But it wasn’t always like that, Hedy told Jewish Report in a Skype interview from her home in the United States. She says her journey began when in the early years of her and Yumi’s marriage, things were not going as she expected. “We were young and unconscious,” she describes it.
As a trained psychotherapist working extensively with couples, she realised that the challenges they faced were not her and her husband’s alone. “I became aware of a sense of frustration and occasional despair about my own marriage. Neither my personal relationship, nor my work with relationships in couplehood, was working as I thought it should.”
Propelled by her deep-rooted Jewish heritage, Hedy knew that marriage had the potential to be a sacred union and she set out to discover how to enact this in her personal and professional life.
“The Jewish sages tell us to make a sanctuary between us, to sanctify the space between husband and wife. While Judaism defines shalom bayit (harmony in the home) as the highest, we realised through our own marriage that many people – of all religions and backgrounds – were missing the how-to, which would enable them to achieve this ideal.”
Hedy embarked on a journey to search for ways to actualise this connection in her own relationship and with the couples she worked with.
Delving into contemporary philosophies and methodologies, she found places where these ancient ideals were articulated in a relevant manner and the couple began to build their own approach.
“Our work is very much grounded in Martin Buber, the famous 20th century Jewish philosopher. He was the first one to give a name to the space between the couple. He called it an ‘encounter of souls’, and says that the couple is a space where the two souls meet.
“Our sages teach that when there is harmony in the home (shalom bayit), the Divine spirit (the shechina), rests between the couple.
“Imago relationship therapy was a turning point in our lives. It was there that we learned that everyone marries the one person that’s capable of giving them their single worst relationship nightmare. We hire them for the job, and then are angry when they fulfil it.
“It really is a description of the Jewish concept of ‘ezer knegdo’ (loosely translated as ‘a helper opposite him’.)”
In fact, Yumi and Hedy were catalysts in the establishment of Imago communities in South Africa, Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Canada and pioneered the expansion of Imago relationship therapy in many other countries.
As the couple evolved in their own relationship and in their work with other couples, they developed their own integrated approach, which sees the couple as a place where true self-actualisation can occur.
Hedy is adamant not to call their teachings therapy.
“There is nothing wrong with people. Rather, we teach a way to reclaim their own potential as individuals and as a couple. Our life’s work has been spreading the message that a couple’s goal is to sanctify the space between them in order to create a sanctuary. It’s about transformation.”
What makes their workshops unique is that the Schleifers run their courses for couples together. Married for 52 years, they are an institution in their own right. The two have travelled to 40 countries around the world, facilitating transformation, as well as offering participants the chance to witness a truly actualised relationship in the flesh.
“Yumi is my 27th husband. He has the courage to let himself grow. I would never have dreamed of him becoming the man he is today; I am in awe and have kept choosing him.”
Hedy’s work across the globe has shown her that all couples, no matter what country, culture or background, long for deep connection; and that a miraculous thing occurs when couples are given the right tools.
“We give them a profound paradigm shift, and they reconnect at a deep level. We show couples how to visit each other over the bridge, and to re-establish something inherent between them. We teach them to transcend the unconscious and move into a conscious connection.”
According to Hedy, the remarkable aspect is that the state in which the couple enter the training, is irrelevant. Even if the relationship is in complete disrepair, or on the verge of divorce, during the three days they find a way to establish a depth of connection which settles between them.
Hedy does not take her ability to impact people so profoundly, lightly. She says that spreading this work has been her biggest blessing, and seeing the rewards of the seeds they have planted, is incredibly moving and humbling.
“We knew that this work was our calling. We felt that we were bringing something bigger than ourselves into the world, and that it was worth it even if one couple was touched by the work.”
It’s clear that Hedy and Yumi continue to touch the lives of not one, but thousands of couples worldwide, and offer both a paradigm and example of what is possible when human beings open their hearts and minds.
* Hedy and Yumi will be in Johannesburg from August 7 – 22, offering various trainings for couples, therapists and professionals. There are scholarships available on application. For more information, contact Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org or 082-463-1467.