Imago relationship therapy (IRT) seeks to provide couples with the tools they need to relate to each other in healthier ways, as well as to reveal the emotional pathway formed in childhood that has led them to their current situation. Imago Therapy therapy combines spiritual, exercises and behavioral techniques with Western psychological methodologies to help couples uncover their unconscious components. Also, Imago’s relationship therapy entails viewing a conflict between couples as the result of specific circumstances rather than the cause of disharmony. A couple can reach a satisfying solution, heal, and grow together by examining the conflict itself. However, there have been some limitations and criticisms about Imago Therapy. Read on to learn more.
What is Imago Therapy?
Imago is the Latin word for “image,” and it refers specifically to an unconscious, idealized concept of familiar love that an individual develops during childhood and retains in adulthood in Imago Relationship Therapy. Early interactions with one’s parents or other significant adults in early life play a significant role in the development of the image. Because of a child’s unique conception of what love is, he or she will develop specific behaviors or “survival patterns” (either by expressing or inhibiting personality traits) to obtain love and remain safe.
Even the best parents, however, are unable to meet their child’s every need and expectation. As a result, an individual’s image will include both positive and negative behaviors associated with his or her ideal loved one. As we seek love consciously in adulthood, we unconsciously seek out people who are similar to our imago and who will allow us to develop qualities that we either inhibited or were not allowed to express as children.
Imago Therapy’s History
In the late 1970s, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, MA, both divorced from previous spouses, shared an interest in understanding their failed marriages. Due to a lack of literature relevant to their previous marital experiences, they decided to use their own relationship, both before and after their 1984 marriage, to investigate the dynamics of intimate relationships.
They proposed in 1977 that the emotional and psychological wounds experienced as a kid as a result of interactions with one’s parents could only be fully handled in an environment that reactivated those scars. Only another committed connection, such as marriage, they argued, might provide the variables required to facilitate healing and progress. In his clinic, Hendrix taught couples tactics like “mirroring” and “containment,” and the couples reported considerable changes in their relationships. Hendrix and Hunt determined that the most effective form of treatment is a married partnership based on mutual healing.
Despite his success in his own practice, Imago Relationship Therapy was not widely known until the publication of Hendrix’s seminal book, Getting the Love You Want, in 1988. IRT evolved over the years as Hendrix and Hunt refined and enlarged the key procedures of the therapy. There are currently around 2000 skilled imago therapists globally.
5 Principles of Imago Therapy for Couples
Imago relationship therapy is based on five fundamental ideas. They are as follows:
- Imagine your partner as a wounded child.
- Re-romanticize your relationship via pleasant surprises, gift-giving, and expressions of gratitude.
- Change your complaints into requests to restructure your disappointments and frustrations.
- Getting rid of feelings of great rage.
- Reimagining the relationship as a source of enjoyment, fulfillment, and security.
Problems with Conflict and Communication
Conflict frequently emerges from an underlying emotional dissatisfaction felt within the setting of the partnership. It manifests itself in the form of criticism, rage, and unhappiness. Imago relationship therapy assists a couple in determining what factors create those issues to appear as stressful and negative statements, feelings, and actions by assisting them in exploring the base of the emotional hurt or need.
Mirroring, Validation & Empathy in the Intentional Dialogue Process
The most crucial part of Imago Relationship Therapy is the intentional discussion approach. This structured discourse employs speaking and listening methods that aid with contingent communication. Contingent communication happens when one partner expresses vulnerability and the other party validates and expresses empathy.
Mirroring is the first phase in deliberate discourse, and it entails repeating your partner’s (the Sender’s) words until both parties hear and grasp the Sender’s expressions.
During the validation phase, the listening partner (the Receiver) summarizes and expresses knowledge of the points expressed by the Sender. Importantly, the Receiver must explain why the Sender’s experience makes sense, even if the Receiver disagrees with it.
Empathy is the final step in the communication process, and it encourages each person to try to appreciate the event in question from the perspective of his or her partner.
Lowering one’s emotional defenses can lead to repeated suffering in other circumstances. However, it can also lead to the creation of very personal connections in a therapeutic situation. The Imago dialogue encourages and teaches couples how to engage in deep communication until it becomes routine and feels natural.
Imago Relationship Therapy Criticisms
Because Imago Therapy focuses on re-establishing loving relationships and developing personal connections, it may not be appropriate for couples dealing with domestic violence, gambling problems, substance abuse, or other health and relationship issues. Imago Relationship Therapy may be successful only after such immediate dangers to the relationship have been addressed. When designing a treatment plan, therapists will consider the specific causes, including any mental health disorders.
