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Imago and Me: A Guest Post by Michael Cohen, psychotherapist & coach

In Realtionship, Uncategorized on March 9, 2010 at 3:17 am

Michael Cohen

Until I was trained as an Imago Relationship therapist, I never really knew if I was helpful to the couples that came to see me. I always did the best I could to mediate their conflicts and to make sure they each could learn about their role in the problems they were experiencing. Inevitably one person would feel like I was taking sides, even though I made every effort to stay neutral. In conversations with colleagues and in supervision groups, we all shared our frustrations with the couples therapy we were doing.

Seven years ago my partner Dan and I went to a weekend workshop called Getting The Love You Want, http://gettingtheloveyouwant.com/. It was one of the prerequisites to Imago therapist training. Both of us decided we wanted to be trained in this method and there was no better way to begin than to experience it for ourselves.

We were blown away by how helpful it was. We learned so much during that weekend, about ourselves and about the repetitive arguments and frustrations we were having. We also got a really clear sense of what it was that was limiting our intimacy together. We spoke our fears and were able to understand them within the context of our families of origin, or what we had experienced as children. It all made great sense and released a great surge of hopefulness for us.

Now I have been practicing Imago Therapy for 7 years with many couples, and I know that the work is helpful. I see the progress clearly and I am excited to pass along what I know to other people. Imago Relationship Therapy is a very psycho-educational approach. I like to call it relationship training, because for many people it is the first time they have ever been taught the art of and techniques of being in a partnership. Most people come to relationship with very unrealistic expectations and very few skills.

Rose and Shawn were one such couple. They had a perfectly lovely first year of life together, and then as happens, they began to deal with some conflicts. Shawn had been brought up to believe that he would meet a partner who would make him happy, someone who would never disappoint him. He was very invested in that after his childhood, which was filled with disappointments. His mother died when he was 10, leaving him with an overwhelmed father who quickly married a significantly younger woman. Shawn felt perpetually left out of this new family and retreated inside to a lonely and resigned place. When he met Rose, she offered a loving connection and a sense of loyalty that reminded Shawn of none other than his own mother. We call that his relationship Imago, or his unconscious idealized image of love.

As a result of this history, Shawn’s reacted to Rose’s differing needs and separate sense of self by getting frightened, becoming angry and accusing her of being unfaithful to him. He had not made any of the connections yet to his past, as most people don’t, until they begin to take responsibility for their feelings and reactions. Shawn, like many of us, needed safety, support and guidance to make those connections. He needed a trainer, if you will, to help him understand what was happening between he and Rose, and to discover new ways to relate. After some work, Shawn was able to make those connections and to learn new ways to deal with his feelings. Of course Rose had her work to do also. They are still in therapy together and they love the process.

Sometime people come into couples therapy seeking to change their partner. Few things are less productive or more frustrating. In Imago therapy, there is great emphasis placed on learning about and changing you. Some of the questions put before you in the course of this treatment/training are: What is your role in each conflict? What of your past is influencing your reaction to your partner? What are the challenges present for you to become a better partner? What old habitual responses do you need to look at and revise so they bring you what you want? How well do you attune to your partner’s needs?

The creators of Imago, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt have created exercises and useful tools for couples to delve into this rich terrain. Self-discovery within the context of a relationship can be the most valuable of all personal growth.

One of the most helpful tools is called the Intentional Dialogue. It is a method of communicating that allows people to truly listen to each other. One of the foundational beliefs of Imago theory is that the core of most relationship difficulty is that people do not know how to communicate clearly (especially when it comes to feelings and needs) or to listen well. Once these skills are learned and practiced, many couples learn to solve many of their own conflicts by themselves.

Relationship can be so wonderful and at the same time, so difficult. We all need as much support as we can get to make them work well. The best support I have found, both as an individual, and as a therapist, is Imago Relationship Therapy. Check it out, and check out our new website as well: http://www.gaymalecouples.com/.Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have comments or questions. I love talking about Imago and about relationships.

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