The following article contains a list of the 11 best Imago Therapy exercises.
By reading this guide, you’ll gain a solid understanding of how Imago Relationship Therapy helps couples to recover from strife in their relationships.
As an experienced certified life coach, I have been familiar with the benefits of Imago Relationship Therapy as a method of healing relationships for some time.
I’m excited to explain how these therapy exercises can help strengthen your relationships.
So, let’s dive right in.
1. What Is Your Imago?
Imago Relationship Therapy is centred around the theory that all people are seeking a specific image (“imago” in Latin) in a romantic partner, based on the personality traits of their parents or early caregivers.
There is plenty of research to back up this basic idea, and that’s why so many professionals are adopting Imago Relationship Therapy during couples or marriage counseling sessions. Indeed, if you’re on the search for couples therapy, it’s possible to request a therapist who is familiar with Imago Relationship Therapy exercises.
The most common explanation of this theory suggests that childhood bonds with their caregivers are so strong that they become engraved in our consciousness. Young boys are given a lasting image of what a loving woman looks like from their mother – and women from their father – even if this is only on a subconscious level.
Even if your parents made a lot of mistakes, their behaviors still feel familiar and therefore comforting to their offspring. And that’s why men and women tend to seek out romantic partners who display these same behaviors.
The problem is: we subconsciously search for partners with the same flaws as our early caregivers too. This can be particularly troubling as childhood traumas can resurface when these problems return to make an impact on our adult relationships.
Indeed, when we find ourselves seriously triggered by romantic conflict, it’s often past troubles that are to blame, just as much anything happening in the present. That’s the hypothesis of authors Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt anyway. Their book Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples is widely credited for popularising basic Imago Relationship Therapy ideas.
Most Imago Therapy exercises are completed together as a couple – and the first exercise involves the discovery of each other’s Imago.
A certified therapist will play a role in this discovery, although they will play more of a guiding role helping couples to understand and complete this process.
The therapist will either ask a series of personal questions and jot down the answers, or present a questionnaire for you to write the answers yourself.
These questions will centre around your childhood experiences.
- What were your childhood frustrations?
- How did you respond to these?
- What were the highlights of your childhood?
- What were the negative and positive aspects of your childhood caretakers?
- What did you really want from them more than anything?
If your answers are written, you’ll be encouraged to read them out to your partner. The therapist will guide the discussion to ensure both people understand how this potentially connects to the conflict in their relationships.
The ultimate goal of understanding your Imago, and your partners, is to develop a deeper understanding of what they desire in a relationship. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll learn why certain behaviors trigger toxic reactions.
You’ll hopefully develop more empathy for your partner’s weaknesses as a result of this discussion, instead of letting them tear your relationship apart. It should also create a deeper connection between the two of you.
From there, your therapist will recommend a series of exercises to help you overcome the conflict in your relationship.
2. Healing And Letting Go Of Trauma
The process of discovering your Imago is likely to reveal some childhood trauma that you’ve been unknowingly carrying into your relationship.
A key part of your Imago Relationship Therapy will therefore involve understanding, processing and letting go of this trauma.
There are many therapeutic techniques available for this, which you may prefer to engage in outside of couples therapy. See my guide on letting go of the past for more information.
3. Understanding The Three Stages Of A Relationship, According To Imago Theory
Another basic idea within Imago Relationship Therapy is that there are three stages to a successful relationship.
- The romantic phase; characterized by intense feelings of lust and excitement;
- The power struggle; where the lust fades and the trauma from both couple’s childhoods begin to surface;
- The conscious partnership; understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses and making a conscious effort to use this knowledge to proceed as a happy couple.
Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt emphasise the importance of understanding that the romantic phase is always temporary. Couples shouldn’t fight to remain in this early stage.
Instead, they should use the principles of Imago Therapy to bypass the power struggle and jump straight into a conscious partnership. This is where true love lies.
4. What is the Imago Dialogue?
The dialogue you use towards your partner is a key part of Imago Therapy. You’ll spend a fair amount of time in your couples therapy sessions learning and practicing how to use this intentional dialogue.
