Relationships can be some of the most difficult aspects to manage in our often hectic and extremely busy lives. With such intense daily work schedules, constant meetings and calls, finding time to take care of our own mental health and more, it’s easy to begin to neglect the relationships that mean so much to us.
Caring and being there for another person sounds much easier than it actually is. Providing a sense of security, warmth and safety are all things that take work and must be tailored to each specific situation and individual. It’s a learning process that occurs over a lifetime.
With the recent pandemic, stresses have been multiplied and more couples are undertaking the therapy route to not only make through these tough times, but to come out thriving and better than ever before.
Imago Therapy is an interesting and idyllic approach to couples therapy that focuses on healing inner childhood trauma, empathy and understanding. The core of Imago is to deeply listen and begin to comprehend what your partner has experienced in their life since early childhood. It’s important to take into account and consideration all that they’ve been through, and how they may have been neglected in their early lives.
Imago is based on the concept that what we’ve been neglected in early childhood often surfaces during early adulthood. Especially within our romantic relationships. Ignoring such a fact can not only lead to an unfulfilling relationship, but you may even cause more harm to your partner.
Origins of Imago
The therapy concept was created in the 1980s by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen Lakelly Hunt. After Hendrix had been through a difficult divorce, he was asked by a student in his class why men and women sometimes seemed to approach relationships from completely different worlds and perspectives. The question piqued a deep interest in Dr. Hendrix’ mind as he had just experienced that idea in full force during a bitter divorce.
This led Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt to begin a deep dive into relationships and couple therapy options. Together, inspired by their own relationship that was beginning to form, they co-created what is now known as Imago Relationship Therapy.
Method of Imago
The core of Imago Relationship Therapy is to collectively and unilaterally attempt to heal childhood traumas. According to both Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt, the human psyche has a compelling and forceful drive to restore feelings of aliveness and wholeness to people, the same as they had when they were first birthed into the world. Imago therapists believe that a person’s brain constructs an image of characteristics from their primary caretakers; including both their best and worst traits.
The brain’s unconscious drive is to repair the damage done in childhood, and the needs that were not met by finding a partner who can give us what our caretakers failed to provide. This is why it’s extremely common for people to end up with and marry those that reflect similar traits to their parents.
A person’s unconscious emotions and mind drives them towards healing, in order to resolve unresolved childhood wounds and to grow. In this way, wounds received from their parents tend to be re-stimulated by new adult partners and potential future partners. The re-stimulation triggers old, unresolved emotions.
The dialogue of Imago Relationship Therapy is specific and both partners must take part. In order to achieve the healing they are looking for, they must support each other unilaterally and really focus on unearthing, and healing those past childhood traumas that are passed down through their parents.
Imago includes 4 tenets:
- Becoming present to your partner – This requires a transformation of consciousness in which one discovers the “otherness” of the partner, in which we get that “my partner is not me,” which promotes progress toward the important developmental leap known as differentiation.
- Learning a new way to talk – that is, turning the conversation from an exchange of parallel monologues into a dialogue. Dialogue creates equality, safety, and connection.
- Replacing judgment—the destroyer of intimacy—with curiosity, which ensures safety and deepens connection – This requires eliminating all negativity since negativity stimulates anxiety, signals danger, and thus activates defensiveness, perhaps the major barrier to intimacy.
- Infusing the relationship with positive feelings – such as liking, appreciation, admiration, acceptance, and similar emotions. These deliberate positive verbal expressions (appreciations) are among the building blocks of authentic love, which is, for Imago, the consummation of intimate partnership and the epitome of a relationship that is both safe and passionate, comfortable and exciting.
How Can It Help Your Relationship?
The results are actually quite evident and obvious. Whether you’re being present and in a space or not with your partner is one of the most straining characteristics a relationship can face. It’s so easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily work lives that we often take the space our partners withhold for granted. We can begin to spend all this time together without actually engaging or being present with each other. It’s one of the most critical aspects to understanding where that intimacy may go.
Dialogue is also extremely important. We often talk at each other more than we talk to each other. This not only leads to massive fights and disagreements but it begins to build a wall between us and our partners. With neither of us listening to what the other actually has to say, we end up speaking into the abyss and missing out on the healing that our partner needs.
Judgment is one of the most critical aspects to all of this though. A frame of judgment allows us to create space and other our partner from ourselves. We have one way of doing it in our minds and without that we often think they’re wrong or don’t know what’s actually best for the situation. This is one of the most harmful habits we can have that we’ve carried through childhood. It’s so important to instead, be open and receptive to new ways of thinking. This is actually the entire key to growing and learning with someone.
Relationships are a lifelong process and journey, and if we don’t heal the baggage we’ve been carrying around since our childhood. It’s easy to project those feelings onto those we love most in the world. Moving without judgment, carrying openness and receptiveness into everything we do will be sure to lead us down a path to a happy and healthy relationship.