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Imago Relationships: An Approach to Couples Therapy

What it is: Imago is Latin for Image focuses on a person’s unconscious internalized image of love, which comes from experiences with caretakers growing up. Imago therapy is based on the idea that your partner is your image of love and your healer. An individual is attracted to someone who meets those needs not fulfilled in childhood. Your partner provides healing and helps an individual to then experience growth.  We are born in relationship, wounded in relationship, and heal in relationship. We are each other’s healers. We work with our partner to understand each other. Our disagreements can stem from our perceptions. How we perceive our partner and ourselves affects our actions and our energy. Taking the time to perceive our partner correctly by checking in with them, can then cause us to act and project our energy in a healthy, respectful, and appropriate manner. We are all connected. In a relationship, we want to feel connected., so we attune to each other. When we are trying to constantly connect, if we miss something, feel discomfort, don’t understand something, we want to stop the discomfort, so we distance ourself from our partner, thus not experiencing connection with your partner. When we are born, we receive messages of how to be and not to be. When there is conflict in a couple, the issue is the surface level, the content. Underneath this is  hurt, and under hurt is the root of the issue, the unmet need. In Imago therapy, if the environment and couple feel safe, the energy will go to the wound, and the experience becomes deeper place.

What a couple learns and experiences in room: Both members of a couple contribute to the issues that come up in a relationship and are protesting the loss of feeling a connection. A couple learns that all people make sense all of the time if we listen long enough. We take the therapy hour to listen, mirror, understand, and empathize with our partner. When one partner understands the other, that which they are fighting about is irrelevant. A couple will always have their differences, and that is why they are attracted to each other. With Imago, they develop a deep understanding and empathy for their differences, and are thus less triggered by them. The couple understands each other’s concerns first, in a safe environment, and then they are able to solve them or accept them. Each member of the couple practices self-awareness  and radical observation of your interpretive and judgemental self. A couple’s experience in Imago therapy will evolve from voicing frustrations about your partner to noticing and sharing your self-stuggles.  The focus shifts from other to self.  The couple shares appreciations, initial attractions,  reasons they fell in love, frustrations, what they miss and the desire to get it back. You reflect on what you feel, think, react, and behave, how that affects your partner, and how you wish would have responded. You also share with your partner your childhood experiences which likely shape your behavior and underly your triggers. In Imago therapy, you learn to listen and hold on to your reaction that comes up, so you can be present and attentive to your partner. You learn to take responsibility for your reactivity. We also learn how to be fully alive within ourselves, thus connecting to our partner. You learn how to communicate to your partner in a respectful way, where you espress your experience, your feelings, in a way that benefits your partner.

Therapist: An Imago therapists job is to provide a safe environment for a dialogue to occur between a couple. The therapist facilitates the couple’s skills of becoming a conscious partner. The Imago dialogue is a learned structured connection skill. The dialogue creates safety, facilitates structure, contains reactivity, promotes intentionality, re-experience connection, rewires the reptilian brain, experience differentiation, the couple heals each other, and removes therapist from analysis. Another concept the Imago therapist teaches the couple is to hold your world when listening to your partner. The therapist’s gift is to teach the couple how to be in relationship with the other. The therapist teaches the couple to let go of survival strategies. The therapist is helping the couple to become conscious and let go of the outcome. The therapist guides the couple in connection. The therapist teaches you to be hopeful that the universe puts you in a place to be conscious to get your needs met, so you can think, you can get the results you want, know your contributions and use them, and be aware of what is getting in the way. The therapist teaches you to think “when I say that or don’t say that to my partner, am I increasing our connection?” The therapist helps the couple to be successful in each session and in their relationship.

Partner choice: An individual wants his/her relationship to make sense, so we choose people who give us what we didn’t receive growing up. We are attracted to the differences, yet the differences bring conflict, but the attraction and the conflict mean you’ve found the right person. Part of our attraction to our partner is to once again feel our wholeness, aliveness, attraction to lost parts of ourselves. The attraction is so compelling, but then a huge source of conflict later. You also tend to fall in love with someone with the same amount of baggage. Our behaviour represents our unmet needs, our defensive behaviour make things worse, and we all bring baggage into our relationship. We fall in love because of certain quality(s) of the other person,  the quality changes after marriage, and that same quality represents the lost part of ourself. In a couple there are maximizers and minimizers. Maximizers easily talk things out, while minimizers work things out within themselves. When you don’t feel safe, you maximize or minimize your energy. Avoiders fall in love with clingers. In the initial romantic phase, your walls are down, so these differences are balanced nicely. We may not be responsible for our first statement, but we are very responsible for what continues to come out, our 2nd, 3rd, 4th statements.

Brain: When you don’t feel safe, your fight or flight response is triggered. This is an automatic response in the brain. Until we feel safe, we don’t have access to our cortex, which allows us to think clearly.  A couple needs to feel safe in order to understand each other. When we empathize with each other and love each other, we produce endorphins; when we are in conflict we produce cortisol. Source: Imago Relationships International

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