An interesting experience happened for me in Dallas, Texas in early summer 2013. I was at an Imago retreat with my partner at the time for what we both believed would be the weekend we figured out the rest our lives – and it actually happened. Throughout this therapeutic retreat, we learned ways to speak, hear, and understand each other we never knew possible. As we listened to each other share past hurts, current struggles, and future plans, we ultimately decided that our lives were not meant to run their course hand-in-hand. We held each other, we cried together, and we both walked away with knowledge that would forever shift how we showed up in future relationships.
Why would I tell you about relationship therapy that helped me navigate to and through a breakup? Because, while that relationship may not have been my forever one, the methods I learned during my retreat that weekend in 2013 have had an incredibly powerful impact on my marriage – making my current (and hopefully forever!) relationship the most communicative, connected, and engaged one I’ve ever been in.
My experience was so helpful, I wanted to share what I learned with you.
What is Imago?
Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) is a form of couple’s counseling intended to help those in committed relationships reduce conflict, navigate through misunderstandings, communicate more effectively and ultimately rejuvenate or create a better bond with one another. This type of therapy occurs in workshop settings, as well as in individual sessions.
If you choose to partake in IRT, you’ll spend time discovering the impact of childhood relationship experiences on the way you pursue and partake in relationships as an adult. This may sound familiar to you if you’ve participated in a live MJST event, where we break down the neurological and emotional development that takes place in adolescence and the impact it has on us as adults. In an Imago workshop, couples learn exercises and communication practices that are specifically designed to create and improve meaningful conversation, explore emotions, encourage reconnection on a deeper level and ultimately help them feel more positive about their relationship.
Imago relationship therapy consists of 5 core principles. According to GoodTherapy.org, these are:
- Re-imagining your mate as a wounded child.
- Re-romanticizing your relationship via pleasurable surprises, gift-giving, and displays of appreciation.
- Restructuring your disappointments and frustrations by changing complaints into requests.
- Resolving feelings of extreme anger.
- Re-visioning the relationship as a source of happiness, satisfaction, and safety.
What’s interesting in the communication process at Imago training is the level of understanding it can create when both partners are engaged.
The first part of the process is called mirroring, where the listener simply repeats back what the other is sharing – without adding any of their own “spin” on it. This allows the speaker to hear their message and ensure what they’re TRYING to say is what they’re ACTUALLY saying.
Next is validation (take note that this is not the same as agreement), where the listener summarizes and shares where they understand the points made by the speaker and why it makes sense.
This ties in a level of compassion toward the speaker’s experience, which leads to the final portion of the communication process: empathy. This is the stage where the listener truly sees and appreciates the experience from the speaker’s point of view.
The Imago experience creates space for emotional defenses to come down and allows partners to deepen their intimate connections in a therapeutic setting. As couples shift their communication to the IRT style, they may find deeper understanding, deeper appreciation, and deeper connection with each other – I know my husband and I have.
So, whether you feel you need to spice things up or maybe you want to re-establish your romantic connection – this could be a great option for you to do just that.
*An important note: if the issues in your relationship are tied to violence, addiction, or mental illness, we would encourage you to seek help to resolve those concerns more suitably with 1:1 therapy and/or any physical/emotional/mental protective measures that may be necessary.