Posts Tagged ‘Imago’

Tennis Balls and Gifts

July 11, 2013

This post is by Tony Victor, Imago Faculty, and re-posted here with permission.

Here is an Imago Dialogue Riddle:  What is the difference between a tennis ball and a gift?  Well, when a tennis ball is served up to you, you are expected to put your own spin on the ball and send it right back over the net.  In fact your tennis partner expects you to try to return in such a way as to make it very difficult for her to receive it. However, if you partner does receive it be fully ready to have him put a new spin on it and send it back to you even more tenaciously than the first time he served it up to you.

A gift is just the opposite:  When a gift is served up to you, you are expected to receive it with gratitude and amazement, to admire the beautiful wrapping and the bow so delicately tied.  To, with wonder and awe, graciously unwrap it.  Just receive it — No putting your own spin on it — No sending it back.  Just receive it.

In part, Imago Dialogue is about receiving what your partner has to offer you.  The words your partner speaks are a precious gift–an opening into his heart.  When your partner speaks treat her words as precious gifts to be held, taken in, and cherished.

Even if those words are a bit painful.  Resist the urge to treat them like a tennis ball being served up to you — putting your own spin on them, and sending them right back.  Treating even painful words as a gift is the surest way to sooth the hurt for you and your partner.

This is especially important when the words are an affirmation.  Recently a couple who were making wonderful progress from their initial session began their session with her smiling, looking intently at him and saying “I love you.”  Immediately he responded “I love you too.”  This was an amazing moment of transformation for this couple.  Just a few weeks earlier they were ready to divorce and started counseling as a last ditch effort to avoid the lawyers.

I celebrated the moment with them.  Then I asked permission to try something a little different.  They agreed, I asked her to start again she looked at him and said “I love you.”  Before he had a chance to respond, I quickly asked him to just breath in the gift of her words.  Just take it in as you breath in.  Then mirror back, he said, “You love me.”  As he did his eyes welled up with tears and I knew that he was letting his defenses down.  This time he was accepting the gift not just returning the serve.  I used the above  riddle to help both partners understand this concept and how Imago dialogue is about gift giving rather than a tennis match.

While the rapid fire back and forth “I love you’s” was a wonderful step in a good direction, the pattern of communication more resembled a tennis match than a gift exchange.  As Imago therapists, I believe our role is to coach our couples to see their partners as serving up gifts not tennis balls to each other.

Tony Victor, D.Min., Imago Faculty Candidate, Certified Imago Consultant, and Certified Imago Workshop Presenter is available for Consultation either in person or via Skype or Facetime.  Dr. Victor has been in private practice for over 25 years.  He currently is the Owner and Director of a thriving group practice, The Midwest Relationship Center, LLC, located in Swansea, IL, just outside of St. Louis, MO.  If you would like to comment on this article or inquire about consultation, you can contact Dr. Victor by email or by calling 618-516-3338.

Dare y’a:

At the soonest possible moment, tell your partner you want to give her/him a gift and that s/he shouldn’t do anything except breathe it in for a few seconds….and then say “I love you” while gazing into their eyes.

Interview with Imago Founders

May 22, 2013

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-founders of Imago Relationship Therapy, were recently interviewed by Carol Donahoe, Rhinebeck program director at the Omega Institute, about why couples fight and how to replace negativity in a relationship with curiosity.

Carol: How did you come to create Imago Relationship Therapy together? Did it happen because of your relationship or along with it?

Helen: On one of our first dates, Harville told me he wanted to write a book about why couples fight. He was exploring why couples who are drawn together and think they’re in love end up being each other’s worst enemies. We were both divorced, and I was mesmerized by the idea. The answer to this question is so important and significant for our well-being.

Harville: This was in 1977, and over the next couple of years I continued to do research and process my ideas with Helen. She has a background in psychology, so she was a great partner. I don’t think there was ever a decision to “do this together,” it just emerged out of our relationship. In 1979 we named it Imago Relationship Therapy, in 1982 we got married, and in 1988 Getting the Love You Want came out. Helen was busy working in the women’s movement and stewarding our family when I was away, but she was always part of Imago. Sometimes I’m not sure who came up with an idea. I will think it’s me and Helen will think it’s her and then we can know it probably came up in a conversation.

Helen: I was very happy not being overtly involved, but I’ve always feel like a partner.

Harville: Yes, it would have never happened without Helen and our conversations.

Carol: So why do couples fight?

