How To Create Peace In A Relationship — Without Surrendering Your Identity

If someone says relationships are easy, they've probably never been in one. But hard doesn't have to equal suffering.

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Are you sick of having the same old argument with your partner over and over again? If so, you are not alone.

Many people long for deeper intimacy and passion in their relationships and wonder why they keep making the same mistakes with different partners. Perhaps even deeper is the sense that being in a truly intimate relationship with another person will somehow usurp their identity or make them lose their individualty. And that is possible, as in some relationships, conflict can lead to unhealthy levels of control and surrender of individual identities in order to "keep the peace". 


Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. Conflict doesn't have to lead to heartbreak, distance, control or surrendering your identity. 

Good relationships take work — but you'll need a plan. One reliable guide to a stronger, deeper connection is IMAGO Relationship Therapy (IRT).

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How IRT can help you form a truly intimate relationship without giving up your individual identity 

IRT has been considered one of the most effective forms of couple’s counseling for over 20 years. Its enduring appeal springs from its uniquely practical approach to relationship education and therapy. 

Using simple tools, the IRT process strengthens your existing relationship and provides you and your partner with the ability to heal your childhood wounds to build joyful, healthful lives together.

Another benefit is that IMAGO helps parents raise their children in the safe context of a stable relationship — children who grow up to contribute to a better and safer world.

As a couple in IRT, you learn to:

  • Create passion and safety in your relationship
  • Create intimacy
  • Communicate to ensure you’ll be heard & Understood
  • Understand yourself and your partner better
  • Create a conscious relationship
  • Resolve conflict
  • Parent your children with love and empathy



As an individual, IRT provides you the opportunity to:

  • Explore how your past memories and experiences are affecting you now
  • Examine and change recurring relationship patterns
  • Get ready to choose the perfect mate

IMAGO was co-founded by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and his professional and romantic partner, Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D.  Their bestselling books on building loving relationships have sold millions of copies worldwide. 

IMAGO therapists are trained and certified in 22 different countries around the world, a group I am proud to be part of. 


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How IRT is similar to other forms of couples therapy

Let us begin by looking at the ways Imago is related to and shares many of the same concerns as other therapies.

The family is the nest in which human beings are nurtured. Therefore, the relationship between mothers and fathers is the crucible through which we all must pass.

If this relationship is healthy and sound, and provides a good enough foundation for a fragile child to stand, meaning that s/he learns about the basics of human relationships and how to live in them — how to be supported and safe at the same time feeling recognized and loved — then the world becomes a better place to live.


If this relationship is not sound and is characterized by conflict, tension, "power struggles," feelings of contempt, hostility, and constant questioning, then the child must develop a unique set of adaptations in order to survive.

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How love evolves as we reach maturity

Later as adults, each individual will attract and fall in love with a partner who initially exhibits all of the positive aspects of childhood and eventually exhibits many of the negative, painful ones, as well.

When you stop wondering whether your partner is the "right one,” or if marrying this partner was the "right" decision, then the real work of the relationship begins.


In order for this work to begin, both members of the relationship need to recognize that neither one is solely responsible for the troubles, but it takes two to tango: the old stances in the old dances no longer work and are producing more pain than pleasure.

The key to transforming the relationship is awareness and increasing consciousness. Coming to awareness means that each member of the dyad recognizes his or her role in the dramas that have taken place and that criticizing and judging the partner can never repair the relationship.

Part of this new awareness is that the couple has gotten into trouble by both participating in the power struggle; hence they can get out of trouble by co-creating a positive, healthy, and loving relationship.

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How do we live in a relationship without losing our individuality? 

Committing to working on their relationship means they are willing to look deeply within and find not only the sources of their power struggle but also to find resources of love, compassion, and understanding upon which they can construct intimacy.

The greatest challenge any couple faces is living with the seeming contradiction of the relationship paradigm — namely that there is no such thing as an individual, that no one is an island, completely independent and self-sufficient since we are all connected within a universe of interrelationships.

So, how do we live in a relationship and at the same time, not lose our own uniqueness and individuality or our capacity to stay connected?

Conflict and tension in a relationship are not incompatible with love. On the contrary, the conflict you faced, walked and talked through can be the soup or stew out of which you can cook up a great relationship.


So, conflict does not signal the end of the relationship, but rather can offer the beginnings of a good one if the problems and conflicts are faced head-on and worked through.

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The power and importance of clear communication

Any marriage/relationship therapy worth its salt will have derived some kind of structure through which the relationship can be transformed into one of the couple’s dreams rather than their nightmares, and this will appear somewhat "artificial" to the non-initiated.

Some call it "dialogue," others call it "encounter."

Whatever the specific differences, the purpose of the structure is to bring the couple back to their love and compassion.


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How IRT is unique

Although IMAGO was created for married couples, any couple in a committed relationship, whether married or not, is welcomed and can derive great benefits from the process.

This includes relationships such as friends, adult siblings, adult children and parents, men and women living together, etc.

IRT is designed to be therapeutic, to empower couples to do the work of mutual healing. While communicating and dialoguing are essential components of the process, they are not the only part of the work.

It is based on the tenet of developmental psychology that tells us that the past weighs heavily on the present.


That means that any sharp conflict in the relationship is intense to the degree that it evokes deep emotional experiences or wounds from the past and past relationships — most importantly the roots of that pain can go back into each individual’s childhood development.

Like this iceberg, the present conflict is just the tip. The deeper, underlying issues make up the bulk of ice beneath the surface.

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Learning to recognize our counter-productive behavior

In IRT, couples learn that the behavior that contributes to the distress is primarily reactive, a way of protecting themselves from earlier pain and fear, and tends to be outside their conscious awareness.


Becoming aware of their reactivity helps them learn how to become more conscious and intentional in the relationship.

Awareness includes discovering the wounding in oneself and one’s partner that leads to reactive behavior. Couples re-image themselves, their partner, and their behavior, in light of what they learn about each other.

They begin to see the distress in their relationship as a path to healing and wholeness for both.


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IRT helps you learn how to change behaviors

Changes in behavior are made as partners learn to create a corrective experience for their partner’s past wounding. And, paradoxically, the very thing the partner needs for healing brings forth the denied or disowned part of one’s self that needs to be reclaimed.

IRT emphasizes the need and to create emotional "safety" for each partner. Couples tend to be completely unaware of how their speech and behavior trigger the childhood pain and fear of their partner and make them ‘unsafe’ for their partner.

IRT is a two-pronged approach: Through becoming conscious and intentional in the relationship, couples do the work of healing childhood wounds by reclaiming the denied parts of the self and bringing caring behaviors back into the relationship.


The dialogue process in IRT is designed not only for improving communication about volatile issues but also for creating emotional "safety" and assisting the healing process.

The basic tool is used in a variety of communication skills and processes to access the roots of pain and fear in the relationship and to facilitate behavioral change.

By learning to "come over the bridge" of the space between, couples learn to visit their partner’s world and develop an understanding and empathy of what it means to be "the other".

This is a sacred process and leads individuals and couples alike to experience "communion" with all that is healthy and beautiful in their lives.


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Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California.