Exercises for Couples Imago Therapy Sessions
The following Imago relationship therapy exercises expand on the empathy and emotions of safety stated in the preceding techniques
#1. The position of holding
Imago therapy exercise considers a pair to be surrogate parents at times. It means that everyone can receive what they were denied as youngsters.
Holding each other physically can be a significant exercise in developing empathy and trust.
One person sits at the end of a sofa, with their head on their lap, holding the partner. The person being cradled is then asked to describe their childhood experiences.
As the holder feels a sense of care for the companion held, the activity creates an ever-increasing attachment.
#2. Little surprises
The tiny things we do for each other are extremely precious, yet they rapidly become regular. The morning cup of tea becomes less of a treat and more of a necessity.
Instead, a list of firsts can help a relationship. An unexpected dinner, a note left on the fridge door, or reacting to something expressed earlier in the week demonstrate that you are listening to your partner’s needs and keep them on the verge of happiness.
#3. Exercising belly laughs
Having fun may enhance all relationships, but it is easy to overlook.
Luquet (2015) suggests the following amusing activities induce “sustained belly laughter” and the release of feel-good endorphins:
#4. The butterfly kiss
The couple moves their faces close together so that their eyelashes tickle each other as they blink.
The couple is facing each other. One partner does a movement and says, “I can do this, can you do this?” The other acts again and adds a fresh one.
The game continues until both players are unable to add to the pattern, which frequently results in laughs.
In the end, the game is unimportant. What is important is that everyone laughs has fun, and learns to have fun together.
How Do I Locate an Imago Therapist?
Many therapists who work with couples have undoubtedly received some training in, and have a basic grasp of, Imago Relationship Therapy. Sites like Imago Relationships International can help you identify services in your region, such as qualified and even fully certified Imago relationship therapists.
There, you can search a database of trained Imago therapists from all over the world by area and relationship need. You can also find places for a range of workshops based on the ideas of Imago Relationship Therapy.
The Advantages of Imago Therapy
Imago Relationship Therapy has a number of major advantages that may make it a smart choice for troubled couples.
#1. Recognizing Early Attachments
Although these concepts are used in various types of dynamic psychotherapy, Imago therapy stresses that your early attachment experiences with caregivers may have a direct influence on your adult relationship choice. You may meet someone who feels all too familiar and easy to connect with while you date, almost as if you have known them previously or for a long time.
According to Imago therapy, these people feel familiar because they mirror the relationship dynamics you have had with caretakers in your early childhood experiences. When you feel at ease and familiar with someone, you begin to relax your guard and become closer, making it simpler to develop a love relationship.
As you grow closer to a love partner, you may notice past emotional wounds resurfacing in your relationship and wonder what is going on.
#2. Conflict as a Growth Opportunity
Another feature that distinguishes Imago therapy from other types of therapy is its emphasis on using conflict and suffering as chances for healing and progress. Rather than just teaching people how to “fight better” or avoid conflict in their relationships, Imago therapy encourages couples to lean into those times of discomfort and utilize them for inquiry, curiosity, and learning.
#3. Treatment Methodology Based on Collaboration
Imago therapy is collaborative, which means that there is no defined position of a therapist as an advice-giving authority; rather, the therapist collaborates with the couple to examine what is going on for them and to heal the relationship as a whole. The therapist lets the couple be the experts on their relationship. Thus, they foster the discourse in such a way that partners can learn from each other.
Imago Relationship Therapy Limitations
Because Imago Therapy focuses on re-establishing loving relationships and developing personal connections, it may not be appropriate for couples dealing with domestic violence, gambling problems, substance abuse, or other health and relationship issues. IRT may be successful only after such immediate dangers to the relationship have been addressed. When designing a treatment plan, therapists will consider the specific causes, including any mental health disorders.
Imago Therapy FAQ’s
Who created the Imago Dialogue?
The Imago Dialogue is a one-of-a-kind and powerful communication tool developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and his wife, Dr. Helen Hunt, that has been used by thousands of couples for over 25 years.
What is an Imago match?
We hunt for someone who is an “Imago match,” or someone who resembles our primary caregivers’ composite image. This is significant because we marry or commit in order to heal and complete the unfinished business of childhood.
What is the Imago theory?
The Latin word for “image” is imago. Imago is a term used in Imago Relationship Therapy to describe an individual’s unconscious, idealized sense of familiar love that emerges during childhood and remains unchanged in adulthood.