Harville: When two people meet and fall in love, they idealize each other. They see each other as the person who will meet their needs. At first it seems true—people do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do because they’re trying to bond with someone, and we each end up with the impression that the other person is perfect and they’re going to do all we want them to do. But once a commitment is made—this often happens after a wedding—there is a desire to reclaim ourselves, to find some differentiation from the merger that happened during courtship, and we begin to act more like our true self. For example, when we’re dating, if you say vanilla is your favorite ice cream, I might eat vanilla ice cream, too, just to bond with you. But then we get married and you find out chocolate is really my favorite flavor and you wonder where the guy who liked vanilla went. It seems to you that I’m not the person you married, that I’m behaving differently or strangely, and you want that idealized person back, the one who was meeting all your needs.

Carol: Meanwhile, the same thing is happening with the other partner, right?

Harville: That’s right. Both parties are feeling disillusioned and entitled. Both people are trying to recover themselves and neither person wants the other to do that. Couples realize at that point that true intimacy is harder than they thought it might be, and the fear of this is what makes them fight.

Carol: This is the moment, then, that there is an opportunity for a couple to have a conscious relationship?

Helen: Yes. First, both partners have to realize that they each have wounds from childhood and that one of the purposes of marriage is to finish those childhood issues. We didn’t get our needs met by our original caretakers, and now is our chance to heal that. Second, it’s important to realize that incompatibility is grounds for marriage. Most people believe if you’re struggling in your marriage you’re married to the wrong person. We are convinced that if there is struggle, growth is trying to happen and it’s the perfect opportunity for a conscious relationship. At that point, both people need to move beyond the negativity and shift their focus from themselves to the space between. Couples experience a shift when they move from their own need for gratification and embrace the well being of their partner and the whole relationship. At that point a whole psycho-spiritual transformation begins to take place.

Carol: Imago has helped millions of people, but it also helped your relationship as well. How did you come to experience your own work?

Helen: We struggled a lot in our marriage, especially when the fame came. We probably would have limped along with a so-so marriage because neither of us is a perfectionist, but we realized there was a split between how others expected us to be and how we were at home.

Harville: You were great; it was me that was the problem.

Helen: Yes, I probably thought it was you but I had to learn it was me, too. So we used Imago therapy and through that process discovered another piece that transformed our relationship: we agreed to absolutely no negativity. It became the number one rule. It’s hard, but surprisingly transformative.

Carol: What if something seems negative to one person but not the other?

Helen: If your partner thinks it’s negative, then it’s negative. Harville and I were both raised in a culture that values critical thinking. We were both schooled to look at what’s not there, to be critical. It was a good quality to have. But in a relationship it can destroy any sense of safety.

Harville: You can’t have a great relationship unless it’s emotionally safe; it has to be predictable and reliable. You need to be able to count on the fact that when you’re around your partner you’re not going to get hurt or be criticized, put down, or shut out. When we first agreed to no negativity we though we needed to replace it with positivity. But that didn’t work. In the end, we replaced it with curiosity. If you’re curious about the other then it becomes exciting to learn about them and their inner world and when they open up you are able to be empathetic and they feel safe. Safety is essential to being able to connect, and when you’re connected you are joyful to be alive.

Carol: Helen, let’s say Harville did something that really annoyed you. How do you deal with it if you don’t want to be negative?

Helen: You use what we call in Imago “sender responsibility.” You figure out how to communicate what you’re feeling from your higher brain, from the highest degree of functioning, so there is a greater likelihood your partner will hear it. Use “I” language rather than “you.” Be selective with how much you bring up so you don’t flood your partner. Speak in a calm tone to increase the chances that your partner will hear you and respond positively.

Carol: Imago has been around for several decades now and has made a difference in many, many lives. Omega is interested in how individual transformation in turn changes society for the better. Have you seen this with Imago?

Harville: Yes, we have, and we’re working on an exciting project to bring Imago to an even wider audience. We are stripping out the part of Imago that can be used to educate the public on how to be in a committed partnerships or marriage. We’re working with a group of relational experts—John Gottman , Dan Siegel, Michele Weiner-Davis, Ellyn Bader, and Marion Soloman—to launch a global wellness movement that focuses on all relationships. Our first initiative is Project Dallas, where over the next few years we’ll bring this technique to the general public using social media, traditional media, and trainings. The goal is to saturate the environment with the idea that healthy relationships make for a healthy society. We’ll be filming what we do and will ultimately turn it into a documenatary.

