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What is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) is a form of relationship therapy innovated by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. Dr. Hendrix was author of the two Best Sellers "Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples," and "Keeping the Love You Find: A Guide for Singles." It integrates and extends the insights of the major western psychological systems, behavioral science and spiritual disciplines into a uniquely comprehensive and systemic theory of primary love relationships.

Its basic premises are as follows:

  • We were born whole and complete.
  • We became wounded during the early nurturing and socializing stages of development by our primary caretakers (usually inadvertently).
  • We have a composite image of all the positive and negative traits of our primary care takers deep in our unconscious mind. This is called the IMAGO. It is like a blue print of the one we need to be our partner in a committed intimate relationship.<
  • We look for someone who is an IMAGO Match, that is, someone who matches up with the composite image of our primary caretakers. This is important because we marry or commit for the purpose of healing and finishing the unfinished business of childhood. Our parents are the ones who wounded us and it is they who could help us heal. A primary love partner who matches their traits is their stand-in.
  • Romantic Love is the door to committed relationship and/or marriage and is nature’s way of connecting us with the perfect partner for our eventual healing.
  • We move into a power struggle as soon as we make a commitment to this person. The power struggle is necessary, for imbedded in a couple’s frustrations lie the information for healing and growth.
  • The first two stages of marriage, "romantic love" and the "power struggle," are engaged in at an unconscious level. Our unconscious mind chose our partner for the purpose of healing childhood wounds.
  • Inevitably our love partner is incompatible with us and least able to meet our needs and most able to wound us all over again.
  • The goal of Imago Relationship Therapy is to align our conscious mind (which wants happiness and good feelings) with the agenda of the unconscious mind (which wants healing and growth). Thus, the goal of therapy is to assist clients in developing conscious, intimate, committed relationships.
  • This transition cannot take place through insight alone. Specific skills and processes are necessary that need to be practiced daily to shift us from having an unconscious marriage or relationship to a conscious marriage or relationship.
  • It takes two to five years of regular work although not necessarily therapy, to develop a conscious marriage, which will bring you the relationship you deserve, that is, one with safety and passion.

Source: The Imago Match, A Quarterly Newsletter, published by Francine Beauvoir, Ph. D. and Bruce Crapuchettes, Ph. D; Pasadena Institute for Relationships; Altadena, CA.

Choosing to Work with an Imago Relationship Therapist

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How does Imago Relationship Therapy differ from other types of marital therapy? There are many forms of marital therapy available that rely on teaching new skills alone in an attempt to help couples change, perhaps by helping them negotiate their conflicts better or setting up weekly contracts for new behaviors. The skills Imago Relationship Therapists teach are part of a larger step-by-step process with the goal of individual healing through the transformation of committed partnerships.

Founded by Harville Hendrix, Ph. D., Imago theory subscribes to the belief that, in Western cultures, we unconsciously bring out unfinished business from childhood needs on our partners; and because both partners have the same agenda, relationship conflicts generally result. Because our wounding occurred in our early relationships with the people who raised us, our healing must also occur in the context of a relationship.

Imago Relationship Therapists are trained to assist couples in gaining access to the central unconscious motivations they bring to their relationships for resolution. When these hidden hopes, fears and longings are no longer hidden and can be communicated in the structured atmosphere of safety provided by the therapists, partners begin to see one another differently, experience greater empathy towards one another and actively take steps to create a new experience of relationship. Imago Relationship Therapists help couple delve into the core problem or issue in the relationship - the relationship impasse. It is usually this impasse - that seemingly "unmovable object" - that brings troubled couples into therapy in the first place. In the course of therapy, just by working the process, impasses dissolve. It is in this process, too, that couples agree to take on a new purpose for being together - a mutual attempt to complete childhood and commit to becoming one another's healer in the context of a conscious relationship. In most troubled relationships, problems continue to escalate because one or both partners have exhausted their resources and have literally run out of skills.

Therapy with a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist provides a safe container for change to occur and replaces the couple's old, unworkable problem-solving behaviors with new relationship skills that have been proven to help partners transform even the most seemingly "hopeless" situations. For example, the attempt to get one's needs met through criticism of one's partner (which experience shows, has the opposite result) is replaces with a skill called the Behavior Change Request process in which partners learn to translate their relationship frustrations into clear, direct requests for tangible desired behaviors that will meet the need.

Imago Relationship Therapy is a practical and cost-effective approach as well. The job of an Imago Relationship Therapist is to make himself or herself obsolete. Because partners are taught to become therapeutic with one another, they will have less and less need for the therapist over time.

Source: Imago Relationship Therapy Resources Catalogue, 1995-96, written by Lisa Kelvin Tuttle

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