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More About Imago

Dr. Harville Hendrix, who developed Imago Couples Therapy together with his wife Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, found himself in a situation like that many years ago. He was married to his beloved first wife, had children with her, worked as a psychologist who also treated couples, and suddenly he was at the end of a divorce process from her, with poignant questions:

"What happened to our love"?

"How is it that our relationship, which was so loving, promising and wonderful, ended up in a divorce?"

These questions bothered him so much that he devoted the following years to research this phenomenon and looking for answers to his (and many divorced couples like him) questions. He did it with his second wife, Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt who was also a divorced mother.

The word IMAGO in Latin, means IMAGE. Imago theory explains how we all have an image in our subconscious of our life partner. We developed this image throughout our growing up years, mostly influenced by how we were loved and cared for by the people who raised us (mostly our parents or another permanent figure in our life). This image - Imago, is comprised of all the good and bad characters that our caregiver possesses. The most important is our perception of how they loved us, how close and warm we felt with them, how safe they made us feel (or unsafe) and how available they were (from Doing Imago Relationship Therapy In The Space Between. Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt). That is where we learned what love is. In Imago, these are the most important ingredients, and these are the feelings that are driving us when we look for our significant other. With this image - Imago in our subconscious, we go out into the world in search for him/ her. Someone who carries the qualities that are familiar to us from those who raised us. Since we all have subconscious expectations that with this chosen partner we will experience bliss we have experienced when we were born, and since we are longing to feel it again since childhood, we are really disappointed and upset when we start to encounter conflicts and fights with our beloved one. We find ourselves too many times hurt, feeling not important enough, neglected, forgotten and so much more. And when we do, it's only natural that we will express our hurt in the way we were used to when we were little. We are unaware of the fact that we have moved in our relationship from the first stage - the infatuation stage, the "Romantic Phase" of falling in love, to the next phase of the relationship, the “Power Struggle” stage. We are unaware that after the "Romantic Phase", the falling in love phase, we enter the in between phases - the commitment phase which is usually followed by the power struggle stage. We aren’t aware that we are supposed to reach this stage in our relationship because if handled right, it will provide us with all the ingredients and tools we need to grow and finish childhood (according to the Imago theory). In Imago we look at conflicts as growth that is trying to happen. The result of this process is the next stage of the relationship, the "Conscious Relationship" which is the relationship of our dreams.

Imago theory recognizes the real difficulty in creating one world out of two. Two people who come into connection with different worldviews, different understandings and behaviors. Two people who grew up in different homes with different mentalities and attitudes about life, try to live together. Falling in love bridges these differences because when falling in love, everyone is at the peak of their good behavior for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of wanting to win this partner, and out of sincere feelings of desire to do good to the partner. That’s falling in love!

At this wonderful phase everything seems possible: it will be possible to change the spouse, it will be possible to live together and ignore things that one does not like in them, until the wedding it will pass, and if not, then after the wedding….

But when the relationship is no longer new, when the relationship is established in some way and daily life becomes routine, when the hormones that flowed in the blood (love hormones) during the period of falling in love begin to dissipate, difficulties begin. The differences between the partners, the things we did not like so much but turned a blind eye to in the hope that they would pass, are starting to bother us. Even the things that attracted us and made us feel that the qualities of this person are familiar to us and complement us, are starting to bother us and interfere. The frustrations from the differences begin to grow.

Most problems between spouses lie in the fact that each spouse is not the same, each is different!  It is hard to live with someone and to accept that difference.

When living together, it is very difficult for each spouse to show patience and tolerance for the other partner’s logic, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Spouses live under a mistaken belief and feeling that even though the partner is different from them, they are supposed to feel and react like they do. And when they do not, they are disappointed, frustrated, and angry. They have a hard time with the fact that the partner do not feel, think, and behave like them.

Dr. Harville Hendrix jokingly expresses this hidden wish of most spouses and puts it this way:

"You and I are one, and I am the one!”

So, what should we do about this?

Imago's way of couples therapy is the fastest way to get couples to communicate with each other in a way that feels safe and healing. It allows couples to go back and see their partner as a person who could be trusted emotionally. It allows couples to fall in love while in full awareness of the person they want to be with. Full awareness with themselves and with each other.