Helen: The idea behind this was that if you want a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass a test. If you want a broker’s license you have to take a course and pass a test. Bu if you want a marriage license you simply have to pay a small fee, yet marriage is one of the most important commitments you will ever make in your life. We think most couples wait too long to get help so we want to bring the simple practices of a conscious partnership into the mainstream so people know how to be in a marriage before they enter one. We believe we have the technology to end divorce if people can learn these principles of communication.

Harville: Yes, and Helen doesn’t mean just she and I think we can end divorce. All our partners in this endeavor feel the same. The point is there are a lot of couples who don’t need therapy. But there isn’t anyone that doesn’t need relationship education. Maybe 10-20% of the population had a happy enough childhood not to have a problematic marriage. But that means 80% of us are great candidates for relationship education. We’re going global with this and we think it’s going to change everything.

Three stages of Relationship

April 12, 2013

This post is written by Joe Kort and re-printed here with permission. Imago Couples Therapy teaches partners that every relationship goes through stages. In this blog post, Imago therapist Joe Kort provides a tongue-in -cheek way to remember them! View a quick video of Joe Kort.

Couples Therapy Secret Stage #1—Call of the Wild

You see your partner-to-be across a crowded room, and the attraction is immediate. You want to be with each other; you can’t see enough of each other. The experience is a wild ride boosted by a pharmacy of natural chemicals flooding your system. Actually, you find yourself falling for familiar love: your partner reminds you of positive traits of your parents or whomever was important in raising you.

In this stage, you say:

“Something about you seems so familiar.”
“Have we met before?”
“Feels like I’ve always known you.”

Call of the Wild Alert:  People in couples counseling know that this stage won’t last. The call of the wild—a transient positive emotion designed to come to an end—lasts for between 6-18 months. Its purpose is to connect and bond two people, making them willing to stay together when things become more difficult in the relationship—as they inevitably will!

Couples Therapy Secret Stage #2 — Call of the Child

Where did our love go? Your partner’s charms are replaced by little differences that annoy you. Soon they aren’t so little. You hope to dispel them, or at least cope with them by arguing and defending yourself. But trying to change or “train” your partner won’t work. You consider couples counseling.  During this stage, unresolved issues from childhood resurrect. Couples project onto each other feelings from the times their parents acted poorly and disappointed them.

In this stage, you say:

  • “You’re so different! What happened to you?”
  • “If you loved me, you’d know what I need!”
  • “You tricked me. I was a fool to believe in you!”

Call of the Child Alert:  Every long-term couple goes through the call of the child. This stage is also supposed to happen and supposed to end, but lasts longer than the call of the wild. Even though the call of the child makes you feel like you’re with the wrong person, if this is happening, you are in fact with the right one.

Couples Therapy Secret Stage #3 – Call of the Mild

You value each other as you are, not as you might become. Even though you may wish that differences and disagreements would go away, you begin to understand that some will always be there—and you accept them. In this stage, ideally, you learn to give unconditionally, relate non-defensively, and relate with empathy and compassion.

In this stage, you say:

“I love you—warts and all!”
“We are different—and that’s okay!”

Call of the Mild Alert:  To revive the love of call of the wild and bring romance back into your relationship, your couples counselor might suggest you surprise your partner by doing the same things you did during the beginning of your relationship. That will remind you both of the old times when things were new and exciting—and let you feel how your love has endured.

A note about the author:

Dr. Joe Kort is a certified sex addiction therapist, certified Imago Relationship Therapist and a certified Sex Therapist providing mental health outpatient services for individuals and couples needing sex rehab as well as those struggling with depression and anxiety issues in the Rochester, Bloomfield, Birmingham and Novi areas. The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health – – provides this information written by its founder, Dr. Kort, in order to educate interested readers. (248) 399-7447

Schwarzenegger, divorce, and an old joke about directions

May 23, 2011

This week we bring you another fantastic guest post by Imago Executive Director, Tim Atkinson that originally appeared on The Relationship blog.

The break-up between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver reached such epic proportions of tragedy last week, that I prefer to start this post with a joke.

I was visiting Washington, DC, and got horribly lost.  I asked a passer-by directions to the White House.  He looked me up and down and finally said “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

A colleague and I were just talking about a study that’s due to be published soon, which says that people who get divorced usually don’t get any happier as a result.  So imagine yourself in the situation of the ex-Governor of California and his delightful actress wife, with their 25 year-old marriage and four children.  I guess you heard the news, it turns out that there’s a fifth child, by another woman, born over 8 years ago.  Ms. Shriver only just heard about it.  You can read all about it in the NY Times and probably every other publication in the country.

