What Is Imago Therapy and How Does it Help Us Understand Attraction and Relationships?

Why Are We Attracted to Certain People and Not Others?

The Imago Theory explains our attractions. When it comes to attraction, we do not decide who we are drawn to, only whether or not we will do something about our attraction. Imago Relationship Therapy is a form of relationship counseling that helps couples identify how their unconscious mind affects their relationship. This process is involuntary. I think that most of us can say with certainty that we have found ourselves attracted to someone whom in retrospect, we find ourselves asking, “What was I thinking?” The point is, you weren’t. You were feeling, and the feelings were likely very unconscious.

Attraction is a feeling.  It is an intuitive pull toward someone that can, at times, be unexplainable. Although our thoughts influence our feelings, our attractions are a product of many unknown (unconscious) variables that often do not always make sense. Imago therapy helps us work to understand them. That’s where the Imago Relationship therapy comes in.  What is important to understand is that our attractions can exist separate from a decision to act on them. We do not have control of who we find attractive, we simply have control over how we respond to this attraction.

What is the Imago Theory?

In the early 90’s, psychologist Harville Hendrix gave us a way to understand love, attraction and, relationships in his book, “Getting the Love You Want.” He called this the Imago Theory. This theory says that during our childhood, we develop an imprint of the positive and negative traits of our primary caregivers. This imprint is a collection of images and experiences that are both conscious and unconscious, and they form what is called our “IMAGO.” Imago is simply another word for image. This imprint or “imago” represents what is familiar, which includes both the good experiences as well as the uncomfortable ones.

Over time, our imago develops into an unconscious guiding force in our life. It serves as a map, directing us toward others who fit this image. Similar to a magnet that can both attract and repel, our imago can do the same. If we draw partners that do not reflect what is familiar, we either project our beliefs onto them so that it appears they are who we expected them to be in the end, or we elicit from them the behaviors we have come to expect.

We are not aware (unconscious) of it when it happens. That’s the benefit of imago therapy. We can begin to understand the formula behind that magnetic force in our imago, and how it can pull into our lives all of the people, relationships, and experiences that we need to recreate many of the painful aspects of our childhood. And likewise, the magnetic force of our imago tends to repel those people, experiences, and situations that do not fit with what is familiar.

What is Imago Therapy?

By using the Imago theory to understand our unconscious mind, we can unknot some of our childhood experiences and wounds.  The Imago therapist is trained to help you uncover the influences of your unconscious mind.  Many of the frustrations we experience in our adult romantic relationships, we also felt as a child.  For example, if as a child I felt like nothing I did was good enough, I am likely to attract a partner with whom I have this same feeling.

Once the imago therapist can help you uncover your unconscious influences, also known as your “imago,” you can begin to incorporate new skills in your relationship.  Imago Therapy helps couples develop a deeper understanding of one another’s unconscious imprint on their relationship.  Through a communication skill that is taught called, The Intentional Dialogue, partner’s can connect their real-life issues of today to the unconscious roots that drive reactions, defensiveness, and other ineffective behaviors. With a more productive, more conscious, awareness of what is motivating one another’s hurtful, confusing or ineffective behaviors. Understanding what is going on helps each partner de-personalize the behaviors and creates the opportunity for improved communication, connection, and a deeper love, to grow.

The goal of imago relationship therapy is to be able to develop a conscious relationship where you are aware of how you are feeling, and in charge of how you are reacting.  Otherwise, you are likely experiencing unnecessary frustrations because your defenses are trying to be heard and understood by your partner’s defenses.  This dance of defensiveness is very ineffective and can lead to a very lonely experience inside a relationship.

If you are interested in learning more about the Imago Theory, you can start by reading this book. If you think this is a good option for your own relationship growth, you can schedule an appointment to get started with the link below. 

To understand the impact of your childhood experiences on your relationship today, learn more about “home countries,” in this post.


what is imago therapy

Do you have a Sound Relationship House? Learn more about the Gottman Method and the Sound Relationship House here. 


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