What Is Imago Relationship Therapy, And How Can It Help You Build A Stronger Marriage?

Resolve conflict like a pro using these marriage counseling techniques.

What Is Imago Therapy For Couples? How To Resolve Conflict Using These 5 Marriage Counseling Techniques getty

Whether you’re struggling in your marriage over a little issue or a large one that threatens to tear it all down, it can feel hopeless when you don’t know what to do or where to turn for marriage counseling and advice.

Arguments and disagreements between spouses are common and normal — even in strong, healthy relationships. But what sets the happiest married couples apart is learning how to resolve conflict in healthy, loving ways — so there isn’t lasting damage, resentment, or hurt that slowly tears your relationship apart.


By using simple communication tools based on the guiding principles of Imago relationship therapy, you can learn how to address relationship problems with care and actually build a better, stronger marriage, as a result. One that will make you happier together for years to come.

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Marriage is wonderful — but there is no denying that it comes with its own sets of difficulties and trials!

Even minor disagreements can get out of control sometimes. These conflicts frustrate both of you — and might even make you wonder if you’re really meant to be together. After all, if you can’t agree on the small stuff, what’s going to happen with the big decisions, like kids, jobs houses, or directions you want to take in life?

You and your partner are two very different people with different needs, wants, and expectations, so how can you take all of those individual differences and find common ground This can seem especially difficult if you're stuck at differing ends of the same argument and neither wants to budge.

But thankfully, if you implement some of the simple basics of Imago relationship therapy that are often used in marriage counseling, you’ll learn new conflict resolutions skills that will make your relationship is stronger, happier, and healthier than it ever was before.


So what is Imago therapy, and how can this type of marriage counseling help couples resolve conflict in their relationship?

Imago therapy was originally created by Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, and documented in their book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.

It’s a type of relationship therapy that "takes a relationship approach, rather than an individual approach, to problem-solving in a marriage,” meaning it helps you learn about the problems you bring to the relationship together and heal from those issues as a team.

It’s helpful for anything from mild to severe conflict because it keeps you calm and focused during discussions, which helps you think more clearly and listen deeply.


Imago understands the problems you face in a relationship may have their root in other parts of your life. After all, you’re not really that furious just over the dishes in the sink, are you? You're upset because you don't feel heard; or that you've had to ask three times for help with something.

Imago creates a way for you to temporarily suspend your opinion in order to validate, empathize, and understand the true underlying hurt. This helps you grow, both as individuals and as a couple, and relieve the petty issues and relationship problems distracting from real connection and happiness in your marriage.

Here are 5 Imago therapy techniques used in marriage counseling that can help couples learn how to resolve conflict in their relationship.

1. Make an “appointment” to talk to each other.

One of the most important parts of being in a relationship is being comfortable to express yourself and feel heard and understood by your partner. Nowadays, it can feel impossible to fully connect with one another, but as partners, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re making the time, even when your schedules are both busy or things are hectic.


When you need to communicate important details with each other, whether it’s conversations about your future, discussing your emotional or physical needs, or de-stressing after a hard day, make an appointment to come together and talk one-on-one, distraction-free. No kids, no TV, no phones; nothing but you and your spouse.

This way, you’ll know that you’re both going to totally focus on the conversation at hand.

During this “appointment,” you’ll need to make sure that you leave your cell phones in a separate room, turn off all other distractions, and sit and face each other, eye to eye. This may seem uncomfortable or strange at first, but by giving your partner — and yourself — the opportunity to be fully present with each other, to really listen, discuss, and work out the situation, you’ll build the trust in your relationship and strengthen your connection to one another in a deep, meaningful way.

2. Make the space between you "safe."

When you’re upset, you’ll need someone to talk with about your problems. Knowing you can go to your partner and speak to them about your needs without fear of judgment is incredibly helpful and love-inspiring.


In Imago therapy, you must focus on creating a safe space for your spouse. Being able to talk to each other without fear of acting out in anger or frustration is an important part of a healthy relationship.