It’s a pretty spectacular “infidelity” story.  But for most of us, lacking the amazing thick skin and tolerance of major celebrities, it only takes an affair, and perhaps a little lying to our partner, to put us right at the kind of relationship low-point that appears to be a “Terminator” (groan!) for this couple.

Now, if you believe the stats that divorce isn’t going to make you happier,  I would say that if you want to be happy in life, you probably don’t want to start off at the point where your partner is furious that you were unfaithful, and has lost complete confidence in you because you lied about it for a long time.  Or even a short time.  Although if you are in that position we did recently publish an article in YourTango that can show you the way forwards.

I am talking from first-hand experience, from my first marriage.  I did divorce my first wife after she was unfaithful, and although the story wasn’t as spectacular as California’s previous first family, it felt pretty awful to me.  And the divorce was followed by a ghastly period in my life, until my second wife rescued me from misery.  I’ve learned a great deal about couples therapy since then, which is probably why I’m enjoying my marriage more each day, after over a decade of wonderful experiences.

Flickr / orvalrochefort

I think there is a simple lesson from the news about Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Don’t ever let if get that bad.  I’ve been surveying couples for quite a while now, and it seems to me that many of us have quite a high tolerance for relationship problems.  We will unhappily slog on, putting up with coldness, distance, anger, fights and all the rest of it, believing somehow it will sort itself out somehow.  Meanwhile things get worse, and that’s when people get vulnerable to a kind word from an attractive, caring person, who provides the attention and admiration that they are missing from the marriage.

Who can blame a partner for seeking the love they need elsewhere, if they can’t get it from their spouse?  But if you want to be happy, and most of us do, it just doesn’t seem to be the best way to go about it.

Sadly for many couples, they don’t actually see much alternative.  I surveyed a couple of hundred visitors to our website, and asked them why they were a bit hesitant to try out couples therapy.  It turns out that most people I surveyed are worried that their relationship is beyond hope, because somehow they are with the wrong partner.  They see therapy as a process which will just stir up all sorts of hidden problems, and make things worse.

Gosh – there has to be some good news here somewhere.  And there is!

There are hundreds of thousands of couples, who through Imago, discovered that they really did get it right when they fell in love with their partner.  When people fall in love, we don’t get it wrong.  We’re attracted to our partner for very real and important reasons, often closely connected with our past, and our emotional needs.

Here’s another piece of good news.  Practically every couple goes through some kind of struggle together – we call it the power struggle.   The reason that’s good news, is because if you are in a struggle with your partner, it means that you are just like the rest of us.  If your struggle is harder or more challenging, then it might mean the forces that attract you are stronger too.  And if your energy has gone flat, and the relationship feels dead, it might simply mean that you are the kind of people who tend to protect yourselves against difficult emotions.

So let’s revisit the old joke about directions.  If you want to be happy, try to avoid having to start by picking up the pieces after infidelity.  If you want to be happy, a great place to start is where you first find you are having problems in your relationship.

Flickr / Dano

Your relationship problems are the direction arrows to deeper love and more connection.

Now when I read sentences like the one above, I often get a bit worried.  Maybe it sounds a bit too optimistic?  A little too hopeful?  Unrealistic?  Impractical?

Not in Imago.  Imago is all about going underneath the problems and frustrations in your relationship, and finding out what is really happening at a deeper level of emotional need.  It’s a non-judgmental process, no-one gets blamed, or comes out as the bad guy.  You come out feeling good, and finding ways to live your life in a richer way.  It’s an amazing experience, getting to know your partner on a deeper level.  But please, if you want to be really happy, try it out when the problems first come up.  Don’t let yourself get to a place where divorce seems unavoidable, because the chances are breaking-up won’t make you happier.

Sick And Tired Of Being Sick AND Tired?

May 9, 2011

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a series of articles written by Imago Executive Director, Tim Atkinson for the Your Tango Expert Blog. Tim interviews some of Imago’s senior faculty about  topics ranging from improving your sex life to infidelity to breakups. We’re sending them out to you because these posts illustrate how Imago can strengthen relationships, help couples to overcome common challenges and ensure each partner receives the love they want. You will see that the core Imago dialogue process is used each time plus some suggestions for helpful new perspectives on your relationship.

