Benefits Of Imago Therapy

Updated August 17, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When it comes to improving marriages, one of the ways to do so is through imago relationship therapy. Imago couples therapy transforms conflicts between a couple into something that's healing. Both partners finish therapy with a deeper and loving connection and are eager to continue their lifelong journey together. Find out how imago couples online therapy can benefit your relationship.

Change Your Relationship For The Better

What Is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Imago relationship therapy sessions are based on our "imago," or the "unconscious image of a love that's familiar." In other words, people seek a romantic relationship that either mirrors the love they received from their parents or hope will heal their childhood wounds. Much of the conflict that occurs in relationships is due to expecting that one’s partner will fulfill their needs in a certain way, but that expectation is not met. If these expectations and needs are not met, it can make each partner wonder if they chose the right mate.

For example, suppose a person had a difficult childhood where they were criticized by their parents often. When their partner criticizes them, they may be very sensitive to that criticism and experience intense feelings and worry about being abandoned. Though they hoped and expected that their partner would not be critical of them, that expectation did not match reality. Therefore, they may wonder if this is the right mate for them. As a result, the relationship may experience more emotional instability, and both partners may experience less relationship satisfaction. These issues that come up are “core issues,” which are the primary focus of healing and growth in the relationship.

Therefore, problems in a person’s early life, as well as their partner’s childhood experiences, can create conflict and emotional problems in the relationship, particularly in early relationships. In fact, much of the conflict found in adult relationships is rooted in painful experiences of the past and early attachments. This is particularly true for anyone who experienced domestic violence or neglect in their childhood.

Furthermore, because people seek relationships in order to heal, they may be drawn to incompatible people as conflict often brings opportunities for healing and growth.

Through the use of imago relationships therapy, couples can gain a deeper understanding of each other’s feelings and process those childhood wounds so that they're not affecting the relationship. Imago relationship therapy teaches couples how to be in a conscious relationship and how to offer each other support and validation for their concerns and vulnerability.

Who Developed Imago Relationship Therapy?

Imago and the idea of imago relationships was developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980. They named it after the Latin word for “image,” as this therapy focuses on the unconscious image of familiar love. They helped thousands of couples over decades facilitate healing of their marriage and were even able to repair their own marriage using their own exercises and theories.

Imago relationship therapy exploded in popularity after Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt published the New York Times bestselling book Getting The Love You Want. They provide numerous courses on this type of therapy, published more New York Times bestsellers on the subject, and even appeared on Oprah.

How Effective Is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Is imago relationship therapy effective, or is it just another fad promoted by a New York Times bestselling book? Typically, the effectiveness of a type of therapy is determined in a randomized controlled trial and peer-reviewed studies. However, this form of therapy is relatively new. Therefore, there have only been a few peer-reviewed studies and trials of imago relationship therapy.

In 2016, a study trial of imago relationship therapy was published in Family Journal. The results of the study showed that imago relationship therapy helped couples experience increased empathy and relationship satisfaction. This was one of the first clinical studies that showed imago therapy to be a success and positively impact relationships, helping them to become successful imago relationships.  

In 2017 a controlled trial of imago relationship therapy was conducted by John Carroll University. The study included 12 sessions over 12 weeks of imago relationship therapy. After the randomized control trial, the researchers reported that couples did experience increased satisfaction in their marriages. However, the increases were not clinically significant.

Luckily, another randomized controlled trial of imago relationship therapy is set to complete in the summer of 2022. During this randomized controlled trial, one group of couples will receive 12 weeks of imago relationship therapy with a trained imago therapist while the other group will not receive treatment. Instead, they will get a copy of the New York Times bestseller How To Get The Love You Want after 12 weeks of no treatment or intervention.

For now, if you really want to know the effectiveness of imago relationship therapy, then you should look at the reviews of the New York Times bestselling book How To Get The Love You Want. To date, it has sold millions of copies over the years, with many readers reporting significant improvements in their relationships.

Why Choose Imago For Relationship And Marriage Therapy?

Imago therapy helps couples create a conscious relationship by shifting the focus from blaming each other and being reactive to showing support, empathy, and understanding. This helps couples create a deeper and loving connection with one another and gain more understanding of each other’s feelings. The knowledge that comes with therapy offers opportunities to deepen emotional intimacy and strengthens the relationship.

You should consider imago therapy if you are struggling with your relationship or marriage and believe that you or your partner’s childhood feelings and experiences are causing unhealthy relationship patterns. Though imago has been primarily used to help with marriages, it can be beneficial to long-term relationships as well as premarital couples, helping to build a more healthy and conscious relationship regardless of marriage status or the relationship’s existing duration.

However, both you and your partner must consciously seek to work towards improving the relationship. Imago relationship therapy is not passive work. Both partners must put effort into the relationship as well as themselves. Many therapists will encourage you to work on your own negative traits in addition to working on the relationship, so you may be guided to try individual therapy in conjunction with imago. This is so that you can work on your core issues, as they are the primary factors in your relationship patterns and emotional experiences. If one partner is not willing to put in the work, it will be much harder for imago therapy to succeed.

