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Imago Therapy: How Can It Heal Relationships?


A couple in imago relationship therapy.

Are you struggling with navigating your adult relationships? Do you tend to be attracted to the people that are “wrong” for you? Or ever notice that you start off real strong in a relationship and then realize that similar issues tend to manifest in most of your relationships? Or perhaps you are tired of having the same arguments with your partner over and over again with no resolution?

If what you’re reading resonates, you are not alone. Navigating a healthy and fulfilling committed relationship takes a lot of work. Understanding your “Imago” could be very helpful for breaking free from those dysfunctional patterns and learn ways to turn conflict in to a learning opportunity and a path to healing and growth.

What is Imago Relationship Theory?

Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) and Imago theory were developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen Lakelly Hunt in the 1980s. They are the authors of the bestselling book  “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples” with more than 4 million copies sold.

The Latin word “Imago” – meaning “image” refers to the “unconscious image of familiar love” and includes a composite image of all the positive and negative traits of our primary caretakers which resides deep in our unconscious mind and forms a “blueprint” of the person we ultimately seek out as a partner.

The relationship with our primary caregivers in the most formative years of our life (between 0-36 months) and shapes a template with which our body and brain have encoded care, love and family. So, how our primary caregivers treated us and one another specially during those early years, leave a huge neurobiological imprint on our nervous system and directly impact how we take in sensory information in the world around us and we develop what will be our adult attachment style.

It’s important to remember that much of this process happens when we are in pre-verbal stage of development when we lack a level of sophistication in understanding what is happening and communicating our needs. So what ends up happening is later in life we are likely to unconsciously pick out partners whose characteristics resemble a parent’s trait, both the positive traits and the negative ones!

This is partly because what feels familiar feels comforting and also it’s our way of trying to heal certain painful experiences in search of dealing with the unfinished business from the past so we could somehow restore the sense of joyful aliveness we began with as children. Because a lot of this process happens unconsciously, we tend to reinjure ourselves throughout the process in our effort to heal.

Imago Relationship Therapy is couples therapy that focuses on helping you discover these unconscious dynamics and core issues while teaching you very practical tools about effective communication, navigating conflict in a healthy way to promote healing and growth and create a deeper bond and intimacy within the relationship.

How Can Imago Therapy Help Relationships?

Navigating adult romantic relationships may be very challenging especially if your past dictates how you show up in the relationship and triggers some old wounds in an unconscious way. Imago Relationship Therapy provides a guide for couples in committed relationships who are seeking to have a more “conscious relationship”. Imago therapy sessions aim to help couples and individuals build awareness of the unconscious agenda they bring in to a relationship from childhood.

You will gain an understanding of when those old wounds are being activated and how they contaminate your present experience, this will also provide an opportunity to work through those unhealed wounds, address your unfulfilled desires, fears, share them with your partner, and as a result move towards a more conscious and thriving relationship.

As a couple in Imago Therapy Relationship you will learn how to:

  • Develop more understanding and empathy for yourself and your partner’s experience
  • Navigate conflict in a healthy way to promote healing and growth
  • Discover reasons for hurtful reactions
  • Find a path to healing and wholeness
  • Co-create a shared vision for your relationship while accepting your separate identities as individuals
  • Increase level of intimacy & re-romanticize the relationship


Why Work with an Imago Relationship Therapist?

Your Imago therapist will help you restructure the way you talk to each other and encourages couples to approach their partners with genuine curiosity and emphatic attunement. You will learn how to articulate your needs while holding space for your partner’s experience even when you disagree.

Couples Dialogue” is one of the core skills of Imago process. The Couples Imago Dialogue involves three processes including Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy. A dialogue transaction may then sound as follows:

(Mirroring) “So if I hear you correctly, when you’re talking to me and I’m on my phone, you think that I am uninterested in what you’re saying.

(Validation) “I can see how you would feel that way… that makes sense to me.”

(Empathy) “and I can understand how you feel rejected and abandoned. That sounds like a painful experience.”

Our Imago powerfully influences the type of partner we select as adults, as well as how we relate to that partner. When the past weighs heavily into the present, some of the feelings and childhood wounds get triggered during a fight or argument and evoke deep emotional reactions which might be disproportionate to the present situation.

Your Imago therapist will help you slow down the process, be more present, and identify when your past emotional wounds are contributing to the dynamic with your partner. You will learn to move from blame and reactivity to being responsive and have a more fulfilling and loving connection, where you continue to heal from early childhood experiences and create more passion and safety in your relationship.

Your Imago therapist will also help you gain clarity towards what is actually happening to your brain and emotions during a fight beyond the content of whatever you are arguing about. This will provide you with an opportunity to repair past hurts and rediscover the romance and the fun in your relationship.

It’s important to note that if either partners struggle with serious mental health symptoms, substance abuse/addiction, or if there are safety concerns, they are probably not an appropriate candidate for IRT and it’s a good idea to start individual therapy prior to couples counseling. Schedule a couples counseling session today with Modern Intimacy and get started on your healing journey with an Imago Relationship Therapist!

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Elena Behar, LMFT earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from National University (NU) with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). Elena is very passionate about working with individuals and couples who are looking to heal and grow, build a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives and reintegrate with their true selves.



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