O what a heaven is love! O what a hell!” said the 17th century poet, Thomas Dekker.

Does love ever feel like that to you? Given that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and all sorts of other grim statistics, I guess there’s a good chance that your answer is “Yes.”

But do you know why? Why should love have its dark side – other than to create a large market for romantic movies, paper handkerchiefs and voodoo dolls?

I decided to ask some experts. I’m in a good position to do that since I work with 1,200 couples therapists from around the world. They are no stranger to loving relationships that have turned nasty and taken the unfortunate turn to the dark side. I asked some of these amazing experts to help me write about what goes wrong in love. And more importantly, how to put it back together again when it falls apart.

This article introduces a series which features stories of real couples who have climbed back up the loving ladder to bliss. First let’s look at some of the most common issues couples bring to therapists, and some of the common elements that help couples restore their connection.

To begin, I asked Imago couples therapists about the situations they most often encounter. Their top list included the following issues:

Rebuilding trust after an affair was near the top.

Followed by couples whose new child had introduced tensions, especially when the parents fought over parenting styles.

Finally, were couples whose sex life had become unsatisfying, or who had simply become bored with each other.

Then I had a conversation that changed everything.

“I don’t like looking at it that way” said Imago Couples Therapist, Pam Wood, “I don’t work with situations, I work with connection”. Pam told me that using Imago therapy, her primary goal is to help the couple to improve the quality of connection to their partner. Once the connection is rebuilt, couples have the ability to work through pretty much any situation.

Imago Therapy was developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and his partner Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt. It’s a favorite of Oprah’s, as well as thousands of therapists worldwide. Harville is fond of saying “Conflict is growth trying to happen” because Imago views the current situation a couple is experiencing as a symptom of something deeper. Underneath there’s another story going on that’s all about the couple’s emotional needs. That’s the conversation that will make a real difference.

When I looked at my survey notes again, I noticed that therapists most often found couples were saying “we need help with communication”. It sounds like couples themselves sense that there are things which need to be discussed, but they can’t seem to find a way to get them out into the open. Sometimes sharing things of the heart makes them feel too vulnerable, or creates too much of an angry reaction from their partner. For example, it turns out that it’s relatively common for a therapist to encounter couples who give each other an “F” in sex. That’s not so easy to talk about, without getting your partner quite hurt and defensive.

I talked to 6 different therapists about 6 completely different situations, asking them to map out a five-step process which the couple could use to resolve their problems. The common theme that emerged was that these five steps followed a structure for a meaningful conversation. Often the first step was about recognizing the problem; the next steps were about becoming curious, and looking underneath the surface.

To do this, Imago therapists use a central tool, called the Imago Dialogue. It’s a way to guide a conversation about our feelings that can feel safe enough, so that each partner can share openly. It is also carefully designed to build connection at each step.

Whether it’s understanding what to do if you want a baby and your partner doesn’t, or why your step-kids are destroying your marriage, the key solving both, and countless others, is to understand what is going on for your partner. To truly step into their shoes and see the experience and feelings through their eyes and heart. That’s why the Imago dialogue is central to the work of Imago therapists.

That doesn’t mean that all the therapist needs to do is to run through a standard approach in every situation. Each couple is unique, and over the series we will show you how different situations require a different therapeutic approach. For example, when you have just found out your partner is cheating you may not be ready to hear what the emotional circumstances that in their mind led to the affair. But eventually, this is one of the goals. Each article in the series includes an interview with a therapist who will help outline the steps needed to resolve a particular conflict.

I’ll leave you with one question to ponder: If conflict leads to growth, what’ so good about growth anyway? It starts with one core belief: as people we’re simply able to grow more complete through our deepest relationships with others, especially our partners. The more complete we are, the more we can get out of life, and the more we are available to love deeply and in a rewarding way. But, often, the road to true connection has major obstructions – often those “elephants in the room” that we’ve always known were there, but never talked about.

Clearing those obstructions, together, can be one of the most intimate experiences you will ever have, leaving the way clear to a wonderful, full relationship.

Just remember this, when you walk in to see an Imago Couples Therapist, and start telling them that there are problems with the in-laws, or you can’t agree about money, the therapist may not be thinking about your problem. Instead they may be saying to themselves “Here’s an opportunity to bring the two of you closer than you have ever been before, and make your relationship more rewarding than you might believe to be possible.”

Tim Atkinson is Executive Director of Imago Relationships InternationalImago provides couples therapy and couples workshops around the world.