Imago Relationship Therapy: Definition, Benefits & Limitations

Identify the underlying cause for conflict and aim at its positive resolution.

Written by Pallavi Lakhotia • 

Marriage is a lovely union of two people who have their own personalities but are willing to adjust in order to make the relationship work. Various therapies, such as imago relationship therapy, may be able to help you see things in a different light and discover a way to resolve the conflict. If your marriage’s disagreements seem never-ending and outweigh love, it’s wise to seek counseling before things get out of hand. Marriage, in addition to these therapies, also necessitates love, the desire for understanding, and conscious effort to live in harmony. There is no magic pill to make a marriage work. Read on to learn more about imago therapy and how that might benefit your marriage.

What Is Imago Therapy?

Imago therapy is a type of couples therapy designed to transform conflicts into opportunities for healing and growth. It was developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980. The name is derived from the Latin word “imago,” which means “image.”

According to the proponents, the frustrations in adult relationships have a connection with painful childhood experiences. They propound that if these core issues are addressed, the couple might find it easier to trust and love each other unconditionally (1)

It is good to screen for any other psychological issues of both the partners and treat that before the application of Imago therapy.

How Is Imago Therapy Different From Other Therapies? 

Imago therapy is based on the belief that no person is bad by choice. It is the experiences  they go through in the various stages of life that shape their personality.

For example, if a person was subjected to neglect as a child, they might develop feelings of abandonment. This would either make them cold and distant in a relationship or make them too attached to their partners, fearing abandonment. When one person in a relationship has such unresolved childhood issues, they can cause trust issues and unfulfilled desires.

Through imago therapy, couples can understand why their partner is who they are. It helps them know that the problems in their relationship are not because of their partner, but due to some early experiences that their partner has gone through.

This realization helps both the partners to understand each other’s childhood wounds with empathy and work towards healing each other. Imago therapy helps remove “blame,” a core issue, from the conflict.

Also, in imago therapy, the counselor does not act as an authority giving relationship advice but serves as a facilitator and works together with the couple. The therapist gives the steering wheel to the couples and occasionally takes control if they go wrong. This provides the couple with a sense of ownership and control over their relationship.

How Does The Imago Dialogue Work? 

Imago therapy is structured and has several exercises to help couples find each other.

  • The Imago Dialogue

The Imago Dialogue is a communication method used to help couples heal their hurt feelings and re-establish love and affection. The best way to learn this method is through a licensed therapist who is trained in imago therapy.

In the Imago Dialogue method, the couple does not discuss but exchange views and feelings. So, what is the difference between a discussion and dialogue? You may ask.

A discussion is not just an exchange of information. Along with information, two people  express their thoughts and opinions. Such a conversation could lead to disagreements and conflict.

On the other hand, in the Imago Dialogue method, one person speaks their mind, and the other person listens and mirrors back the information without adding any comments or opinions.

The Imago Dialogue process involves three steps (2).

  1. Mirroring: This is the first step where the sender of the message conveys their thoughts and feelings to the receiver. During this process, they should avoid shaming, blaming, or criticizing their partner. Using phrases such as “I feel” and “I would appreciate it if” might help.

As a response, the receiver should paraphrase the sender’s words without being judgemental. A positive opening sentence could be, “Let me see if I got you right…”

For example:

Sender:I feel terrible when you lose your temper and yell at me.”

Receiver:I understand it upsets you when I lose my temper and yell at you, is that right?”

The method eliminates unnecessary talks and exchanges of opinions that may lead to conflicts. Another beautiful question the receiver can ask is, “Is there anything else you would want to share?” This will make the sender feel that the other person is listening to them, and they are genuinely interested.

  1. Validation: Most conflicts between couples can be eliminated through validation. When one partner says that they understand the other’s pain, it creates a soft corner for each other. Validation is a beautiful way to let your partner know that you respect their views.

For example:

Sender:I feel abandoned and rejected when you choose to share your secrets with your friends and not me. It reminds me of how my siblings used to alienate me and talk secrets behind my back.”

Receiver: I understand why you feel abandoned when I share secrets with my friends and not you. I can see that it is making you sad.”

The validation step could be difficult for couples in constant conflict due to a clash of opinions. To create a personal connection, each partner should let go of the obsession to be right, as sometimes, it is better to work together and find a solution rather than argue over who is right and who is wrong. Imago Dialogue encourages you to tell each other, “I can understand,” or “That makes sense to me.” 

  1. Empathy: This is a beautiful emotion that can change the dynamics of a relationship. When you are genuinely empathetic towards your partner’s feelings, you are stepping into their shoes and trying to feel their pain. This will create an intimate relationship between the couple.

During an Imago Dialogue, the counselor would help the couple show empathy towards each other and establish a healthy pattern while conversing with each other (3).

