One form of therapy that couples seek out is Imago relationship therapy. This is a form of therapy that involves the relationship rather than just the person. If you've been curious, or think that you need Imago relationship therapy, read on to find out more about this.
What Does Imago Mean?
Imago means image in Latin, and in Imago Relationship Therapy, this mostly focuses on an unconscious concept of familiar love that may develop in their childhood, and it remains unchanged in adulthood. Imago is used mainly in interactions early on with parents or any adult that's significant in life. This creates a construct on what love is, and the person will create various "survival patterns" to obtain and keep love.
However, parents might fail when it comes to meeting a child's needs. Because of this, the imago will put together the positive, along with the negative aspects of the behaviors. In adulthood, we, in an unconscious manner, will look for people that are similar to the image that we've created and look for people that allow us to develop and improve the qualities that we kept inhibited or couldn't express during childhood.
The History Of It
This therapy stems from the late 1970s, in which Harville Hendry and Helen LaKelly developed from their divorces that there isn't much literature on failed marriages. A lack of literature on this allowed them to put together information from their relationship, before and after, to look at the dynamics of these intimate relationships.
By 1977, they created the theory that the emotional and psychological wounds that you have during childhood based on parental interactions could only be addressed in a context where the wounds were reactivated. With this, they believed that only another relationship committed, for example, marriage, could give the variables needed to bring forth healing and growth. Two strategies are often brought forward in Imago therapy, and they are:
These two theories are practiced during imago therapy, and the couples that used this brought forth a significant improvement regarding their relationship therapy.
Marriage is based on mutual healing, and it's often seen as the most effective type of therapy.
Their findings were published in the book Getting the Love You Wanted in 1988, which grew wider public attention. IRT soon moved forward and evolved, and today, there are over 2000 trained imago therapists that someone can see.
The Theory Behind It
The theory behind it is that a person's brain creates the caretakers' characteristics, including the best and the worst traits. This then creates a drive that's unconscious of repairing the damages done during childhood, including the needs that weren't met and other such facets in the form of a partner that can give us what our caretakers didn't give to us.
Essentially, we take what both love and disapproval feel and look like from our parents. For example, you might show love in being free-spirited, preoccupied, critical, or even ignoring. You may develop over time what this is. You may also have the image established that you'll only feel love if you do what your parents tell you to do. It can even come forth in the form of "I have to help everyone else before I end up helping myself."
It can even show itself in the form of perfectionism. Let's say that you have loving parents that tell you that you're proud of them and that you could do what you want. You're loved and cared for. However, let's say you make a mistake, such as getting a B, and the parents would ask if there was trouble. Maybe your parents go to the sporting event and give you suggestions. This can start to put together the narrative within you "I always have to be perfect, and it's not good enough otherwise." From here, this then makes one a perfectionist and can make a person sensitive to suggestions.
In a marriage, this can even play a part. Let's say that there is a suggestion put forward. The partner isn't "perfect" as the narrative. This immediately, no matter how trivial the action they ask to change is, will stimulate the thought that "you're not good enough otherwise since you weren't perfect." However, the love and affection that the child got during their childhood are fine, so they respond well to it.
If the other didn't have a lot of affection as a child and instead showed it through others, the one that's a perfectionist can think that she's mad at him because she's not showing affection. But that isn't true, and the one that didn't get affection but learned love through actions might think that he doesn't love her because he's not offering to help.
Most of the time, this is why the traits of a future partner are similar to the traits of our parents. The unconscious drive to heal for this to help with the unresolved childhood wounds helps us grow.
This can also create a protective armor, including how to get approval from others and protect from any disapproval, and it's how conflicts arise.
The wounds we got from our parents are sometimes reticulated by new partners and potential partners, triggering the old emotions that aren't resolved. In essence, people in a relationship should learn how to heal each other and appreciate them for who they are. This takes time. Couples that engage in this type of therapy use a specific type of dialogue. While the conscious self may not see and grasp the reflection of their unresolved aspects of their partner, the unconscious person will try to heal these old wounds to make life better for the individual once more.
