Imago Therapy for Relationship Counselling: Basics & How Does It Work

How Imago Therapy Can Help to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Dear One

When you’re in a relationship, disagreements and conflicts are bound to happen. Conflicts may not seem pleasant, but they happen and are pretty normal. But sometimes, these conflicts may happen due to painful past experiences and you may feel hurt when an argument with your partner stirs up similar emotions. These conflicts may shift your focus from the positive aspect of your relationship and make you dwell on things that make you unhappy.

This is when Imago Therapy can be tried. The imago couples therapy focuses on the conflicts resulting from emotional and psychological wounds people experience during their childhood. It is like a tool for people who have a tough time understanding what is going through each other’s minds. This therapy helps turn conflicts into opportunities for healing and growth.

What Is Imago Therapy?

Imago therapy is a form of couples relationship counselling that helps to heal childhood wounds. Imago is a Latin-derived word for ‘image’, which specifically refers to the unconscious image of familiar love. People usually develop imago in their early life with the interactions they have with their loved ones. In our adulthood, we consciously attach ourselves to the person who gives us love and affection but what actually happens is we are unconsciously seeking love in the person with the same image. We define love and a sense of safety with the circumstances we experience with our guardians.  We unconsciously create an imago of childhood wounds and want to repair them with our present partners. These unresolved emotions of childhood create conflicts between couples, and they find it hard to relate.

The therapy is suitable for all romantically involved partners to give their conflicting thoughts. The therapy helps resolve the rooted emotional disconnect that is felt in the relationship, quite visible through the negative comments, criticism, dissatisfaction, and extreme anger.

When Should You Go for Imago Therapy?

Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt co-created this therapy by understanding the dynamics of the relationship. The therapy included the experiences of their past relationships that ended with divorces. They discovered that the conflicts between them were the results of the childhood trauma they suffered. Couples who are romantically involved in a relationship can go for therapy. It re-stimulates the emotional intimacy and helps to heal together. However, one can also opt for counselling to get a better understanding of their partners.

Here are some of the problems which occur in a relationship that can be resolved by Imago Therapy.

  • extreme anger
  • frequent misunderstanding
  • feeling dissatisfied
  • communications leading to arguments
  • having trust issues
  • always criticizing each other
  • focusing on partners flaws
  • loss of physical intimacy
  • feeling emotionally detached
  • finding faults in each other work
  • facing boredom in relation
  • getting frustrated easily
  • losing interest

How to Get Started With This Therapy

You can start with imago counselling in two ways that will help you understand the dynamics of relationships. The counselling includes specially designed workshops and therapy sessions. There are several workshops available for

  • Live-in partners
  • Married couples
  • Couples with children
  • Same-sex couples
  • Individuals

A session with an imago-trained therapist helps you learn and understand the reason behind your relationship’s distress. The therapist digs into the couple’s conflicts that emerge basically due to emotional hurt in the relationship. It is often expressed as frequent taunting, criticizing, and anger; this breaks the emotional string with your partner, leaving you to feel lonely and frustrated. Participate in the workshops or engage yourself with the therapist and explore what your partners feel about these conflicts. With the course of sessions, couples tend to gain empathy and develop a stronger connection.

What Are the Five Core Principles of Imago Therapy?

The following are the five core principles of imago therapy.

  • Resolving the traits of childhood wounds.
  • Helping a couple understand each other’s perspectives while having emphatic conversations.
  • Helping partners have a positive approach towards each other.
  • Helping couples recognize their individual identities.
  • Help increase romance, happiness, and satisfaction.

Basics of Imago Therapy

Our psychological mind seeks a similar attachment that we experience by our guardians while growing. Imago therapy is based on the idea of constructing images during childhood and replays them in our adulthood. A troublesome past forms an image in our unconscious mind and keeps us from forming an emotional connection. We find it hard to develop a sense of safety from our loved ones leading to relationship conflicts. The damage was done in the past that affects your present, to which your partner fails to relate. This could be very confusing, but it needs to be resolved to form a new connection.

Imago therapy works in the following ways:

1. Choosing a Partner

We all have a certain image of our life partner, which we form with the love and comfort we get in our childhood. We tend to seek similar love of our parents in our partner, which is quite natural. Our unconscious mind expects the characteristic traits of our parents, which our partner cannot understand. The familiar love attracts you towards your partner and develops a sense of security and fulfilment in the relationship.

2. Finishing Childhood

No matter how loving and caring your parents were, several circumstances leave a mark on your mind. Maybe you expected your parents to behave in a certain way, but they left you with an unpleasant memory. When you required emotional support but received criticism in the first place. In our adult mind, this imago triggers a sense of distress whenever we tend to form a connection with our partners.

3. Relationship Stages

There are mainly three stages of a relationship, the romantic phase, the rough phase, and the conscious healing phase. The imago therapy explains that the first phase is about enjoying the freshly developed attraction, new blossoming love. The second phase is where partners face the real struggle due to their childhood trauma and emotional hurt that prompts conflicts in their relationship. The third is the partnership phase to heal and grow together in the relationship. With the emphatic interactions, partners explore their childhood experiences and support each other to create a healthier change.

How Does the Imago Therapy Work?