You’ll learn and practice the three-step process of
Essentially, this means when one half of the couple is airing a grievance (the sender). The other (receiver) listens, mirrors what they say, validates them for feeling this way and tries to explain what that must be like for them.
Imago dialogue encourages the receiver to really listen – and the sender to feel heard. By adopting this dialogue, couples will find it easier to discuss potentially difficult topics.
You’ll notice therapists regularly using this intentional form of dialogue with their clients too. In fact, Imago dialogue structure works well for conflict resolution in all areas of life, so it makes sense to use this technique whenever you can.
Imago dialogue encourages the use of full names instead of just pronouns, as it’s claimed pronouns are often used to dehumanize the person on the other end of the accusations.
5. Your Perspective Of Your Partner
When your partner learns your Imago, they may learn more (albeit indirectly) about the strengths you see in them. This can provide them with a healthy self-esteem boost, as perhaps you’ve fallen into the habit of not showing this verbal affection as much.
They may also notice you mention personality traits they no longer possess in this stage of their life. This can serve as a wake-up call for them if it’s communicated in a positive way.
6. Behavior Change Requests
Another notable characteristic of Imago dialogue; couples are encouraged to replace criticism with a behaviour change request.
It’s commonly recommended that the speaker explains how they feel at the moment, how they would like to feel and three ways that the listener can achieve that.
The listener can then choose one of the three options, perhaps after mirroring, validating and empathizing. This process helps to create a sense of teamwork and prevents feelings from being hurt while fixing this negative situation.
7. Closing The Exits
It’s common for loving partners to devote ‘relationship energy’ to other things, in an effort to temporarily fill the void created by their romantic conflict.
In this exercise, Imago therapists ask couples to identify these distractions. Perhaps it’s a work project, video games, maintaining a car, spoiling your children.
While none of these activities are so negative on their own, it’s important to identify if these are indeed being used as a distraction to prevent you from addressing your relationship issues.
This exercise is the first step to erasing such a habit, so you can dedicate more effort to strengthening your relationship.
8. When Did You Ignore Their Requests?
After you’ve gained a solid understanding of your partner’s Imago, your therapist may ask to think back to seemingly irrelevant requests that your partner made in the past.
These might have seemed silly and OK to ignore at the time. This exercise is your opportunity to show you now understand how doing so may have hurt your loved one’s feelings, based on what you now know about their Imago.
9. Little Surprises Exercise
Men and women are encouraged to treat their partner to small surprises.
These small unique gestures are a great way of rekindling the excitement of the ‘romantic phase’ and show you still care, especially if they contain a personal touch.
Your therapist may prompt you to brainstorm ideas for little surprises during your counseling session.
10. The Holding Position
The Holding Position involves one person lying on a sofa, and the other sitting at the end holding their head on their lap.
This technique is recommended by many couples therapists who practice Imago Therapy, while the lying partner discusses their childhood.
The position is believed to increase trust, healing and empathy while creating a deeper connection, making the speaker feel safe while they talk during this vulnerable experience.
11. The Mantra Of A Successful Relationship
A mantra uttered by Imago practitioners is: “Make your partner’s needs a priority, as important to you as are your own.”
Some suggest writing this message on post-it notes and placing them where you’ll each see them several times per day.
It might sound intimidating, but it’s a healthy way to treat your partner. This mantra explains how a lot of parents treat their children. You probably made similar promises during your marriage vows too. If you both follow that mantra throughout your marriage or relationship, how could you fail?
Any Questions About Imago Relationship Therapy Or Couples Therapy?
I hope this article enlightened you on the practice of Imago Relationship Therapy. You’ll often find these techniques used in couples therapy, even if without the presence of a self-proclaimed Imago Therapy practitioner .
Perhaps you’ll choose to explore your own childhood experiences and use some form of these techniques to improve your relationship now.
For a deeper insight, I’d recommend you buy the New York Times best-selling book Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt. Alternatively, search for podcasts or YouTube with Hendrix and Hunt as guests.
As always, I would like to hear your opinions on this topic. So, if you have any ideas or questions on the benefits of Imago Relationship Therapy, feel free to leave a comment below.