REVIEWING IMAGO PRINCIPLES, SKILLS, AND PRACTICES
The best method I ever found for my work with families, couples, and all relationships was the one called “Imago” (Latin word for image). The theory was developed by Harville Hendrix and its growth and continuation has been enhanced by his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt. This couple has been transparent over these many years, allowing us to learn and grow from their experience as a committed couple, devoted to healing and evolutionary expansion.
I now use their book, “Receiving Love” and the workbook that goes with it. The exercises in the workbook are really helpful. Paul and I find the material to be challenging as well as useful in our 48 year marriage.
We signed this agreement when we participated in an Imago Relationship weekend more than 20 years ago, which was a requirement for my certification as an Imago presenter. Recently, I gave an overview of Imago to a group and some of them requested copies of our marriage agreement, so here ’tis:
A Commitment to a Conscious Relationship:
- I agree to heal your childhood wounds.
- I agree to use the Couples Dialogue regularly and especially in all conflicted transactions.
- I agree to nurture you whenever you feel emotionally hurt.
- I agree to give you five caring behaviors each day.
- I agree to give you a positive and pleasant surprise at least once a month.
- I agree to initiate high energy fun with you at least once each day.
- I agree to replace all criticisms with behavior change requests.
- I agree to gradually close all my exits.
- I agree to express all anger by appointment only.
- I agree to provide a container for your process of growth. I will hold the field for you.
- I agree to keep you physically and emotionally safe in our relationship.
Another helpful list is from the first book by Hendrix, “Getting the Love You Want.” These are the ten characteristics of a Conscious Partnership:
1. You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose–the healing of childhood wounds.
2. You create a more accurate image of your partner.
3. You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner.
4. You become more intentional in your interactions.
5. You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own.
6. You embrace the dark side of your personality.
7. You learn new techniques to satisfy your basic needs and desires.
8 You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking.
9. You become more aware of your drive to be loving and whole and united with the universe.
10. You accept the difficulty of creating a lasting love relationship.’
My final reference list comes from all of Hendrix-Hunt material, based in attachment theory and experienced in adulthood as remaining leftovers from childhood. We tend to attract and be attracted to the exact right person who can provoke these stages of wounding. What Paul and I have discovered is that we both brought patterns from childhood into our relationship–some of which are good and beneficial to our relationship. Yet, some are distinct, entrenched patterns of wounding (not good) and oddly, the most vicious of them are in the same stage of childhood for us. At age 4 to 6, each one of us absorbed information about our identities that colored our future development. Paul was often “shamed” for being bad; I was often made invisible and overlooked. You can imagine how our marriage in its worst form comes out looking like I am solving my invisibility problem by shaming him!! Bringing that knowledge to consciousness and using the Couples Dialogue (mirroring, validating, empathizing), we are able to rise to the next level in our evolutionary journey. Thanks to our relationship for being the tumbling vat in which our two raw stones-selves are being shined and shaped in transformative ways.
Imago therapy or education is a good way to discover our wounds. As children, our developmental needs were not always supported in a particular stage and the wound manifests in our marriage as a fear. Pinpointing the wound gives us the information for what needs healing. This list reveals the common fears people have when they were wounded in each particular stage of development:
I. Attachment Stage
a. I am sometimes afraid that my partner does not want me, and that he or she might
reject me or leave me.
b. I am sometimes afraid of being abandoned, and that if I take time for myself, I will
lose my relationship.
II. Exploration Stage
a. I am sometimes afraid of being smothered, absorbed, or humiliated by my partner.
b. I sometimes become afraid when my partner is unreliable.
III. Identity Stage
a. I am sometimes afraid of being shamed for being who I am and losing my partner’s
b. I am sometimes afraid that if I give in to my partner, I will become invisible and
lose my partner’s love.
IV. Competence Stage
a. I sometimes fear being seen as a failure, and that I have to prove my worth or risk
losing my partner’s approval and love.
b. I am sometimes afraid that if I am seen as aggressive, successful, competent,
and powerful, I might lose my partner’s love and acceptance.
V. Concern Stage
a. I am sometimes afraid that my partner does not see me as an equal and/or does
not like me and does not want to be with me.
b. I am sometimes afraid that if I show my partner that I have needs and express
them, my partner will exclude me.
VI. Intimacy Stage
a. I am sometimes afraid that my partner wants to control me and I will not be
free to express myself without being criticized.
b. I am sometimes afraid that I will not have my partner’s approval because I am
different from my partner and other people.
All of these lists are just lists until you dig in and do the work. The bad news is that it requires both members of the relationship to do the work. The good news is that when both partners dig in and do the work, the relationship is transformed. Each person is capable and able to give love and also to receive love. The Hendrix’ found that receiving love was the door into the next turn of the spiral of their growth. Hopefully, you can do that, too!