The Five Tenants Of This
Five tenets are a part of imago relationship therapy, and they are the following:
Re-imagining the mate as a wounded child
Re-romanticizing your relationship visual and pleasurable surprises, giving gifts, and appreciation displays
Re-structuring the frustrations and disappointments by changing your complaints to requests
Resolving the extreme feelings of anger
Re-visioning the relationship as a means for happiness, safety, and satisfaction
When You Use It
This is typically used when underlying emotional discontentment is felt within the relationship in conflicts involving criticism, dissatisfaction, and anger. Imago relationship therapy will help those couples that need to find out the root of their emotional hurt and determine what elements caused them to manifest as negative feelings and behaviors.
It is also used to help couples who want to become closer as partners and as individuals since it can help with communication skills to benefit the relationship in a general sense.
Typically, this is done in different ways, including workshops in groups, and private counseling, depending on the preferences and needs. It can also help those with ADHD since it helps with communication, listening, and self-control.
One of the key processes of this is the intentional dialogue process, which in essence involves three elements, and they are:
The structured dialogue here incorporates these elements, and it will help facilitate communication that's contingent. Continent communication occurs when the partner's vulnerability is met with empathy and validation from the other as well.
First, you begin with mirroring, which involves repeating the sender of the communication's words until both hear this and understand the sender.
Then there is the validation phase, where the partner listening summarizes the understanding of the points that the sender brought forward. The receiver also expresses why the sender's experience does happen and makes sense, even if he doesn't agree.
Finally, there is the aspect of showing empathy, which is the final step, and it encourages each person to try to appreciate the experience that's happening from the partner's view.
Sometimes, this does involve lowering the emotional defense, which can cause repeated suffering in some contexts, but often, it brings forth very intimate connections in a super therapeutic place. This type of dialogue does encourage deep communication, and it teaches couples how to do this, and it can start to become very habitual and natural.
Seeking Out This Help
If you feel you would benefit from Imago Relationship Therapy, many different workshops and relationship counselors can help. It can help you understand why you act the way that you do and why you react in the ways that you react. Plus, it'll help with your relationship with your partner, allowing you both to grow and become better people due to this process.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What does Imago therapy mean?
Imago relationship therapy (IRT) is a specific type of therapy that aims to address conflict in a relationship and help a couple of heal and grow. Imago is a Latin word for image. In Imago therapy, a trained Imago therapist will help a couple understand the unconscious expectations of love that each individual in the relationship has.
Imago therapy focuses on the expectation of love formed in early childhood through the interaction that a person has with their parents and family members. It remains unchanged in adulthood and forms the basis of a person’s expectations on the type of love they deserve, leading them to potentially unhealthy relationships as they seek to replicate the feelings of their youth.
Even the best parents may not be able to meet all of their child’s emotional needs and expectations. As people grow, they unconsciously begin developing behavior patterns to either express or suppress personality traits to attract love. They will take both the positive and negative things they associate with their first experience with love, and it will form their internal Imago, or image of themselves.
What is the Imago Dialogue?
Teaching the Imago Dialogue to couples is an essential part of Imago relationship therapy (IRT). The three steps of the dialogue are mirror, validation, and empathy. These consist of:
Mirror: During this step, you will listen to your partner attentively. When they pause, you will repeat what they said to show that you listened and understood what they were saying to you. It is alright to paraphrase and to ask if there is more that they want to say. It is imperative that you do not interrupt them and that you actively listen.
Validate: When your partner says that they are done, you will let them know that what they said makes logical sense to you and that you understand the point they are making. If you don’t, or if there are parts of it that you don’t completely understand, this is the time to express that and to ask them to elaborate so that you can understand.
Empathize: This is the point to understand what your partner is feeling and express that to them. Using phrases such as “I can imagine that you might be feeling...” to express this understanding is important because it shows them that you have been paying attention and are trying to see things from their point of view.
Partners will take turns with this exercise, each giving the other their undivided attention when it is their turn to speak and express what they have been dealing with. This helps to air out any potential misunderstandings and helps the couple discuss their issues in a healthy and safe environment.
What is the best therapy for couples?
In most relationships, couples eventually have a point where they have difficultly communicating or where they are not communicating effectively. At this point in a relationship, couples have to try to work things out independently or seek professional help through therapy.
Imago therapy focuses on relational counseling and is a therapy that focuses on adult relationships and early childhood formations of the expectations that people carry into adulthood. By teaching the Imago Dialogue to couples, they can apply it to their relationship and leave the sessions better equipped with a more concrete understanding of how their relationship works and their partner's needs.
