Can Marriage Help You Heal An Unhappy Childhood?

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Can Marriage Help You Heal An Unhappy Childhood?
Discover how Imago therapy could change your relationship for the better.

As a therapist, I tend to gravitate toward the solution-focused approach with little patience for delving too deeply into the past. Why stay stuck in the past when we can make positive changes to create a better future right now? That being said, sometimes we need to examine where we've been in order to know where we're going. My training in Imago Relationship Therapy provides a paradigm that blends forward-leaning thinking with an examination of the past that doesn't leave you stuck there — thus transforming past problems into future possibilities. Surprisingly, the key ingredient, or linchpin, to all this is your marriage. Imago therapy teaches that your marriage is the powerful catalyst that heals the wounds of childhood by transforming worn-out and often painful relationship patterns into new and exciting ways of connecting.

"Imago" is the Latin term for image. One of the core precepts of the Imago Process is that each of us carries, deep inside, an unconscious image of our ideal partner. This image develops in childhood and powerfully influences the type of partner we select as adults. It also impacts how we relate to that partner. We constructed the blueprint of our "Imago" by combining all the positive and negative traits of our parents. It is this blueprint we use in our search for a mate, and it's familiar and comfortable, but not always healthy. However, it compels us to choose the kind of partner we need in a committed, intimate relationship in order to heal and grow.

I remember when I was younger, my father insisted we have a sit-down dinner every Sunday. So each Sunday, no matter what we were doing or how we felt, we had to stop everything, regroup and eat together. Needless to say, I was an unwilling participant in this ritual which, "coincidentally", I am obliged to continue every Sunday at my lovely husband's insistence. Go figure.  It was familiar to me on some level, and because of its familiarity, I was attracted to that routine, even though I resisted it as a child. I have since grown to appreciate the value of this ritual and have found an unexpected comfort in it. Perhaps you have had a similar experience?

As we are subconsciously drawn to our Imago "match", the ring of familiar parental patterns often begins to echo in our marriages; the good, the bad and the ugly. I say this with the caveat that this is not in any way intended to blame our parents as they were teaching us what they themselves were taught; doing the best they could with the resources they had.

Wouldn't it seem logical, though, that we would choose partners who don't have the negative attributes of our parents? Why would we search for the very traits that wounded us and caused us so much pain? Because it is the pain from those old wounds that we now seek to heal. Our subconscious is trying to replicate the environment of our upbringing in order to correct it.

When we are physically wounded, our bodies instinctively go into healing mode. Our psyches respond in much the same way. When we look for a mate we are subliminally trying to recreate those same patterns from childhood in order to grow and heal. As these familiar patterns replay in our marriage and those old wounds are reopened, we can work with our partner to change the script of our story from a painful one to a healing one. We can do it differently now. As we grow in our marriage we can respond with the love, compassion and empathy that we so wanted and needed as a child. We can begin to leave those wounds behind by co-creating a healthier reality with our spouse.

In order to do this we need a paradigm shift, as well as the tools to help us navigate this new territory and relate to each other in healthier ways. The Imago Dialogue is the most effective tool to accomplish this. It transforms the conflict we experience in our marriage (so often triggered by these wounds) into a safe and healthy connection. The Imago Dialogue is less about getting your point across and more about giving your spouse a safe space to feel validated and heard. When you both take the time to give each other this precious gift of profound listening, your spouse (who has been mirroring those old patterns) can now mirror and validate who you really are. When I teach this dialogue in my sessions and in my workshop, there are audible sighs of relief in the room as partners are genuinely heard, sometimes for the first time. Each time you use this dialogue to create meaningful connection, you are building a bridge from the painful past to a happy, more fulfilling future.

To learn more about Imago Relationship Therapy and how it can enrich your relationship visit my website at www.christinewilke.com. And if you would like to learn how to create a healthy dynamic relationship, click here to learn about my Marriage Repair Workshop.

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Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Christine Wilke,Ed.S,LMFT

Marriage and Family Therapist

Christine Wilke, Ed.S.

Licenced Marriage and Family Therapist

Visit my Website to learn more about my upcoming workshops.

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Location: Easton, PA
Credentials: LMFT, Other
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