Carrie Haag, a licensed clinical social worker and certified Imago therapist, and her partner Cat Scheibner, a certified Imago educator, have been together for more than two decades. They run workshops through the Santa Fe Center for Relationships (505-466-2464) for straight as well as gay and lesbian couples. Haag talks with SFR about the value of helping people work it out.
SFR: Why do this kind of work? Did you just get sick of hearing people complaining?
CH: I think initially what drew me was actually my own relationship: wanting a relationship that, for one, would last and, for two, would be deep and meaningful. Initially I got into Imago Relationship Therapy.
What is Imago?
Imago, in Latin, means ‘image.’ Part of the theory is that we’re drawn to be in a relationship with someone that has some of the positive and some of the negative characteristics of our early caretakers. This person also has what we don’t have. Maybe, in some respect, they’re more of a thinker and we’re more of a feeler. And initially this feels really great, because they kind of feel like they complete us. But then there’s friction around that. And so this whole theory is about explaining what goes on in relationships and also what we can do about that.
On your Web site and in your workshops, you really stress that it’s normal for couples to feel friction at some point. Why do you suppose this is?
We have a sense of what familiar love looks like based on our childhood, whether it’s functional or dysfunctional, and there are certain attributes that we’re unconsciously drawn to. But that is kind of time-
limited. And then you wake up and it’s like, ‘Oh my god.’ But that’s actually supposed to happen. When you have conflict in a relationship, it’s about growth wanting or needing to happen. We just have to use it so that it can bring us closer together.
Here’s an example I think would ring true for a lot of artist-types in Santa Fe. Two people come together because they’re both creative minds and, suddenly, they stop inspiring each other. Are they doomed?
Things do change, and it’s a huge disappointment when that happens. It feels terrible. You feel like you had found a person that made you feel so alive, when, in fact, that aliveness was really within you. Romantic love rekindles that full aliveness that we feel when we’re born and when we’re little kids, before we start getting all those ‘don’t’ messages. And I think that, as we come out of romantic love and there’s that disappointment, we think it’s the other person who’s changed, but it’s not at all. It’s as if when we meet and fall in love we’re wide-open, but then, when these power struggles come up, then you start to protect. I think you can’t really go back—you can maybe understand about why that happened, but it’s more helpful moving forward.
According to a study, Santa Fe is second only to San Francisco for the highest per capita rate of gay and lesbian couples. Does that demographic reality impact your work?
Well, we moved here from the Colorado Springs area, which is the opposite of Santa Fe; it is very conservative. There, my professional colleagues and our friends would say, ‘Don’t do a workshop here for straight couples because we’re worried about you.’ They were worried that we might be attacked in some way, whether it be verbally or written up in the paper. Colorado Springs wasn’t an atmosphere of supporting healthy relationships of all types. It was a relief to get down here. One of the most wonderful things I’ve found in our workshops in Santa Fe is that people realize that relationships are relationships, and that it’s not, ‘Oh you’re a lesbian couple and we’re a straight couple, what do you know about our relationship?’ The Imago Relationship Therapy model applies to all couples.
You run separate workshops for gay couples and straight couples, as well as a workshop for all couples. Are the gay and straight workshops run any differently?
The workshops are not run any differently at all. What we’ve found is that some gay and lesbian couples feel more comfortable not being in a group of straight couples. What we’re finding is that gay and lesbian couples will fly in from other places in the country specifically for the same-sex workshops, particularly the lesbian workshop. They come from all over the country. I think the reason is that there aren’t a lot of other lesbian relationship workshops.
Relationship work feels like it could have much larger implications.
Yes. This Imago theory is going worldwide. This dialogue that we use with couples is also being used to bring people together that have had difficulty talking—like Israelis and Palestinians. And Harville Hendricks, the creator of this theory, sees this work as political action because sometimes the greatest wars of all are between couples. Difference is usually what we complain about in couplehood—so if we can learn that difference is OK within couples and learn to communicate with one another, we can change the world one couple at a time.
As a final thought, do you have any words of wisdom for any despairing singles who may be reading this on Valentine’s Day?
People can, instead of being focused on something external, be curious about what do they do in relationships—what is it that’s going on in them, and wonder about where that might come from. When we can begin to understand our part of relationships and be curious about what we do, then we can begin to identify that and make changes. The only person we can change is ourselves. And I’m not saying that in a blaming way of people who are struggling. On a daily basis you should think, ‘What am I doing to try and connect?’ versus pointing [your] finger at somebody else.
So you’re not saying that single people have to better themselves—it’s just that they have to know themselves?
Exactly. We can reclaim some of that full aliveness and wholeness that we have when we’re little, and you don’t have to have a partner to still be able to take a look at that.