Imago Relationship Therapy

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

One of the most difficult kinds of psychotherapy for patients and therapists is marriage therapy. Couples arrive at the therapist’s office and begin to argue with one another about the issues, peeves and grievances they have. All too often, the therapist becomes a referee who tries to prevent the argument from becoming too heated and out of control. This can become frustrating and defeating for the couple and the therapist. However, there is a different kind of marriage therapy that is more structured and focused than traditional marriage therapy. It is called Imago Relationship Therapy. Imago relationship therapy was founded by Harville Hendrix.

Hendrix is the author of the book “Getting The Love You Want,” among others. Hendrix is a PhD in psychology and theology from the University of Chicago. According to Hendrix, the term Imago refers to “the inner unconscious image of the opposite sex” or what you’re looking for in a partner but aren’t aware of. The theory is based on the idea that we look for a partner who we believe will help us resolve all the incomplete issues about love that were absent when we were children. In essence, we marry the person who will resolve our childhood issues and who will fulfill us by providing what was absent during infancy and childhood. This person is the “love of our dreams.” The problem sets in when, after the romance is over we discover all the ways the partner has the same failures as occurred in our childhood past. We become disappointed and that is when the bickering and fighting starts. We want to feel our partner understands us but they do not. “They do not understand what it is I need or they do but refuse to give it,” is what a partner may think.


Hendrix then states that the therapy is based on partners learning about each other, learning how to register understanding of the other and what they need and how to grasp the fact that, “If I have needs that are unmet, so does she.” Therefore, when conflict occurs it’s an opportunity for learning. Another way to put is that conflict can be a door to deeper intimacy. A dialogue must then begin and it is carried on with the help of the therapist.

Following is a summary of Imago Relationship Therapy taken from Dawn J. Lipthrott, LCSW, whose website can be found at:

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*”Imago Relationship Therapy is the process of giving couples information and even more importantly, teaching them tools to:
 1. Help make the unconscious aspects of their relationship conscious
 2. Address conflict at its roots rather just trying to solve it in a surface way
 3. be successful in the work of healing and growth
 4. Create emotional safety for each other
 5. Learn how to better meet each other’s needs
 6. Transform conflict into opportunities for deeper intimacy and connection
 7. Make small changes that make the biggest difference in terms of happiness and fulfillment as individuals and as a couple
 8. Learn how to become a source of pleasure instead of pain for your partner
 9. Realize how to make your marriage or partnership a fulfilling, alive, passionate, fun, transforming source of increasing wholeness and sacred transformation.

The two most important tools are a form of healing and intentional dialogue and another is using the dialogue process to then help each of you make successful changes in your behavior that are good for both of you and that lead to healing and growth . . . and to deeper connection between you.”
*(Dawn J. Lithrott)

What happens in the therapy itself is that couples learn the tools they need for better and deeper communication and deeper relating. To this end the couples face and talk to each other rather than the therapist. They learn to listen, understand and empathize with their partner.

Having done marriage therapy for many years I can report that this can be an effective type of marriage therapy in the hands of a properly trained Imago therapist. This is a therapist who is either a psychologist or social worker who has gotten the additional training for this type of work. I recommend the book “Getting The Love You Want.”

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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