When this is achieved, the relationship will become a close-knit one, revolving around two people. Once the trust is established, the partners will no longer escape from the relationship, and things like venting out to friends or picking up a hobby to avoid spending time with your spouse would be minimized.

  • Imago Workup

 As a part of the therapy, a psychoeducational exercise known as the Imago Workup is conducted. This workshop encourages each partner to identify the  positive and negative traits of their primary childhood caregiver and draw a parallel with how these have shaped their decision to choose their partner.

By doing this, both the partners might understand why their partner is who they are. They will also have a sneak peek into their partner’s past and know those grey areas in their lives. Once both the partners open up to each other, it will help create a mutual trust that makes for a solid foundation for the relationship (4).

  • Behavior Change Request 

It is natural for couples to dislike certain traits in each other, but criticizing and demeaning each other would only cause more trouble. Such negative emotions will result in more conflicts. In imago therapy, couples are  taught how to phrase the behavioral change they expect from their partner positively.

For example, telling your partner that you despise their attitude is vague and insensitive. Instead, you can tell them how hurt and bad you feel when they yell at you. Words have the power to build or break a relationship. In imago therapy, couples are directed on how to talk to each other with mutual respect.

Which Couples Could Benefit From Imago Therapy? 

Anyone can undergo imago therapy. It would be more beneficial for couples who are in constant conflict. However, partners who get along well can also go for it to achieve a deeper understanding and become closer to each other.

Imago therapy might benefit couples who face:

What To Expect From An Imago Therapy Workshop? 

An imago workshop is often conducted away from home, where couples learn effective ways of communication through exercises and workshops. In this therapy, couples are encouraged to identify the problems in their relationship and put the imago therapy concepts to practical use.

Imago For Individuals

Although imago therapy is designed for couples in a committed relationship, individuals can also take it. It can help you know yourself better by identifying any unresolved childhood issues and unfulfilled desires. By knowing what is affecting you emotionally, you will be able to handle your relationships better.

This therapy might also help you understand how to heal yourself and bring out your best qualities. When you are at peace, you will be able to attract people similar to you. Imago therapy teaches you things such as communication and empathy, which are essential for a relationship to blossom.

Effectiveness Of Imago Therapy 

According to a study conducted to assess the marital satisfaction outcomes following a 12-week course of imago therapy, the following are the outcomes.

  • The individuals experienced a significant improvement in their marital satisfaction.
  • The levels of marital satisfaction decreased significantly from post-treatment to follow-ups but remained higher than at pretreatment.
  • Approximately one-third of the participants achieved recovery during treatment.

The study further emphasized the need to conduct further research on the effectiveness of imago therapy (4).

If you would like to try out the imago therapy, find a licensed therapist specializing in this particular therapy. 

Limitations Of Imago Therapy

Imago therapy has certain limitations. Although it helps couples understand each other and rekindle the lost love, it may not be suitable for couples experiencing substance abuse, gambling issues, domestic violence, etc. Imago therapy might work once these issues are resolved. So, make sure you give your therapist all the information, including any mental illnesses (5).

If you and your partner love each other but are in constant conflict due to misunderstandings and miscommunications, give this therapy a shot. You might learn many new things about your partner through the process, which would bring you both closer to each other.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long is Imago Therapy?

An imago therapy session may last about 90 minutes, and each session addresses a different issue to help the couple resolve problems (6).

2. How many sessions is Imago Therapy?

The standard number of sessions in an imago therapy is believed to be 12, which may extend depending on personal preferences.

Always keep in mind that any therapy’s effectiveness depends on your level of commitment, as old habits die hard. So, do not lose hope if you hit a few roadblocks. Keep trying, and do not hesitate to seek assistance from your therapist.

Key Pointers

  • Imago therapy rests on the facts of unresolved issues that could lead to conflicts between the couples.
  • This therapy aims at preventing the couple from blaming and dealing with the misunderstandings while being empathetic of each other’s feelings.
  • The therapy is not effective in certain circumstances; however, you may try talking to a therapist to tailor the best possible version of it for you and your partner.


  1. What is Imago Relationship Therapy?; Harville & Helen
  2. Tim Atkinson; The Imago Dialogue – 101; Imago Relationships International
  3. Tim Atkinson; Imago’s roots in Psychology – A layman’s Guide; Imago Relationships International
  4. Nathan C. Gehlert; Randomized Controlled Trial of Imago Relationship Therapy: Exploring Statistical and Clinical Significance; John Carroll University
  5. Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT); Good Therapy
  6. Dr. Hassan Mirza Hosseini and Azam Movahedi (2016); Imago Therapy: A Strategy to Improve Couples Lovemaking;
Was this article helpful?

Latest Articles