The main tool of Imago – The Imago Dialogue – is designed to be non-threatening and keeps both spouses safe with each other. As a result, the relationship wakes up and feels like the way it did during the period of falling in love


The first step: in the Imago couples therapy process is to develop awareness. Recognition of the fact that we are two different people trying to create one common world. Awareness that a relationship has stages, and an awareness of the responsibility each spouse has for what happens in it.

Awareness of all of these evokes important insights about relationships:

The first, each of us deserves to be equally respected.

Another insight: "I need to see my partner and listen to them, the way I want them to see me and listen to me.”

The second step: replacing responsiveness with curiosity.

The way to resolve the differences between us is not through quarrels in an attempt to convince your partner that you are right, and he/she is not, but in developing a new muscle (just like developing a muscle in the gym). A muscle that will help turn the sense of frustration felt during conflict into curiosity about the experiences, thoughts and feelings that led the partner to think, react, and act as they did when the conflict arose. In Imago, we approach conflicts with a deep and sincere sense of curiosity towards the other's experiences, and when we show curiosity towards them, magic happens.

Step Three: Acquire the Skill of Imago Dialogue, the main tool of Imago therapy.

We teach couples how to talk to each other in a way that will make each one in turn feels that the partner is listening to them, seeing them, understanding them and identifying with them in a way that they have not felt before. When spouses learn to express to each other their experiences in a way that does not shame, blame, criticize, or judge the opposite partner, both spouses can let down their guards and start to open up to the process of Imago Dialogue, in which the listening partner does not feel threatened because the sharing partner does not speak threatening language. And when there is such talk, the listening partner can afford to listen, be completely open to their partner's experiences, be curious about their experience, understand where they are coming from, and feel empathy for them. This is despite the fact that they went through a completely different experience in the same event that provoked the conflict, and they are not necessarily agreeing with their partner. In the imago dialogue, both spouses have the opportunity to tell each other what they went through, without the threat of the listening partner trying to contradict the truth of the speaking spouse. Here the listening partner does only that: listens, reflects, shows curiosity for more, says what they heard and what they understood, and expresses validation and empathy towards the speaking partner in words. When there is such listening, the listening partner can find logic in their partner's experience and give it validity (confirmation). This is despite the fact that in their experience there is another truth. They can be present there for the sake of the spouse because they know that soon they will be able to tell their truth, and the spouse will be present there for them and will listen to them in exactly the same way that they did. That is where a great miracle takes place: both spouses suddenly understand the source of the other's pain and frustration, and this allows them to better understand each other, accept the reasons for their reactions, identify with each other and embrace each other in a big warm and loving hug.

Be present for your spouse, just as you want them to be present for you. It's often difficult, but when both spouses do that for each other, they both grow, mentally and emotionally.

And how do we know we're listening?

When we feel that what we listened to has made a difference in us.

Imago Dialogue requires each spouse to be present for their partner. This clean presence allows the partner to feel seen, understood, listened to, and seen as they have never felt before. It is a special and corrective experience that helps in recovery from childhood experiences in which we did not feel seen and listened to. It is an experience that strengthens the bond and nourishes the "space between" the couple, the space in which the relationship actually takes place.

“The Space Between” is what we focus on during couple's therapy using the Imago method.

The "space between" the couple is where the bond is formed and developed when nourished properly. Everything we do for the "space between" contributes, strengthens, and builds the relationship, and vice versa. When spouses learn to speak and listen to each other correctly, there is no need to resolve conflicts, they tend to dissipate.

In Imago couples therapy, we look at conflict between spouses as an opportunity for the growth of each of them and the relationship.

Conflict is a growth trying to happen!

In the process of imago therapy, as an Imago therapist, I do not take sides, do not judge, do not criticize and do not resolve conflicts and problems. Here there is no one who is okay and one who is not. I act as a guide for the couple. I create a safe place for them to develop, share, be present and remember why they chose to be together. I do all that in language that does not threaten any of the spouses. A language that allows them to be open and honest. I maintain the “space between”, help keeping it free from criticism, judgment, accusations, and shame, and help them renew their trust and sense of security. When all these happen, the passion between the couple awakens and comes back to life.

The next time a conflict arises between you and your partner, and you experience anger, quarrels, outbursts, disregard, the need to prove to the other they are wrong and that you are right, I suggest you try something new! Try the Imago way!

A way that thousands of couples around the world have tried and swear by.

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