Imago Relationship Therapy: From Romantic to Mature Love

When we fall in love, romantic love consumes us, making our relationships intense, effervescent, and almost blinding. However, as passion decreases, the next stage occurs. Therefore, we must know how to mature. Imago Relationship Therapy offers some useful guidelines.
Imago Relationship Therapy: From Romantic to Mature Love
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that the way we bond with our partners is linked to our childhoods. However, it’s true that the good and the bad experiences of our early years with our parents usually have an effect on many of the relationships we build in adulthood. What’s more, they usually leave striking psychological imprints on us.

Imago Relationship Therapy proposes that we all harbor unconscious images of love (imago) that originate in our families. These ideas might be idealized, traumatic, or offer us solid foundations on which to build healthy relationships. Consequently, the past often conditions our opportunities to be happy in love.

It does so by leading us through dysfunctional attachments. These involve biased ideas about affection along with emotional deficiencies that often hinder our abilities to build mature and satisfying relationships. Imago Relationship Therapy can help in these circumstances.

Many couples start their relationships from perspectives of romantic love. When their relationships falter, they don’t know what to do. Therefore, we need to be educated in more mature and less idealistic ideas of affection.

Couple in Imago therapy
Psychological models such as Imago Relationship Therapy seek to restore relationships by improving empathy and communication and healing childhood wounds.

Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)

Imago Relationship Therapy was developed in the 1970s by doctors Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly. Both had been divorced and had tried therapy to deal with many of the associated problems.

They realized that, at the time, there was no science-based therapy to facilitate restoring couple relationships in crisis. They were looking for a model that promoted the growth and maturation of partners as wiser, more skilled, and committed people in their relationships.

Since they didn’t find any suitable approach in the existing schools of couples therapy, they developed their own model. It’s based on the idea that the love of our families makes us develop a sense of identity about what relationships are like. This image (imagio) conditions us.

Imago Relationship Therapy aims to improve relationships by providing partners with tools to optimize communication, empathy, interpersonal skills, etc. Also, to work on their emotional wounds from childhood. These are the kinds that often end up being projected onto all relationships.

“We are born into a relationship, we are hurt in the relationship, and we can be healed in the relationship.”

Harville Hendrix

The premises of Imago Relationship Therapy

Research conducted by Villanova University (USA) claims that Imago Relationship Therapy is ideal for enhancing the empathy of partners in a relationship. The therapy is based on the following:

  • Imago therapy has its roots in (Jungian) psychoanalysis. It emphasizes how our childhoods and what happened in them build our personalities.
  • It claims we must heal the wounds from the past that hindered our psycho-affective development. If we don’t do so, we develop harmful relationships.
  • It enables us to develop good communication skills and empathy. Moreover, it teaches us to deactivate the classic ideals of romantic love.
  • It claims we must heal, correct, and deactivate erroneous schemes that limit our human potential. For example, the messages we receive in childhood like “Only weak people cry. You have to be strong” or “We always hurt the ones we love” etc.

Imago Relationship Therapy doesn’t only improve our relationships. It also heals many of our most painful parts of yesterday due to traumatic or dysfunctional childhoods.

Couple in Imago therapy
One of the best-known resources of Imago Relationship Therapy is the mirror technique.

Techniques to build a more mature love

Imago Relationship Therapy seeks that its patients edit the mental images they have about romantic love. They need to understand that this phase is only temporary. In fact, it’s a state of euphoria, passion, and fascination that weakens over time. That’s when a new stage arises that each partner must know how to manage if they want to advance toward a more mature and also satisfactory relationship.

Let’s explore the three steps that this therapeutic approach usually employs:

1. The mirror

This technique involves each partner acting as a mirror to see their reflection and vice versa. It’s a resource with great potential that’s extremely useful. In fact, one of the most recurrent techniques of Imago Relationship Therapy is for partners to open up to each other, expressing everything they feel, think, and need. However, it must be carried out bravely, meticulously, and clearly.

One partner details what they’ve seen and understood, what their partner said, and how they think they feel. As such, they put themselves in their place. Next, it’s the other partner’s turn.

2. Validation

Validation is the daily glue in a happy, mature, and conscious relationship. It implies one partner accepting and understanding the reality of the other without judging, criticizing, or wanting them to change or imposing their own will onto them. It means giving their partner space for their own needs, emotions, or thoughts, and making them see that their experiences are important.

Therefore, they must be able to listen and understand their partner from their perspective, showing them respect.  Indeed, this is a key element in the success of any relationship.

3. Security

The relationship between two people will grow and mature if both create a safe space to meet, care for each other and solve problems. Becoming the safe haven of a partner also means being able to make changes so that the relationship thrives and continues to grow. It means that both of them join in the effort of making a safe space in which conversation, trust, and empathy constantly flow.

In conclusion, Imago Relationship Therapy is an interesting and practical resource. It allows couples to understand the nutrients that help more satisfying and happy relationships develop. There’s also a book on the subject, Imago Relationship Therapy: Perspectives on Theory (2005), which has been quite successful.

The therapy tends to suggest that we’re interested in treating and sanitizing certain images about love that, unconsciously, limit us more than benefit us.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gehlert, N. C., Schmidt, C. D., Giegerich, V., & Luquet, W. (2017). Randomized controlled trial of Imago relationship therapy: Exploring statistical and clinical significance. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy16(3), 188–209.
  • Hannah, M. T., Luquet, W., Hendrix, H., Hunt, H., & Mason, R. C. (2005). Imago relationship therapy: Perspectives on theory. Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint.
  • Luquet, W. (2015). Short-term couples therapy: The Imago model in action. Routledge.
  • Schmidt, C. D., & Gehlert, N. C. (2016). Couples therapy and empathy: An evaluation of the impact of Imago relationship therapy on partner empathy levels. The Family Journal25(1), 23–30.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.