Imago at a glance – The Imago Relationship Fitness Q&A

Why is my partner so annoying at times?

We fall in love with someone, and imagine that now at last life will be full of peace, joy, companionship and hope. But after a while we often become aware that our partner seems to
stand in the way of us achieving our own dreams of peace and fulfillment. We become angry with our partner, because we feel they aren’t able to provide what we expected
of them, when we fell in love. And now we are committed to them – we can’t get those things from someone else either! They
stand between us, and the life we dreamed of.

That can make us very angry and frustrated.

Why doesn’t my partner love me a little better?

In our dreams, maybe we imagine the perfect partner to be the one who we fall in love with, and it carries on that way for ever. They understand us so well, they are there for us when we need
them, saying the right words, providing the right support that we need. Perhaps in our dreams we don’t have those big arguments, or disappointments. It really is “happily ever after!”

Why couldn’t we find that perfect partner? Maybe we secretly long that our partner was a little bit quieter, or noisier. We wish they were more generous, or better with money! We wish they liked
sex more, or left us alone occasionally

There’s a reason why we fall in love with the partner who doesn’t seem quite able to match our dreams. We see in them an ability to love us, in a way that we learned from people who loved us in our earliest years. (more…)


Communication Strategies Within Your Marriage

There are obvious tensions and differences of opinion in every marriage. Although it does not feel
that way, the tension and differences of opinion are needed just as much as love to create and
maintain a happy marriage. The problem of tension and disagreement within marriage is not
because it happens, but rather the way it is approached. The approach to challenging situations in
relationship will not become problematic because of the lack of skills, but rather because you and /
or your partner forget when to use the skills you already have.

When anger and stress are considered, it is easy to lose the ability to communicate effectively with
your partner. According to John Gottman’s book "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, there are four
important strategies to restore effective communication within marriage (1995). Below are three of
the four strategies:
The first strategy, which forms the basis for the next steps, is to calm down. Realize when you feel
overwhelmed by the situation and make a conscious decision to calm down. Take a moment for
yourself; Just take a deep breath or step out of the room for a moment. Try to explain to your
partner that you are not trying to avoid the discussion, but only take a break to calm yourself – with
the aim of rationally thinking while discussing the situation. The main purpose of calming yourself is
to prevent “flooding”. Flooding occurs when you share an excess of emotions and words, which are
usually negative and deconstructive. Once you focus on calming down, you will be able to stop the
"flooding" and first think about what you feel and why.

Second, and it can be difficult at first, listen without being defensive. Do not listen to your partner as
they share their feelings and thoughts about the situation, with the aim of proving why they are
wrong by feeling and thinking this way. When you listen for the purpose of defending yourself, you
only see the negative qualities of your partner. In challenging situations, it is essential to remember
what is important; your love for each other, not the frustration towards each other. Which brings us
to the third strategy, appreciation

Don’t overlook your partner’s point of view, instead try to see the situation from their point of view.
After putting yourself in your partner’s shoes, show him / her that you understand and value how
they feel. This will later lead your partner to feel safe sharing their feelings with you and will
encourage them to listen to how you feel.

The right approach to challenges within relationship is a steadfast building block to the path towards
a happy marriage.

Gottman, J., Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1995). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can
make yours last. Simon and Schuster.


5 Imago tips to keep your marriage strong in 2020:

1. The first step in ensuring a strong and healthy marriage is to make a conscious decision to improve and maintain your marriage. Remember, you choose what you
want to change. And you can make the decision at any given time.

2. Be an active listener when your spouse is talking; stay present in what they are saying- do not get lost in your in own thoughts or try to form your response or to
think how this is relatable to you, just listen. In order to ensure you heard what was needed to be heard, mirror back to your spouse by using the exact same words they
used. Start your mirroring by saying, “I hear you say…” and then continue by repeating what you heard.

3. Practice your empathy by placing yourself in their shoes- this will make it easier to understand your spouse’s feelings and reactions. It is difficult to really get someone
if you try to understand them from your perspective. Rather try to see it from their realities in order to understand the context.

4. Be confident enough in your own feelings. Your feelings are valid. But also try to recognize when you’re reacting out of your reptile brain. Being able to recognize this
reaction can help you to know when you need to request a dialogue with your partner.

5. Most importantly, don’t forget why you fell in love in the first place with your spouse. As time progress is it quite easy to forget all the lovely things about one
another, but make sure to stay aware, and in awe, of all the beautiful things of your spouse, do not make a habit thereof to overlook the good qualities. Focus on the
things you want to see in your partner rather than on the things you don’t. A nice addition to this step is to tell your spouse at least once a day something you
appreciate about them.


