Some theory behind Imago Couple Counselling
24th November, 2008
From conflict to hope - at some time in their relationship couples often find themselves struggling with anger, shock despair and sadness. Some are newlyweds who can't understand how they have dived from the heights of love into a morass of conflict. Others have been together for many years and lament that they have nothing in common any more, they end up leading a disappointed co-existence enduring being together for the sake of the children.
What is really happening when we fall in and out of love?
Dr Harville Hendrix who developed Imago therapy believes that we all begin life in a state of relaxed joyful bliss. If our caretakers are attuned out our needs the feelings of aliveness and well being are sutained - we remain whole. But even in the best of circumstances our parents are not perfect and every unmet need causes fear and pain and in our infantile ignorance we have no idea how to stop it and restore a feeling of safety. As a response we adapt primitive coping mechanisms ranging from constant crying to get attention to withdrawing inward and denying that we even have needs. Meanwhile throughout our childhood we are also being socialized, molded by our caretakers and communities to fit into society. We learn what to do to gain love and acceptance. We repress amd disown parts of ourselves that society finds unacceptable or unlovable. All of us were wounded in childhood to some extent.
When we fall in love we believe that we have found that sense of joyful aliveness again. Suddenly we have someone who really makes us feel whole, we are sexier, cleverer, funnier more giving etc. and we feel safe and at home.
When we marry or move in together things start to go wrong. We discover that our partner has qualities that we don't like and that they are different than we thought they were - disillusionment turns to anger. The power struggle has begun. What is going on? You have found an Imago partner, someone who is unqualified (at the moment) to give you the love you want and this is supposed to happen.
Harville expains that we all think we have freedom of choice when we are choosing a partner but our unconscious has its own agenda. Our 'old brain' has a compelling drive to repair the damage done in childhood as a result of unmet needs and the way it does that is to find a partner who can give us what our caretakers failed to provide, it looks for someone who carries all the positive AND negative traits of our caretakers. Although we consciously look for only the positive traits our old brain selects the negative as well seeking to heal those traits.
The image of 'the person who can make me whole again' is called the imago.
Another powerful part of our Imago is that we seek the qualities in ourselves that we lost in socialisation. If we are shy we seek someone outgoing, if we are disorganised we look for someone organised etc Eventually our own feelings - our repressed exhuberance or anger are stirred we are uncomfortable and criticise our partners for being too outgoing or too coldly rational.
What we need to understand and accept is that conflict is supposed to happen. This is as nature intended it. Conflict is a sign that the psyche is trying to survive to get its needs met and become whole.
Divorce does not solve the problems of relationship. We may get rid of our partners but we keep our problems taking them into the next relationship. Romantic love is supposed to end. The power struggle also is supposed to end. Regardless of what we believe, relationships are not born of love but of need, real love is born in relationships, as a result of understanding what they are about and the goal of Imago practice is to change the power struggle and set you on a path of real love.
Many couples' problems are rooted in misunderstood, manipulated or avoided communications using the Imago dialogue you can restructure the way you talk to each other.
We learn that whenever two people are involved there are always two realities. The reality of the other person can be understood and accepted but not made identical to our own.
The dialogue is turned into action, we give our partners what they need and not just what is easy to give. In a conscious relationship we agree to change to give our partner what they need and as we do that we heal our own painful experiences. In giving our partners what is hardest to give we have to bring our hidden selves into the light, owning and enlightening parts of ourselves. We stretch to conquer our fears and do what comes unnaturally.
Over the course of time as our partners demonstrate their love for us, as they learn about and accept our hidden selves, our pain and self absorption diminishes. We restore our empathetic feelings for our partners and see them for themselves and not merely as extensions of ourselves.
A conscious relationship is a spiritual path which leads us back to the feeling of joy and aliveness. All through the course of Imago practice we learn to express love as a behaviour daily, in large and small ways we stretch to give our partner what they need and we learn to love. This is not an easy and quick process but a positive journey.
Related articles from our experts
- What is codependency?
Gherardo Della Marta MBACP counsellor in Holborn, Camden and Queens Park23rd April, 2017
- Toxic mums - healing the wounds in adulthood
Saska Plowman Psychotherapeutic Counsellor (Integrative) RMBACP21st April, 2017
- Grieving the loss of a friendship
Una Cavanagh MBACP (Accred)20th April, 2017
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.