The therapeutic process works effectively when partners agree to dedicate themselves to building an emotional re-connection. Imago therapy helps you to understand your partner’s psychological state and identify the childhood trauma they underwent. The healing plan is specifically tailored to reignite the romance with empathy, kindness, and tenderness.

The therapy procedure involves several activities that couples need to adapt to their regular lifestyle. It would help if you were committed to bringing the change you expect in your relationship. It requires your time and effort to build a stronger bond. The therapy will play the leading role in re-engaging emotionally with your partners.

1. Imago Dialogue

The most important component of the therapy is the intentional interaction procedure known as imago dialogue. This structured format has a sender and a receiver for random conversations. The sender is the one who expresses feelings and vulnerability with the receiver partner, who has to understand without being judgemental. People share their thoughts and seek validation from their partners for the emotional hurt they feel.

The imago dialogue has the following three-step exercise that couples need to practice.

  • Mirroring: The first step of the intentional dialogue is to repeat the words by the sender. The receiver should keep aside any criticism, response and not being judgemental. The format involves simply repeating back whatever they heard from their partner to gain clarity and better understanding.
  • Validation: In this step, the receiver has to validate the feelings shared by the sender. By doing so, it confirms that they are getting it and trying their best to understand. This is an important process to do even if the receiver does not agree to it. In case one fails to understand, they may ask their partner to share more.
  • Empathy: This is the final stage where the receiver expresses what the other is feeling by imagining their emotions. Sharing yourself to this extension gives you a deeper understanding of the partner. Interactions with empathy and appreciation encourage you into a deeper connection with each other.

The couples need to practice these imago dialogues during the intentional conversations until they get habitual to it. The receiver needs to support the sender’s emotions and should not criticize them. It leads to the development of a deep intimate connection with your partner. One should naturally adapt to empathize with their partners and create a beautiful organic bond.

2. Closing the Exit

When a relationship hits the rough patch, arguments and criticism take most of your interactions. You tend to avoid communications with your partners and start investing energy into different activities or people. You need to focus on several things outside of your relationship, but when you use these distractions to escape from the issues with your partner, it makes it more difficult.

Closing the exit helps you to recognize those getaways and guides you to cut down on those activities. Whether it is involving in a hobby or getting too much attached to a friend, the therapy guides you to dedicate your time and effort to your relationship.

3. Imago Workup

Initially, the therapy explains the whole procedure, which follows to accomplish a better connection between partners. It works upon the childhood emotional hurt they once felt and identifying the origin of the conflicts they generally have in their relationship. With the help of counselling, you tend to explore the similarities between your partner and parents. You may find both positive and negative traits of your early caretakers in your partner.

The therapeutic process lets you recognize the core of the relationship issues you are facing. For example, you might be seeking the same love and affection from your partner that you wanted in childhood but failed to get.

4. Behavior Change Request

In the course of relationship issues, what mostly hurts us is how our partners behave in certain situations. We generally criticize them, get frustrated, and start blaming one another. Imago therapy offers an exercise called behaviour change request. In this format, you learn each other’s dislike of behaviour and work on changing it. You may explore different things to meet your partner’s needs, such as initiating physical intimacy or having romantic dinners and heart-to-heart conversations. This process is called stretching. It may not feel real, or things may get awkward initially, but you need to practice it until you realize your partner’s reconnection.

Holding off grudges and talking of old habits will not help and will only make things only worse. With dedication and consistency, you can achieve a better and improved relationship.

How to Find an Imago Therapist

You can search online on therapy sites for a fully certified imago therapist and look for your location. Therapists undergo the training to have a better understanding of the relationship. You can select the therapist from the database who will work according to the type of counselling you need in your relationship. You can also track down the variety of workshops available based on the principles of imago relationship therapy.

Is It Possible for Imago Therapy to Not Work for Everyone?

Relationship counselling helps you to reconnect emotionally by enhancing compassion towards your partner. It seems to build generosity, but there are downsides of imago therapy where it fails to resolve issues that are coming in the path of a successful relationship. Imago therapy might not work for couples facing domestic violence, emotional abuse, substance misuse, or some serious mental issue. It is better to resolve the underlying problem first for the therapy to be effective. The therapist would diagnose you with the specific factors harming your relation and advise you of the healing process.

It is easy to point out faults and focus on things that are wrong with your partner, but to maintain a healthy relationship, you need to convince yourself of each other’s perspective. Over time, one can get bored, irritated, and dissatisfied, but breaking the ties is not the solution. Your loved ones deserve a chance to resolve the misunderstandings and build a healthier relationship. Trying the imago therapy may work. It can help you revive emotional intimacy, feeling, and love. It also encourages couples to support their better halves during the healing process.

Also Read: 

Trust in a Relationship
How to Build Positive Relationships
Importance of Space in a Relationship

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Aarohi Achwal holds a bachelor’s degree in Commerce and a master’s degree in English Literature. While working as an intern for an English daily, she realised that she likes writing above anything else. The idea of being heard without having to speak appeals to her. She likes to write research-based articles that are informative and relevant. She has written articles on pregnancy, parenting, and relationships. And she would like to continue creating content on health and lifestyle.