In order to make your “appointment” with your spouse effective, you’ll need to be mindful. While you’re listening, be aware of your body language. If the topic you’re discussing is uncomfortable or upsetting, are you crossing your arms? Being stiff? Leaning away from your partner or otherwise shutting them out?

Be aware of the way you’re listening. Imago therapy teaches that in a marriage, there’s a “me,” and a “you,” and the relationship takes the space between you two. So when you’re facing each other, tune into that space by relaxing your body language, opening up to your partner, and fully listening to what they have to say with an open mind.

When you and your partner can communicate honestly about your needs and be well-received, you’ll feel safe, connected, and understood.


RELATED: Why Your Relationship Could Use Couples Therapy (Even If It's Already Pretty Good)

3. “Mirror” your partner so they feel heard.

Once you’ve created a distraction-free appointment and tuned into the conversation with your partner, you’ll need to make sure that you’re both given a chance to speak and a chance to listen. No one will feel heard if they’re constantly being interrupted, talked over, or shouted down.


In Imago, when one partner is speaking, the other is listening. This is known as the “Imago dialogue,” and it’s critical because there is no way to fully tune into each other’s needs when you’re speaking over one another. So one listens and repeats, and one talks.

When one person is done speaking, the other will “mirror” or repeat their words back to them. This shows that you hear and understand one another and also removes any confusion over the issue.

For instance, if your partner is angry that you had to stay at work late but didn't call to tell him, when he’s done talking, begin by “mirroring” his statement: “So if I am understanding you, you get upset if I'm working late, and I don't call. Did I get you?"

By using the Imago dialogue, you’re making each other feel heard and loved.


4. Validate your partner’s feelings, even if you don’t agree.

Not every conversation you have is going to be about a topic you both like or agree on, but the purpose of creating a face-to-face appointment and actively listening, attending, and mirroring your partner’s statements is to create an environment of trust.

No one is going to feel secure in discussing their worries, concerns, or wants if they know that their partner will think it’s stupid or not worth their time.

For this reason, in Imago therapy, it’s important to tell your partner that their feelings make sense to you. That even if you disagree or think that another way is better, that their position on the subject is important and valid.

If you’re upset or angered by your spouse’s words, take deep breaths, practice self-soothing, and continue listening. Don’t interrupt, insult, belittle, or brush their feelings aside. Your spouse has a right to speak their mind, even if you disagree.


When they’re done, mirror their words back to them and tell them you understand. The point is to let your spouse know that their feelings make sense to you and to make them feel validated.

This will create an atmosphere of trust and make you both feel safe.

5. Remember your partner is not you.

Your partner is a completely different person, and even if you share ideals, wishes, and goals in life, there will still be differences between you. Even in strong, healthy relationships, there will still be things you don’t always agree on.

In addition to listening and validating their concerns, even when you disagree, you must remind yourself that the way they handle conflict is not necessarily the way you handle it.


Imago teaches you to recognize that differences between you and your spouse are good — essential even, for healthy relationships — and should be embraced! It does not signify incompatibility simply because you’re not 100 percent in agreement all the time.

The things that make you different from your spouse also make you unique and can give each of you a different view of the world.

Your partner will do things differently. That is a fact. They will approach problems with a mindset unlike yours. They may have differing views when it comes to many areas of your life together.

By respecting these differences — and not expecting your spouse to react in the same way that you would — you’ll create a healthy marriage based on trust, equality, and understanding.


And this, in turn, will make sure that your relationship isn't riddled with petty complaints because your partner's method of doing something wasn't how you would have handled it.

Your marriage should be about working together. Don't look at conflict in your relationship as a problem, but instead, see it as an opportunity to grow.

When you incorporate the basics of Imago therapy into your marriage, you and spouse will have the chance to express yourselves more clearly and learn how to resolve — and hopefully, prevent — conflict in the future.

As a result, you’ll create a more loving, trusting, and healthy relationship that will happily last you the rest of your life, whether you've been married for five months or 50 years!


RELATED: Here's Everything You Need To Know About Imago Therapy

Christine Petrik, LCSW is a happily married psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker who helps dedicated couples achieve more passionate and meaningful relationships. Learn ways you can create the relationship of your dreams by connecting with her on her website.

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