The Aspects Of Imago Relationship Therapy

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 16, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

One form of therapy available as a treatment option for couples is Imago relationship therapy. This form of therapy revolves around the relationship itself rather than just the individual people. If you've been curious, or think that you need Imago relationship therapy, here’s what you need to know.

Interested in couples therapy that focuses on the relationship?

What is imago therapy?

“Imago” means “image” in Latin. Imago Relationship Therapy is named this way because it mostly focuses on an unconscious concept or image of familiar love that may develop in childhood and remain unchanged in adulthood. These interactions happen early on with parents or adults that are significant in the patient’s life, and can lead to the development of various "survival patterns" to obtain and keep love.

According to this theory, this unconscious image puts together the positive and negative aspects of the behaviors of these adults into a sort of “formula” for achieving love. In adulthood, we, in an unconscious manner, look for people that are similar to the image that we've created and who will allow us to develop and improve the qualities that we kept inhibited or couldn't express during childhood.

The history of imago therapy

This therapy stems from the late 1970s, in which Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt 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 the conditions necessary to heal those childhood wounds. Two strategies are often brought forward in Imago therapy, and they are:

  • Mirroring
  • Containment

These two theories are practiced during imago therapy, and the couples that used this brought forth a significant improvement regarding their relationship 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.

Getty/MoMo Productions

The five tenants of imago therapy

Five tenets are a part of imago relationship therapy:

  • 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 imago therapy is used

This is typically used when underlying emotional discontentment is felt within the relationship in conflicts involving criticism, dissatisfaction, and anger. Imago relationship therapy can 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.

A controlled trial of imago therapy indicated that it can also help couples who want to become closer as partners and individuals. It can help with communication skills to benefit the relationship in a general sense. In some cases, imago therapy can help those with ADHD, since it helps with communication, listening, and self-control.

The process of imago therapy

One of the key processes of this is the intentional dialogue process, which in essence involves three elements:

  • Mirroring
  • Validation
  • Empathy

The structured dialogue here incorporates these elements, and it will help facilitate continent communication. Continent communication occurs when the partner's vulnerability is met with empathy and validation from the other as is the case in imago relationships.

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 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.

Interested in couples therapy that focuses on the relationship?

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.

Not only is imago therapy an effective method of improving empathy between partners, but it can also be performed effectively online. Research suggests that online therapeutic interventions are just as effective as in person therapy at a more affordable level for many patients.


Imago therapy is designed to help couples realize what life looks like from their partner’s perspective and to consider that perspective during communication. It can be a great option for those seeking couples counseling to improve communication in their relationship.

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