Because of this, Imago therapy is one of the best therapies for couples because it empowers them to understand their relationship better and leaves them with lasting knowledge that they can carry with them. It promotes an understanding of themselves as well as the other person in the relationship.
It is important to find an Imago therapist trained in the technique, and that is familiar with the problems you are facing in your relationship. When you find an Imago therapist you are comfortable with, you will understand your inner image and your partner’s.
What is the success rate of couples therapy?
Research has shown that relationships in North America have a 70-80% success rate in couples therapy when done with a trained and licensed couple’s therapist. The majority of relationships in North America that experience troubles and take the time and initiative to get external help for their relationships significantly benefit from therapy.
What is Imago Relationship Theory?
According to Imago's relationship theory, the image that we build into our subconscious based upon the initial relationships we have with our parents or caregivers. It contains both the positive and negative traits that we associate with them, and this becomes the image that we use to seek out our romantic partners unconsciously.
Can a marriage survive without intimacy?
No. All marriages need intimacy to survive. The type of intimacy may vary from marriage to marriage, but all people have love languages that need to be met and expressed to thrive. If there is no intimacy in a marriage, then the relationship will wither until it has reached a point of no return and the couple falls out of love.
There are many different forms of intimacy. For some, physical contact and sex are necessary for a couple to feel close to one another. In other situations, a couple may need words of affirmation and emotional intimacy. It is important to know and discuss the physical affection that each partner needs to feel loved and cared for in physical relationships. This also includes discussing how active each person’s sex drive is and ensuring that both partners are comfortable with those levels.
Intimacy is essential for a healthy relationship to exist.
Why does my husband not seem interested in me sexually?
There are several reasons why your partner may not seem to be interested in sex. These can include:
Other things have prioritized a new child: caring for a sick family member or stress from a new job.
They may have a medical condition that affects their sex drive or their ability to have sex. If they are going through a medical crisis, they may be too uncomfortable or in too much pain to want to have sex. They may also feel unattractive if they have recently had health problems.
The relationship may have lost intimacy. When a couple is together for a long period of time, they can begin to fall into patterns and routines that are non-intimate. This can be fixed by prioritizing spending time on dates with one another and shaking up the routine.
Your partner may be uncomfortable initiating sex. They may feel that they are always doing it and that you are not interested in them. Try initiating and showing them that you find them attractive.
Of course, there could be more damaging reasons, such as an affair. However, it is important not to jump to conclusions and do not assume the worst. If you are concerned about your partner’s lack of intimacy, consider seeking the help of a couple’s therapist.
How does a sexless marriage affect a man?
A sudden lack of sex in a marriage or relationship can cause one or both partners to feel a lack of self-esteem, wonder if something is wrong with them or their relationship, and question their partner's fidelity. A prolonged lack of sex in a relationship can cause mental and physical health issues and cause trust in the relationship to be damaged.
It is important to discuss things with your partner and express how you feel before becoming too distant or jumping to conclusions about yourself, them, or the relationship. Communication is key to understanding.
What are the dynamics of a relationship?
These are the patterns of behavior in the way that people interact with one another in a relationship. Relationship dynamics vary depending on the type of relationship that a person finds themselves in. For example, the dynamics of your relationship with your boss will be different than the relationship with your parents, which in turn will be different than the relationship with your partner.
Who created Imago therapy?
Imago therapy was developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980.
How long does marriage counseling usually last?
On average, a typical marriage or couple’s counseling session will last 50-60 minutes. The sessions should take place once a week, and it will usually take between 8-10 sessions for the couple to see real improvement.
Does couple’s therapy really work?
The efficacy of couple’s therapy depends entirely on the effort that the couple is willing to put into therapy and the therapist's experience. When a trained and experienced therapist helps a willing couple work on their relationship, and the couple does all of the exercises and work asked of them, then couple’s therapy works in 70-80% of cases.
If one or both partners are reluctant to work or believe that nothing is wrong, then the couple’s therapy will fail.
What is the Gottman Method?
The Gottman Method is a form of relationship therapy that focuses on understanding the interpersonal dynamics of a couple's relationship. A couple must answer a thorough questionnaire style assessment involving both the individual aspects of the relationship and how the couple interacts together.
The sessions then focus on helping the couple strengthen their relationship by focusing on friendship, conflict management, resolution, and creating shared meaning.
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