What is Imago?

Imago Relationship Therapy is a therapy process developed by Harville Hendrix to create safe, conscious relationships – especially marriage relationships. As he describes in his book “Getting the Love you Want” you will grow to a relationship where:


  1. You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose – the healing of childhood wounds. Instead of focusing entirely on surface needs and desires, you learn to recognize the unresolved childhood issues that underlie them. When you look at marriage with this X-ray vision, your daily interactions take on more meaning. Puzzling aspects of you relationship begins to make sense to you, and you have a greater sense of control.
  2. You create a more accurate image of your partner. At the very moment of attraction, you began fusing your lover with your primary caretakers. Later you projected your negative traits onto your partner, further obscuring your partner’s essential reality. As you move toward a conscious marriage, you gradually let go of these illusions and begin to see more of your partner’s truth. You see your partner not as your saviour but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed.
  3. You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner. In an unconscious marriage, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs. In a conscious marriage, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication.
  4. You become more intentional in your interactions. In an unconscious marriage, you tend to react without thinking. You allow the primitive response of your old brain to control your behaviour. In a conscious marriage, you train yourself to behave in a more constructive manner.
  5. You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own. In an unconscious marriage, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically. In a conscious marriage, you let go of this narcissistic view and divert more and more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs.
  6. You embrace the dark side of your personality. In a conscious marriage, you openly acknowledge the fact that you, like everyone else, have negative traits, As you accept responsibility for this dark side of your nature, you lessen your tendency to project your negative traits onto you mate, which creates a less hostile environment.
  7. You learn new techniques to satisfy your basic needs and desires. During the power struggle, cajole, harangue, and blame in an attempt to coerce your partner to meet your needs. When you move beyond this stage, you realize that your partner can indeed be a resource for you  – once you abandon your self defeating tactics.
  8. You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking. One reason you were attracted to your partner is that your partner had strengths and abilities that you lacked. Therefore, being with your partner gave you an illusory sense of wholeness. In a conscious marriage, you learn that the only way you can truly recapture a sense of oneness is to develop the hidden traits within.
  9. You become more aware of your drive to be loving and whole and united with the universe. As a part of your God-given nature, you have the ability to love unconditionally and to experience unity with the world around you. Social conditioning and imperfect parenting made you lose touch with these qualities. In a conscious marriage, you begin to rediscover your original nature.
  10. You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage. In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner. In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner. As you gain a more realistic view of love relationships, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.



What Is Imago Relationship Therapy?

By Hedy Schleifer

Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT), developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. of the Institute for Relationship Therapy in New York, is a paradigm shift in the understanding of marriage and marital therapy. IRT is a short term therapy that combines insight and practical skills. Couples learn to become safe and intentional, to recognize and repair the wounds of the past, and to restructure frustration and ‘incompatibility’ as opportunities to reclaim their whole self.

Some of IRT’s basic assumptions are the following:

Our original state is one of wholeness, joy, connection, curiosity, spontaneity, and passion.

Over/under-parenting and the process of socialization, creates wounding at various stages of childhood development as essential developmental impulses are blocked. The child unconsciously determines the impulse, rather than the parent, to be ‘unacceptable’ and creates patterned behavior to adapt to the wounding. This is our ‘character structure.’

Partner selection is the result of the unconscious desire to complete or correct what was unfinished in childhood. We select a partner who carries both the positive and negative characteristics of our caretakers (the ‘Imago’), and who was wounded in the same area, but adapted in a complementary way.

The adaptation patterns of one partner triggers the wound and survival pattern of the other, creating a cycle of reactivity. Pattern relates to pattern, rather than person relating to person.

Developmentally specific nurturing of each partner helps heal the childhood wound. And paradoxically, our partner will need the very thing that will stretch us out of our own pattern and help us reclaim aspects of our self.

The more primitive part of the brain stores emotion and memory related to perceived threats to survival. It is atemporal and ignores our rational explanations about its fear. While insight is important, consistent corrective experience is need to change survival patterns.

This therapy helps couples access and integrate those unconscious developmental needs triggered in relational conflict, and become increasingly conscious and intentional in their own behavior in order to create safety for their partner. Frustration and hurt become pathways to create a ‘conscious relationship’ that is characterized by real love, intimacy, passion, connection, joy and other inherent qualities of our original self.

