What Is Imago Relationship Therapy, And Could It Work For Our Marriage?

Updated March 07, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

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When it comes to improving marriages, one of the ways to do so is imago relationship therapy. Developed by Dr. Harville Hendrick and Dr. Helen Lakelly Hunt in 1980, Imago relationship therapy is a type of couples therapy that transforms different conflicts between the couple into something that's healing and growth for the person. But, how can that help someone? Well, read on to find out.

What Is Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago relationship therapy is based on our "imago" which is the image that we have. In essence, it refers to the "unconscious image of a love that's familiar." What we typically find out within this is that there are frustrations in our relationships as adults, and our early childhood experiences. For example, those that are criticized as a child may be sensitive to their own partner's criticism. The feelings and fears of abandonment or suppression and neglect can create problems in a relationship. When these core issues come up with a partner, it can cause a lot of issues, and it might leave a person to wonder whether or not they chose the right mate too.

Through the use of imago relationship therapy, couples can learn to understand the other person's feelings, and those childhood wounds that are there will heal themselves so that they're not affecting the relationship that they currently have.

This type of relationship therapy allows couples to move on from a reactive sense that involves blaming to one that's more understanding and focuses on empathy so that people can have a deeper and more interesting connection with one another that matters a lot.

This is used for couples that are trying to make their relationships better, allowing them to come closer to their partners, and those that need to better their communication skills and their relationships. You can do this on a one-on-one sense through the relationship, or through a workshop, based on what people may need. It can help with communication, self-control issues, and also improve the listening skills in a relationship.

We have negative attachments that can be a problem in our current relationships. But, through the use of this, you can take out some of the negative aspects and the arguments that may plague a relationship or other upsets that may become a problem, and from there, really benefit and rise from this.

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The Workshops

Some people like the worship aspects of it, where couples will go to places out of their home in order to learn exercises, along with different dialogue activities in order to have a better, more meaningful conversation, explore the emotions that are there, reconnect on a deeper level, and allow them to feel more positive about this. After, or in place of the group workshops, the couple can seek out the therapist that specializes in this. Usually, within the workshops, the couples will sit looking at one another, and they're guided by a therapist that's trained in it.

How Does This Work?

The basic premises do have a big part of our relationships. This type of therapy does involve creating a unique system that improves relationships.

Now, we are all born complete and whole. But, in early nurturing and socializing stages, we get hurt, most of the time by the caretakers that are there. For example, you may have a rough childhood where you were neglected, or your parents were authoritarian, in that they always demand you to do everything. From there, we build together the positive and the negative aspects that we built in our primary caretakers within our unconscious mind. This is the imago, and in essence, that's the blueprint that we need to put forward, and the one that we need to have in front of our partner in any intimate relationship.

Our imago is how we find the right partner, in that the other person is usually someone who matches up with the image we've created in our primary caretakers in life, such as our parents. This is used to heal or finish any business that was left unfinished in our childhood. Our parents did things that wounded us, and we see our partners as a means to help us heal. The primary love partner is one that matches the traits. That's why lots of times, people see relationships as a means to heal.

Our parents are the ones that have wounded us, and the primary love partner in some ways is seen as a stand-in.

Now, romantic love is usually how committed relationships and marriages happen, and it's our way of connecting to the right partner and eventual healing. From there though, we may move int a power struggle though as we try to commit to this person, and this is necessary since these frustrations give us healing and growth. Romantic love and power struggle are actually unconscious demands, and our unconscious mind will choose the partner to heal the wounds, and inevitably, we will soon find out that the partner is not able to meet all the needs that we have, and we then feel wounded once again. That's why lots of relationships fail because we are looking for this person to heal the wounds when in reality, the best thing to do is to engage in imago therapy.

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How The Goal Relates To This

Imago therapy has the goal that we each align the conscious mind that we have with the agenda in the unconscious mind. Our conscious mind usually has the good feelings that we have, and the unconscious mind usually wants healing and growth, sometimes not done in a positive sense. We want to build intimate, committed relationships in a conscious sense. The transition can't be done with insight though. While we may be able to identify some of these negative aspects, we need actually to build the skills.

For example, you may be able to figure out that you've always been looking for your partner to always be there for you because you fear abandonment. But it's not just the discovering of this, but it involves different skills, along with processes that you need to engage in so that you can shift from the unconscious marriage to a conscious marriage and relationship. From there, you'll feel more alive, and you'll have more safety and passion within this.

Imago relationship therapy does take some time though. Unlike some other types of therapy, it takes on average about 2-5 years of regular work to bring yourself the relationship that you deserve. But, if you're willing to work with the partner that you have, you'll be able to be even more successful than you have in the past.

For couples, if they constantly blame, criticize, or negatively react to their partners, this is because they have this healing goal that hasn't been fulfilled. That's where Imago therapy comes in. Within this, you transform the negative feelings of being unfulfilled into one that's much more empathetic. It's one that can help with the short-term success of a relationship.

In one study that was public in January 2017 in Journal of Couple and Relationship therapy, this therapy brings forth mental satisfaction for both of the couples, and just through 12 sessions of this type of therapy, they felt better for quite some time. However, it takes a bit of time to create a complete recovery in a person's life, and it's something that you have to remember as well.

But, if you're in a relationship where you feel unfulfilled by your partner, how you feel like everything is kind of just at a standstill, where you feel like you're more negative with your partner than you have been in the past due to the fact that you feel like there is something missing, then imago therapy can work. It will touch on these inner problems, and from there, allow you to have a great feeling for your relationship, and it's a means to have a better, much happier relationship that you'll enjoy too.

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Get Some Help!

If you feel like it could save your marriage because it helps to tackle some of the blame and criticism that you may have had in the past, then you should consider seeing a therapist help with imago relationship therapy. It can make a huge difference in your life, in the fact that you're learning more about yourself, and others as well. Imago therapy is quite helpful with understanding some of the negative aspects of your past and how it can affect you, and from there, you'll be able to create a life that's better for you, and one that's more fulfilled as well.

A marriage doesn't have to be just healing, but it's instead of learning how to understand and care for your partner, and it is a great way to benefit from this and to help change your life.

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