Workshops For Imago Therapy

Instead of talking to an imago therapist, some people prefer to try out imago therapy through a workshop setting. Couples will go to group settings outside of their home to learn some of the exercises and techniques of imago relationship therapy. These include learning different dialogue activities to have a better, more meaningful conversation, explore their emotions, reconnect on a deeper level, and allow them to feel more positive about each other. However, many couples decide to continue their work by seeking imago therapy after finishing these workshops.

How Does The Imago Method Work To Improve Relationships?

The basic theory of imago therapy is that our earliest relationships impact our adult life. Imago therapy involves creating a unique system that improves imago relationships. We are all born complete and whole. But, in the early nurturing and socializing stages, we get hurt, most of the time by our caretakers. For example, you may have experienced difficulties in childhood. Imago therapy will build the positive and the negative aspects you've unconsciously associated with your primary caretakers, leading to positive imago relationships. This is the image, 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 an intimate imago relationship.

Understanding Imago Therapy: Development, Method, And Benefits

Imago relationship therapy utilizes a few techniques to help couples develop a more loving connection. These include:

  • Imago dialogue: This is intentional dialogue that aims to mirror, validate, and empathize. Imago dialogue is structured to prevent conversations from becoming judgmental or hurtful and instead is geared towards better understanding and empathy.
  • Closing the exits: This is the act of ending or creating boundaries with people or hobbies that are used as unhealthy outlets to distract you from your relationship problems. After closing, you have more time and energy to devote to healthier solutions to your marital concerns.
  • Imago workup: This is the initial assessment in imago therapy that helps you explore similarities between your partner and your caregivers.
  • Behavior change request: You learn to stop complaining to your partner about their behavior and find healthier ways to change it or compromise. Imago therapy suggests providing three behavior change options that your partner can choose from.

The exact methods you will use in therapy will be tailored specifically to you and your partner’s needs. Your imago therapist will come up with techniques and a plan that makes sense for you and your partner’s needs.

By conducting this work, you and your partner are likely to see many benefits in your marriage and your own behavior. Some of these benefits may include:

  • Healing of core issues and childhood wounds
  • Being more conscious and present in the relationship
  • Increased empathy and understanding
  • Approaching each other with compassion instead of judgment
  • Reduction of negative traits, such as blaming, extreme emotional experiences and mood swings, or addictive behaviors
  • Feeling like true loving partners again who support and care for one another
  • Fewer power struggles or conflicts within the relationship

Developing Therapy Goals With Imago

The overall goal of imago therapy is to align the conscious mind 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 to a healthy, committed relationship can't be done without insight, though. While we may be able to identify some of these negative aspects, we actually need 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. Engaging in healing so that you can shift from the unconscious marriage to a conscious marriage and committed relationship will help you provide you with more safety and passion within your relationship.

However, every couple is different. Each set of partners will experience unique conflict or struggles within their relationship. Furthermore, each of the partners within therelationship may have their own negative traits to work through, such as lack of empathy or emotional instability, or even more serious issues like substance use or other addictive behaviors. Your imago therapist will help the two of you develop a therapy goal that makes sense to your situation.

Imago relationship therapy can take some time. Unlike some other types of therapy, it takes an average of 2-5 years of regular work to bring yourself the relationship that you deserve. In order to reach a successful relationship, you should be willing to work with your current partner.

If couples constantly blame, criticize, or react negatively to their partners, it may be because they have an unfulfilled goal of healing. That's where imago relationship therapy comes in. Through techniques like imago dialogue (and others) that help foster better communication, you can transform the negative feelings of being unfulfilled into feelings that are much more empathetic. Imago relationship therapy (IRT) can help with the short-term success of a relationship.

But, if you're in a relationship where you feel unfulfilled by your partner, such as if you feel like everything is kind of just at a standstill, or you feel like you're more negative with your partner than you have been in the past because you feel like something is missing, then imago therapy may work for you. It can 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. Though more studies are needed, imago relationships tend to be healthier, happier, and longer-lasting than non-imago relationships (that is, relationships that do not/have not utilized imago-type therapy or approaches).

Change Your Relationship For The Better

Final Thoughts

If you feel like the advice of a therapist 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 might consider seeking professional support. 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 always be healing, but it's helpful to understand and care for your partner, and imago therapy is a great way to help change your relationship.

Reach out to BetterHelp to start improving your relationships.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What is the Imago method?
What does Imago mean in therapy?
Does Imago therapy really work?
What type of therapy is Imago?
How do you practice Imago therapy?
How do I find my Imago?
Can a marriage survive without intimacy?
What are the 3 stages of love?
What is Imago effect?
What does a Gestalt therapist do?

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