Healing in Therapy Related to Quality of Relationship

Research has consistently shown that the effectiveness of therapy is more closely related to the relational qualities between therapist and client, particularly affective and cognitive empathy, than to any particular technique. We take in and contain the experience and feelings of the other, and at the same time, act as a differentiated, yet connected self. Cognitive and affective empathy validates a part of the person’s self that has long ago been invalidated, rejected, or abandoned by childhood caretakers, and in the resulting pain, by the self. It is kept unconscious because it is locked in self hatred. However, through continued empathic holding and communication, a person can stay for a period in a previously inaccessible area with the help of the other. As the person is ‘held’ empathetically, s/he gains access to and can begin to incorporate the ‘intolerable’ part of the self, discovering within it the ‘potential’ self that has not yet been realized. Traditionally, the therapeutic relationship has been the primary experience of this kind of empathy and safety. IRT empowers couples to learn and use these skills to create safety and healing in their own relationship, and to foster the process of differentiation while remaining deeply connected.

Basic Tool is Couple’s Dialogue

The basic tool of Imago Relationship Therapy is a specific form of couple’s dialogue that teaches couples to contain their partner, to mirror precisely, to validate (cognitive empathy) the other’s experience, and to empathize affectively. Through various processes based on that structure, couples can access childhood wounding and hold the seemingly ‘intolerable’ aspects of the partner so that s/he can begin to reclaim the imprisoned ‘potential’ self .

Re-Imaging the Partner

Just as importantly, couples use their knowledge of the childhood wounds to both empower them to become increasingly intentional in the relationship and to discover very specific ways to nurture and reverse the developmental arrest. The image of the partner is transformed from “someone who won’t give me what I want or need, etc.” to “a person who was wounded, and who can recover their inherent self as I, the partner, create the necessary safety. ” The partner can then provide the corrective experience that is needed for healing, and in doing that, stretch out of his/her own character structure. The attitude toward the partner shifts from criticism and blame to compassion, hope, and a commitment to assist the partner in healing, and to reclaim one’s fullest self. In this way, emotional safety is created and deepened. Far from being just another communication tool, the skills provide a structure for safe, effective, healing and lasting change. In a revolutionary way, IRT shifts the power of the healing relationship traditionally reserved for the therapist/client relationship into the hands of the couple.


Copyright 1996, Hedy Schleifer, MA, LMHC. Winter Park, Florida Copies of this article or parts thereof may be reproduced for personal use but must contain copyright information. Reproduction for financial gain is prohibited



How much of yourself do you need to sacrifice to have a happy relationship?

Imago Relationship Couples Workshop “Getting the love You Want”

Many theories and self-help books suggest that you need to compromise parts of who you are, to be in a relationship. You need to accept certain behaviors of your partner. To do that, you need to compromise.

The problem with that, is that this feels unfair. And you didn’t fall in love to give up parts of yourself? Somewhere, the price for peace or to be accepted, feels too high. If you need to choose between life and peace or love, somewhere, our aliveness becomes the more important choice. You can sacrifice for a day, or a month or maybe a year, but not for the rest of your life. Because of this, every decision to adapt or compromise, becomes the basis for the next power struggle and breakup.

Don’t be misled by promises that compromising is real love and the more you sacrifice yourself, the more you will be rewarded with love. It will just let you feel more powerless, angry and disillusioned. And it definitely does not feel like love. And what is more, the people you compromise for, also does not feel loved.



The development and retaining of love in the relationship

1. With who do you fall in love?

You fall in love with someone because of two reasons:

Firstly, without even realizing it, you create your picture of the perfect lover based on your childhood caregiver. For you to feel your partner is acting the same as one of your parents is not a coincidence, it is the truth. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt explains; when someone acts in the same way as your childhood caregiver, the familiarity thereof creates an immediate sense of safety. You know the behaviour and already know how to react upon it and so, you feel safe enough to let down your walls and reveal who you are. Of course, it is possible for this familiar behaviour to not be seen as safe. (more…)


Therapy that transforms your relationship 

Relationship Therapy is seen by some people as something that couples need who fail in their relationships. You go for therapy when you fight or when there is trouble in your relationship.

And yes, it is true, when there is serious conflict in your relationship, you need relationship therapy. Sometimes couples are just too stuck in their power struggles to get out of it themselves.

But if relationship therapy is only interested in solving your problems and helping you to handle the conflict more adult and healthy, it is not going to last very long. (more…)