What is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Imago Relationship Therapy is a method of couples therapy that integrates the major theories of personality, behavioral science, physiology, and spiritual discipline.  Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, is the watershed book that unified the subject of marriage for clinicians and couples alike. The word imago is Latin for image, and is a term used since Plato to describe the inner imprint that matches the type of person with whom we are destined to fall in love. Not just any good looking or talented person will do. We want chemistry, and that spark occurs when we meet an imago-match. The characteristics of our imago are formed in childhood from powerful experiences we had with our parents and other family members. However, not all those earlier experiences were good. But instead of avoiding the negative, we consistently pick or provoke those who possess the very traits we want to avoid. This phenomenon has puzzled psychologists and poets for hundreds of years. It did not even make unconscious sense until Harville Hendrix demonstrated that this seemingly destructive pull is one of nature's most eloquent strategies of self-repair. 

The Structure

Unlike one-on-one individual therapy and the early days of marriage counseling, couples' work requires a format that guarantees emotional safety. The problem isn't lack of communication, but rather the style and depth of meaningful interaction. You will learn specific and effective actions that are reinforced through homework assignments. You can download our Imago Workbook for Couples. I provide a bound copy for each of you on the first session.

The Process

The hurt and betrayal we suffer from someone we deeply love can only be completely healed by the person who caused the pain. Yet the mother or father we had in childhood is no longer the same person because our relationship to them is no longer the same. The position and status of our childhood parent changes-- it decreases while the position and status of our lover increase. Our lover is as important to us now as our mother was to us then, and if they cause us a similar pain, then the stage is set for the type of healing that travels backward in time from our current relationship into our past. The emotional part of our brain that forms attachments has no conceptual grasp of the passage of time. 

Working Without a Partner

Sometimes one partner is unwilling to enter therapy. This is because they feel they are going to be faulted. Statistically, individual therapy increases the chance of divorce. When only one partner enters imago therapy, however, the unwilling partner gladly joins the process after only a few sessions. With the help of imago therapy, a single person who is looking for a committed partner has perhaps an advantage greater than the rest of us. They get to study the inner mechanism of their attraction to others while progressively becoming attracted to a more suitable, or workable, imago matches. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. My partner refuses to come to therapy. He says I am the one with the problem. How can I get him to see his part?

Stop trying to get your partner to see his part. It only makes him more defensive. If you turn the focus of your attention around to yourself and keep it there, he will begin to relax. You don't need his cooperation to work on the relationship. You can do a great deal on your own, and these new actions will have a dramatic effect on him. He will not be able to resist positive changes. For starters, replace all criticism with appreciations, and stop talking about the problems in the relationship. Begin the work without him, and he will want to join the process. 

2. What if we don't know if we are right together? Would this help us find out?

Imago therapy is one of the best ways to find out. Often the very problems in our relationship are evidence that we have chosen the right person. If not, nothing will make this more clear than doing the work. Couples sometimes use the twelve sessions as a period of discernment. And until you understand why you chose each other, you will end up repeating the same kind of choice. 

3. We've been to three therapists, and all we do is take our fight to their office. Why expect this to be any different?

Emotional safety is the number one priority of imago therapy. From the first moment, you will enter a structure in which fighting and arguing cannot occur. You and your partner will practice this structure at home during the week between sessions, thereby bringing the initial safety of the office into the rest of your life. 

4. Everything was great for the first year. It's been hell ever since. Is it possible to ever get that back?

All committed relationships follow a similar course from one stage of development to another. The first stage is Romance. This honeymoon period can last from two weeks to a year. The next stage is the Power Struggle, when disappointment and anger set in. This is a normal and necessary course of events. At this stage, many couples conclude that they made a mistake and chose the wrong partner. Actually, the reverse is true. But in order to move out of the power struggle, it is necessary to understand what it is trying to accomplish. Couples who are committed to doing the psychological work of marriage can revive the romance of the beginning with the added wisdom of knowing why they are together and how to keep it fresh and exciting. 

5. What if we have decided to divorce?

Most couples divorce because they don't have the knowledge or skill to move out of the power struggle. It appears as if there is no other option. Divorce is, therefore, not a free choice but determined by a lack of information. This kind of divorce will prompt two undesirable outcomes: 1. You will find yourself in the same situation in the near future with a new partner. 2. You will be vulnerable to haunting regret. Conscious divorce is a process that deepens self-understanding, eliminates blame, and minimizes injury to everyone. Being in imago therapy for divorce is just as compelling as being in it to stay married. 

6. Are you a certified imago relationship therapist?

We are both certified Imago Relationship Therapists. Duane was trained by Harville Hendrix in 1991 and has been an active member of the Imago international community ever since. Thea additionally was trained by both Harville and Helen Lakely Hunt as a certified facilitator in Safe Conversations, a global movement designed to assist couples, communities, and nations. She has served on the board of Imago Relationships International. We are both clinical members of AAMFT (American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy) and CAMFT (California Association of Marriage & Family therapy).

 7. Do you take insurance?

If your insurance carrier covers out-patient out-of-network psychotherapy, we can provide you with a 'superbill' (a coded invoice) that you can submit for reimbursement. We accept Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express, PayPal, Venmo, personal checks, and cash. You will find it less disruptive to pay at the beginning rather than at the end of each session or provide your credit card information for us to keep on file.