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Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) is one of the best known and most effective approaches to couples counseling.

Created by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980, Imago Relationship Therapy is based on the concept that we unconsciously try to heal childhood wounds through our romantic relationships. This is a revolutionary therapy that helps couples move from unconscious to conscious patterns of interaction fostering communication and connection. You may already know the work of Dr. Hendrix who wrote the best-selling book Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples (1988).

IRT Teaches a More Effective Way to Communicate


You’ll learn a new way to talk to each other, so what you say is mirrored back to you, validated, and empathized with. You’ll learn how to communicate your frustrations and desires more effectively and how to ask for exactly what you need to be whole.

How Your Partner Can Help You Heal


Imago Relationship Therapy brings mindfulness into the relationship. The strategies and techniques create a sense of presence that helps couples shift from their minds to their hearts. It creates a deep and profound feeling of connection and safety.

Theory

The positive and negative traits of our caretakers from childhood—an unconscious but familiar image of love— form what is called our Imago, the Greek word for image. Drs. Hendrix and Hunt, both of whom began their research after divorce from their spouses, proposed that what attracts us to our partners are the very issues we need to heal from our formative relationships. With guidance and through the Imago Dialogue, our partner is the perfect person to help us overcome past wounds and complete the journey to healing and wholeness.

In practical terms, if an issue keeps arising in a relationship (let’s say one partner wants more affection) it’s not necessarily about what is happening in the present but a reaction to what happened in the past. Most of us only face a few of these stumbling blocks but they come up again and again, often overshadowing the positive aspects of our partnerships. The goal of Imago Relationship Therapy is to move past these unconscious childhood wounds so that we stop blaming, criticizing and negatively reacting to our partners and move towards a more understanding and empathetic relationship.

Core Principles

  • We were born whole and complete but during the early nurturing and socialization stages of development, we were wounded (usually inadvertently) by our primary caretakers.
  • All the positive and negative traits of our primary caretakers form a composite image deep in our unconscious mind. This is called the Imago. It’s a blueprint of the person who we need to partner with someday.
  • We end up with someone who is an Imago match (they’re that composite of our childhood caretakers). This is because we unconsciously choose our partner to heal and finish the unfinished business of our past.
  • Romantic love connects us with the right partner for our eventual healing and growth.

Not surprisingly, the process of trying to help our partner heal their childhood wounds ends up growing the parts of our own personality that need the most work.

How It Works

The core practice of IRT is the “Imago Couple’s Dialogue”. This is a structured conversation that may at first feel unnatural but becomes second nature over time and is surprisingly powerful. The Imago Dialogue consists of:

  • Mirroring: you convey your thoughts using “I” language. It’s not about criticizing your partner but instead saying “I feel” or “I love” or “I need”. Your partner listens deeply and mirrors each statement (“Let me see if I understand. You said…”). They will then summarize (“I heard you say…Did I get it all?”)
  • Validation: you may have different perspectives but it’s important that the next response is validating your partner’s “I” statements (“That makes sense to me because …”). The Imago Dialogue is not about being right or wrong, it’s about connection.
  • Empathy: imagining what your partner must be feeling, not thinking (“I can imagine you might feel…”). This final step enables each partner to extend themselves to understand the experience of the other as different from their own.

Why we incorporate Imago Relationship Therapy

We have found that the Imago Couples Dialogue (or Deep Listening) is essential to restoring communication, connection and safety for couples in distress. The enormous presence that is created with Imago transforms and elevates the energy in the relationship, both in session and at home. We truly believe, as Drs. Harville and Hunt do, that couples are drawn together to provoke or trigger each other so that childhood wounds can emerge and be healed. With some guidance, conflict can lead us to lasting love.

Craig is a certified Imago Relationship Therapist and Debbie is trained in Imago Relationship Therapy.