A while ago I was working with a couple using Imago Relationship Therapy. Imago is used to heal relationships and reconnect human beings all over the world. It is not only used in romantic partnerships, but in many other areas too, such as in workplaces to strengthen relationships between colleagues or between staff and management, as well as within families to resolve difficult dynamics, with communities in conflict, in prisons amongst inmates and in schools between teachers and pupils.
Why is Imago so popular?
One of the reasons that Imago has been so effective in helping to heal conflicted relationships, is that it is a very gentle method that is non-judgemental, positive, neutral and space-giving, ultimately creating a bridge between people whilst teaching dialogical skills that can eventually be used without needing the presence of a third person/facilitator.
I’d like to point out here that this does not mean that Imago encourages people to stay together for the sake of it! Imago Relationship Therapy is ultimately about teaching both responsible relating and self-awareness. It helps those who deeply wish to reconnect to figure out how to resolve their differences through dialogue and respectful communication. Likewise, it helps those not able or not willing to reconnect, to pave a healthy path out of a destructive relationship.
In Imago, it is very important that each person involved has equal time to talk and be heard. This is so that both truths have time to be aired, explored and validated.
When is Imago not recommended?
The particular time mentioned above, one person in the room (the Listener) had heard the other (the Speaker) talk for just over half of our session, and in previous sessions, for much more than that. They had patiently mirrored, summarised, validated and empathised with the speaker, and I witnessed this Listener move readily through the dialogue from a place of frustration and sadness, to a very encouraging place of understanding and hope. Note that this does NOT mean that the Listener agreed with the Speaker’s version of events – we don’t need to agree in order to develop empathy – but they certainly came to understand where the Speaker was coming from and, most importantly, WHY the Speaker interpreted events as they did. They were able to put themselves right in the Speaker’s shoes, respecting without agreeing. They were able to validate the Speaker’s world, without losing their own. This is crucial in coming to a place of compromise and understanding. We should not need to uproot ourselves to authentically connect with another.
Meeting in the Middle
In Imago, it is taught that people rarely change by having another view forced upon them as a ‘new truth.’ Instead, people most readily change through developing empathy. We develop empathy in all of our relationships by slowly and carefully crossing the bridge to the other person’s world (providing they allow us over!). Once there, we can develop a new curiosity and understanding about what it’s like to live in that world for a while.
Back to my scenario. When the half hour was up and it was now the Speaker’s turn to change roles and become the Listener, this Speaker (now Listener) was not able to accept that the other person had a different experience of the world to them. They were in a very young, very vulnerable and very angry place, where they needed to be the only person in the relationship; and the only truth to be heard. They could not accept that there are two maps of the world in every relationship and they refused to become a Listener, even for 10 minutes out of a week. That person, once the resistance is consistent over two or three sessions, is not ready to attend couples therapy using the Imago process.
Imago is all about dialogue, equality, and meaningful connection. It’s about learning from and about the other person, whilst at the same time learning about yourself and your own personal growth challenges in the mirror the other person provides. It’s about learning to be vulnerable, to make your relationships stronger.
It is both what you think, and what you don’t think
Take this random picture. What it reminds you of first and foremost will be linked to your past and recent experiences as an individual experiencing the world
To the cattle farmer, it’s a cow stand
To the cyclist, it’s a bicycle stand
To the person who struggles to walk, it’s a walking aid
To the gymnast, they are exercise bars
And so forth…
We can choose any image, and we will have a thousand different interpretations. Our view of life is completely and utterly coloured, flavoured and interpreted by our experiences thus far. The more you have seen and done, the wider your view of the world will be and the more interpretations you can ‘accept’ as ‘real.’
Given the above, how could it be possible, on every single occasion, to agree with another person? How is it possible to agree exactly on what happened, what is remembered, what is experienced and what is concluded? How can we ever be completely the same in mindset as somebody who had a different birth, a different upbringing, different life experiences, and by consequence, has developed an entirely different map of the world?
How is it possible to WANT to agree? Do we really want to be clones of one another?!
To engage in Imago Relationship Therapy is to give oneself the opportunity to be received and witnessed by the other as our Authentic Self, whilst at the same time learning to really listen and develop a new curiosity for the other. This process can help to heal past trauma and strengthen relationships that were previously thought to have been broken or destroyed by bickering, arguments and disagreements.
If you would like to experience Imago, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org (check your junk mail for replies as emails not from a gmail/yahoo etc account sometimes get mistakenly directed into the wrong box!)
Side Note on Values and Beliefs:
Of course, there are certain issues we feel extremely strongly about. These are our CORE VALUES and BELIEF SYSTEMS. They relate to how we are treated as well as how we treat others.
If the person we are in a relationship with does not agree with or, most importantly, respect them, perhaps that is the reason we cannot allow ourselves to experience their view of the world, because it conflicts with something deep in our heart and soul.
At that point, it may be wise to move on, and to use Imago as a gentle process of separation. Sometimes our core values create the footprint of who we are and who we are meant to be in the world, and we should not have to change them for anybody.