Process of Illumination

What is Imago Therapy?

Couples Counseling and Therapy

1. Happiness is relational

Our greatest happiness in life can stem from a great marriage or long-term romantic relationship.  It’s often the source of great sadness and disappointment too.

When you break your leg, you can fully expect to be healed.  But broken hearts have proven harder for couples counselors to fix.  That’s because psychotherapy is a relatively new field, in which approaches which create lasting change are still emerging from a murky field of experimentation.  A Consumer Reports study in 1995 showed that the effectiveness of couples therapy lagged significantly behind individual therapy.

2. Imago is a pioneer in the field of couples therapy

Harville Hendrix published “Getting The Love You Want” in 1988, and made a huge impact on the field of marriage counseling.  He deliberately shunned academic publishing, to reach out directly to couples and present them with a clear, simple to follow map, with which they could explore their deepest emotions.  Hendrix had the kind of brilliance that could understand the whole field of psychotherapy from Freud onwards, and synthesize it into an approach that made sense to the couple in the street.  No longer was couples counseling fumbling in the darkness of marital strife.  Hendrix helped couples take their deepest conflict and transform it into the pathway to lasting bliss.

For a quarter of a century Imago has grown from infancy, to become a worldwide leader in providing couples therapy, with over 1,000 Certified Imago Therapists helping couples in over 25 countries.

3. Imago is opening a new chapter in the story of marriage and relationships

Today the future of marriage seems more uncertain than ever.  Whilst same-sex marriage groups win the right to marry in some states, politicians and celebrities seem to bring a never-ending stream of tales of marriage breakdown, even amongst those who appeared to be leaders of society.  Economic upset has stretched many marriages to breaking point.  Some couples even live together simply because they can no longer afford the costs of divorce.  When marriage counseling is sought out, it’s often too late.  Infidelity or breakdown has already inflicted irreversible damage and killed the chance of rediscovering love.  It seems that few people even believe that couples counseling could help.

Imago’s next chapter is to bring some fresh and new messages to a wider audience, not just those who seek out couples therapy because they are in trouble, but to all couples who seek happiness together.  We hope to change the way people see couples therapy and relationship education, and be aware of approaches like Imago which can make a profound impact on the life and happiness of families, creating secure and nurturing environments for children to develop to their full potential.

4. Imago turns conflict into an opportunity for growth

When we fall in love, everything often feels simple and clear.  Imagine I meet a wonderful person who fills my life with joy and hope.  When everything goes wrong later, it can seem very confusing, and that’s often when I might feel like blaming my partner for the failure of the relationship.

Imago turns this conflict on its head.  The conflict isn’t the problem, it’s the answer.  But how the couple manages conflict is the key to everlasting love.

Conflict is inevitable in any committed relationship.  Usually it rears its ugly heads as seemingly petty disputes over the practical things in shared lives.  But while the argument is visible on the surface, the deeper emotional content is neither explored nor understood. Instead partners simply blame or criticize each other.  They often decide their partner is just not the right person for them, and turn to others for love.

Imago helps couples learn more about their partner’s emotional history, and what the underlying reasons are for things which show up in their disagreements.  They begin to understand why their partner is really upset, and why what they are saying really makes sense in the context of their past.  This might sound like a difficult conversation to have, but Imago makes it much easier by teaching couples a specific way to dialogue about emotional issues like this.  The Imago dialogue shifts the conversation away from blame, shame and criticism, into mutual support and understanding.

It’s the kind of dialogue that really does heal broken hearts.

5. Imago teaches couples the root cause of conflict

Arguments between couples often takes on a ferocity that can be very intense.  Someone may just be a little late home from work, but it can trigger an argument as if what they did was life threatening.

It seems life threatening, because the subconscious thinks IT IS life threatening!  Harville Hendrix shows couples how their disagreements trigger reactions that are subconsciously linked to our fear of death!

 Here’s how it works in a little more detail.

When we are infants, deep in our subconscious there is an ancient awareness that if our parents don’t love us, they might not protect us from wild animals and the dangers of primitive life.  Even in the present day, we need our caretaker’s love in order to eat and live.   To the infant, lack of love is life-threatening.

However much our parents strive to love us, their love is never experienced by the child as perfect.  The young developing brain experiences times when love feels absent as a small emotional trauma.  Remember to the young mind – lack of love = danger.   Sadly in rather too many cases, this early emotional wounding can be quite significant, even though the parents were doing everything they felt was loving  and followed good practice for raising healthy children.

As a result, we grow into adulthood with an emotional map of what love is like when it is present, but with emotional scars that are left when it is absent.   Harville Hendrix calls this emotional blueprint “The Imago”.

Many of us grow up with a dream of a perfect love.  When we meet our partner we will finally feel fully at home, fully alive and complete in ourselves.  Even myths of love are often about two souls who are incomplete alone, but are destined to be complete together as lovers.  It can feel when we fall in love that we have known each other for ever.  Together we believe we will experience the full complete love that we longed for as lonely children.

How do we recognize the love of our dreams?  We choose the person who fits our Imago, our emotional map, like Cinderella fits the glass slipper.  The person who loves us in a way we recognize from our parents.

Oops. Do you see the problem here?  If our partner loves us the way our parent’s loved us, don’t they have the same gaps in the way that they express love that our parents also have?  When the excitement of falling in love fades, we often find ourselves to be profoundly disappointed with our partner.

Does this sound pessimistic to you?  Harville Hendrix doesn’t see it that way at all.  He says that this conflict and disappointment is growth trying to happen.

6. Imago proposes a new purpose for marriage in society

Imagine I fell in love with someone I recognized as my soul mate.  I had a great year or two with them, including an incredible wedding, and dreamlike honeymoon.  And now it’s become a nightmare.  My partner just isn’t providing what I need anymore.  They don’t understand what it is I need, or refuse to give it.   They do selfish idiotic things.

Why would Harville Hendrix think there is any good news in this at all?

Hendrix’s conclusion is that since we tend to choose life-partners who appear to be incompatible, there must be a good reason for it.  We just need to understand what the reason is.

 There have been some other changes during the development of people in society, and one is that for many of us we no longer need to be married for economic or societal reasons.  Does that mean marriage no longer has a purpose?

What if there is a reason and that the purpose of marriage is to work on all those emotional scars left by our upbringing.  Those are the emotional raw spots that get in the way of living life to the full.  They are the ones that some of us spend quite a bit of time in individual therapy working our way slowly through, or else keep them to ourselves as we experience depression, alienation, lack of purpose, and that maybe we aren’t quite living the life we hoped to.

Hendrix points out that just as I have chosen a partner who has emotional needs that I can’t quite meet, so it will be that I won’t quite be able to meet their emotional needs.  It’s because when both of us developed emotionally as a child, the process was somehow incomplete.

What if we got together, and helped each other to heal the hidden emotional scars of childhood, and both grow into our full potential?  Maybe the partner I chose is the ideal person to do that work with.  After all there are many aspects of my partner that I adore, or I wouldn’t have chosen them in the first place.  There’s a lot of incentive in a committed relationship to sort this all out.

Harville Hendrix believes that the new role for marriage in our society is for partners to help each other complete the unfinished business of childhood.   If we use our love to guide us, then the relationship transforms into a new, rich and complete love.

 And makes us complete too.

© 2012 Imago Relationships International.