The importance of caring relationships to both physical and mental wellbeing is widely accepted.
Recent psychological studies have confirmed the importance of therapies that focus on communication and interpersonal skills to improve relationship satisfaction and reduce distress.
A key treatment to ensure improved communication and interpersonal skills in any relationship is Imago Therapy.
Understanding what Imago Therapy is will help couples learn to understand the other person’s feelings, heal from past wounds, and ensure that they’re not affecting the relationship that they currently have.
“Imago relationship therapy is based on our “imago” which is the image that we have. In essence, it refers to the “unconscious image of a love that’s familiar.” – BetterHelp.com
Those in committed relationships with a significant other would be excellent candidates to benefit from imago therapy.
Couples at all stages and seasons of their relationship are encouraged to participate, from dating and premarital couples to those who have been together for many years.
The existence of more than 1,000 Imago therapists practicing in over 30 countries worldwide suggests the approach’s value.
And several controlled studies have reported significant increases in empathy and marital satisfaction in couples who have received IRT over multiple weeks.
Imago is a great thing for people to be able to talk openly about their feelings and feel it’s safe because they’re just being mirrored. – LENA ABURDENE-DERHALLY
IRT suggests that focusing on the following areas of a relationship can help couples let go of romantic love and replace it with a more conscious, authentic, long-lasting love (Luquet, 2015):
- Defense against the loss of romantic love
Couples must recognize that romantic love is temporary. However, shared experiences and weathering difficulties in life can grow a love that is stronger and more enduring.
- Healing the wounds created during the development process
IRT suggests that damage can occur at any stage of personality development due to a lack of appropriate support (Luquet, 2015; Erikson & Erikson, 1982).
As a result, we often become attracted to people wounded at the same point developmentally who failed to learn healthy psychological responses.
We may fall for partners who cannot give us what we need.
- Restoring functions lost during the socialization process
IRT describes humans as expressing astronomical energy from an explosion that began 15 billion years ago “through our thinking, feeling, acting, and sensing” (Luquet, 2015).
However, while we are born with the potential to be whole, the environment and past events may have stopped us. For example, hearing negative statements such as “boys don’t cry” or “you never do anything right,” may inhibit our ability to “act” as a means of expressing energy (Luquet, 2015).
Only through recovering what we have lost during development can we regain our whole and access all of our cosmological energy for expression. Our goal to become whole can be seen in our choice of partner, as they often appear to possess part of our lost self.
Yet in time, we often start to resent those parts that first attracted us and try to fix them. Instead, we must make ourselves whole by growing those parts of us that we had sought in our partner.
So, how do we restore our whole?
According to IRT, nature has put together:
- Two incompatible people
- Each injured at the same place developmentally
- Each missing essential parts
Rather than fix things, we tend to break them further to defend ourselves. Instead, we must regain our wholeness through cooperation.
IRT asks for a commitment from both partners to make the relationship work and restore their wholeness.
Techniques of Imago Relationship Therapy
The older parts of our brains are highly reactive, so it can be useful to find somewhere in our minds where we feel safe to begin the process – real or imagined.
We can visit this place while remaining fully present during therapy, especially during uncomfortable conversations.
Dialogue is crucial to Imago and the future happiness of the couple.
Couples dialogue involves repeating back what was actually said rather than what the listener interpreted. This process, known as mirroring, shows the partner that they were heard.
Then the listener validates by placing themselves in the speaker’s shoes and attempting to understand events from their perspective. By imagining their feelings, it is possible to create empathy.
Creating safety and couples dialogue provide the tools required to continue onward to the real work.
Next, we need a way to communicate frustrations and feelings effectively.
Behavior Change Requests
Provide opportunities to ask for change, based on the sender’s frustrations. They must be worded carefully so that the receiver can both hear and respond.
Together such requests form a blueprint for growth and a chance to become whole by reclaiming previously lost parts.
For example, “My job is very stressful at the moment, I need you to listen and validate how hard it is and to think about how I may be feeling.”
The change request clarifies the partner’s needs but is usually asking for the most difficult thing for them to give. “That need is requesting something of the receiving partner’s lost part”.
How do we effectively communicate when we are angry at the other person?
IRT offers two approaches to help which are the next two techniques of Imago relationship therapy.
Reimagining Your Partner
Couples tend to dehumanize one another using pronouns, such as “you always…,” “she never…,” and “he is…” rather than using names.
It is essential to start seeing the partner as an ally rather than an enemy. The relationship is a vehicle for growth, not a mistake from the past.
The couple is encouraged to remember that problems in a relationship are only partly about now and significantly about “the house they grew up in”.
The Container Process
A couple typically expresses anger in a relationship loudly or not at all.
When one partner does not express their anger, the other can become frustrated. And when it is let loose, the other person may freeze or hide.
IRT encourages recognition of that anger and finds a way to make it safe to be heard.
The container process involves making an appointment and scheduling time to express that anger safely and in a controlled way.
Providing enough warning makes the other person ready and allows them to find their safe place to hear the anger and ultimately reach into the pain beneath.