The Scoop: Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., are internationally acclaimed couples therapists with an expertise in conflict resolution and loving communication. Harville and Helen, who have been married for over 30 years, have written 10 books, made multiple TV appearances, and co-created the Imago Relationship Theory. By drawing from their professional and personal experiences, Harville and Helen can lend positive insights to couples facing an array of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt have weathered many challenging times in over 30 years of marriage. But nothing quite like 2020.
The relationship experts went into a strict quarantine to protect their health and flatten the curve at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During their confinement, the couple adapted quickly to stay productive and upbeat in the face of turbulent times.
“Our intense travel schedule was replaced by Zoom meetings, workshops, lectures, and conferences,” Harville said. “While COVID-19 changed our methods of engagement, we continued our lives in a very different but equally effective way.”
Harville and Helen eliminated negativity and judgment from their conversations decades ago, so they were well-positioned to work and communicate effectively under lockdown. The couple’s relationship-affirming principles helped them endure unique challenges and make the best of a bad situation.
Harville said he and his wife are naturally introverted, so they felt in their element during lockdown life. The relationship experts said they saw the time at home as an opportunity to tackle projects and expand their online resources. Harville and Helen completed an academic guide and started writing two new books about the dating and social framework in a post-COVID world.
“We think we are entering a new era of relational quality,” Harville told us. “The relational sciences are discovering scientifically how relationships work, and more people are learning about it. The core of the new discovery is the focus on the quality of the relationship rather than the self.”
Harville and Helen have spent decades unlocking the secrets to happy, healthy relationships, and we asked for their insights on how couples can thrive in these trying times.
Use Stressful Situations as an Opportunity to Grow & Learn
Harville and Helen have created powerful couples counseling programs that follow a few simple steps. The relationship experts urge couples to stop voicing negativity and start listening with empathy. By engaging in positive dialogues, couples build trust and understanding in every conversation.
“Commit to stay together,” the relationship experts advised. “The primary practice that transforms couples is zero negativity. When they remove the toxin of negativity, that reduces stress and energy that can be used for finding solutions.”
Harville and Helen warned that stressful circumstances can exacerbate conflict between couples, and that’s one reason why divorces spiked in 2020. But they can turn things around by changing the tone and intention behind their conversations. Couples can grow closer together by practicing positivity and facing issues as a team rather than as opponents.
One strategy the experts recommend is scheduling a time to talk about particular issues or concerns. That way, both partners have time to prepare for the conversation and bring valuable insights to the table.
A couples counseling session can also provide a safe space for couples to talk through their challenges and come up with solutions. Harville and Helen have seen a lot of success in their relationship workshops, which are now available through Zoom.
In 2020, Harville and Helen turned the page on a 10-year book project by completing “Doing Imago Relationship Therapy in the Space Between,” which comes out in April. This academic text speaks directly to clinicians who want to use treatment methods informed by the theory Harville and Helen co-created in 1980.
The Imago Relationship Theory is based on the idea that individuals look for romantic partners in the image of a parenting figure who didn’t meet their needs or expectations in some way. Adults are subconsciously looking for closure from an unsatisfying relationship from their childhood, so they choose a partner with similar flaws and habits as their absent father or critical mother or what have you.
By writing informative books, Harville and Helen open a dialogue about healthy relationship strategies and teach individuals to develop relational competence in their daily lives.
“When the relationship is thriving, the individuals will thrive,” Harville and Helen said. “The opposite is not true.”
Safe Conversations Can Open a More Productive Dialogue
Harville and Helen’s approach to relationship therapy draws from neuroscience and evidence-based studies. One of their core precepts is Safe Conversations, which teaches individuals to communicate with positivity and empathy. The therapists challenge couples to talk without criticism, listen without judgment, and connect beyond differences as a way of strengthening their relationship in the long run.
The Safe Conversations workshop has gotten remarkably positive reviews from participants. About 98% of participants said their experience was inspiring, and 90% said it improved their relationship.
“It is life-changing,” a married man named Dan said four months after completing the Safe Conversations program. “It is the only thing I have ever done that has helped me express myself.”
Harville and Helen said they have been encouraged by seeing so many people embrace their methods and adopt their strategies. “It testifies to the power of the Dialogue Process for creating safety and connection,” the relationship experts said. “And it’s followed by the sensation of full aliveness and joy.”
Looking ahead to the next 30 years, Harville and Helen plan on spreading the word about Safe Conversations and teaching couples to practice empathy, eliminate negativity, and affirm their love on a daily basis.
Harville and Helen are passion advocates for the Safe Conversations movement. They have positioned themselves on the cusp of cutting-edge therapy and couples intervention to create solid foundations for future relationships and families.
As the world changes and society evolves toward more egalitarian values, Harville and Helen said they hope to lead the charge into a healthier way to connect and grow with a partner.
“Safe Conversations is a leader in relationship and communication education,” according to the SC website. “At its core, the company’s mission is to strengthen human connections and renew empathy for a more compassionate world.”
Harville & Helen Send a Positive Message to Couples
Throughout their marriage and careers, Harville and Helen have tackled issues as a team and strengthened their relationship by showing consistent care and concern for each other. The couple has worked hard to cut the negativity from their conversations and practice what they preach as relationship therapists.
Harville and Helen have proven that even a pandemic lockdown could become a couples retreat with the right attitude.
Modern couples and families are facing unprecedented challenges in their daily lives, so it’s more important than ever for them to rely on each other and put more thought and effort into the relationships that give their lives meaning.
“Couples must replace negativity with curiosity and affirmations,” Harville and Helen said. “Showing interest in each other on a regular basis and positively affirming the other transforms the relationship.”