Hendrix and Hunt provide to facilitate gradual transformation is the “Behavior Change Request Dialogue.”

  • In this dialogue, one person brings up a broad-ranging desire that is followed by specific, actionable requests.
  • The other partner can then choose from the options and agrees to follow through on one of the requests.
  • The requests are made in the form of a scripted dialogue, with mirroring, validation, and empathy for each other.

Through this process, you and your partner will make incremental changes to your behavior. However, the Behavior Change Request is not transactional. Any changes you make must be done so freely, as a gift. You being able to choose which changes to make ensures that you don’t give up personal autonomy.

It will be easier for you to meet some requests for change than others. The requests that spark the strongest resistance are those that touch on areas where you have the greatest need for growth. Part of your resistance to making changes may be rooted in the feeling that you’re violating a rule or taboo set by your parents. If you feel resistance to your partner making changes, your caregivers may have taught you that you weren’t worthy of receiving love in that way.

As you and your partner make gradual changes, you create a cycle of mutual growth. By changing yourselves to meet your partner’s needs, you fill in the pieces of your own Lost Self.

How to Mend a Broken Relationship in 3 Easy Steps

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Here's what you'll find in our full Getting the Love You Want summary :

  • Why rifts often open between your romantic partner and yourself
  • How your childhood defines your future relationships
  • How a struggling couple can learn to talk to each other, heal, and grow

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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