What Is Imago Relationship Therapy?

Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S

April 17, 2024

Imago Relationship Therapy is a transformative approach to marriage and couples therapy that emphasizes relational healing through effective communication and understanding. Developed in the late 20th century, this therapeutic method has helped countless couples deepen their emotional connection and resolve conflicts in a constructive and compassionate manner. In this blog post, we will delve into the origins, fundamentals, and practices of Imago Relationship Therapy and how it can be a powerful tool in transforming relationships.

Introduction to Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy was developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., in the 1980s. It is grounded in the belief that personal healing can occur within the context of a committed relationship. The term "imago" is Latin for "image," and it refers to the "unconscious image of familiar love." What this means is that there is often a connection between the frustrations experienced in adult relationships and early childhood experiences. According to the theory, people form an "imago" based on the positive and negative traits of their early caretakers, and they subconsciously seek out partners who reflect this image.

Fundamentals of Imago Relationship Therapy

The core idea of Imago Relationship Therapy is that personal growth and healing are best achieved in the context of a loving relationship. The therapy focuses on transforming conflicts into opportunities for healing and growth. The fundamentals include:

The Imago Dialogue

This is a structured way of communicating that involves mirroring (repeating what your partner says), validation (acknowledging your partner’s perspective), and empathy (expressing understanding of your partner's feelings). This dialogue helps partners move from blame and reactivity to understanding and empathy.

Uncovering the Imago

Couples work to uncover each other's “imago” through guided discussions about their childhood and past experiences. This helps them understand why they might be triggered by certain behaviors or words from their partner.


Part of the therapy involves re-establishing the connection that initially brought the couple together. Techniques include caring behaviors, affirmations, gifts, and quality time, among others.

Practices in Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy is distinctive for its interactive and inclusive approach, where both partners are actively engaged in every session. This method is designed to foster deeper understanding, enhance communication, and promote healing within the relationship. Here’s a closer look at some of the core practices utilized in Imago Therapy:


Role-playing is a vital tool in Imago Therapy, allowing partners to step into each other’s shoes and experience the emotional realities of the other. This exercise helps each person understand how their words and actions might be perceived by their partner. By temporarily assuming their partner's role, individuals can gain insights into the emotional impacts of their behavior, leading to greater empathy and reduced conflicts.

Dialoguing Exercises

Dialoguing is at the heart of Imago Therapy and involves structured communication techniques that move beyond everyday conversation. One key component is the "Imago Dialogue," which consists of three parts: mirroring, validation, and empathy. These dialoguing exercises ensure that each partner not only hears but truly understands the other’s perspective. Through this process, couples learn to communicate more effectively, promoting clarity and closeness. This technique helps to dismantle defensive communication patterns and builds a bridge to mutual understanding and respect.

Behavioral Change Requests

In Imago Therapy, it is understood that lasting relationship improvements need tangible actions. Behavioral Change Requests are practical and specific requests that one partner makes to the other to meet their needs better. These are not demands but requests made with vulnerability and care, aiming for mutual benefit. For example, a partner might request, "I feel loved when you greet me with a hug. Could you do that when we see each other after work?" This practice encourages positive reinforcement and thoughtful consideration of each partner's needs, fostering a supportive environment for personal and relational growth.

Safety in Expression

Another critical practice in Imago Therapy is creating a safe environment for open and vulnerable expression. This involves setting up the therapy space as a neutral zone where both partners can feel secure enough to express their deepest fears, desires, and feelings without judgment or retaliation. The therapist facilitates this safety, guiding the couple in establishing ground rules that promote respectful and supportive interactions.

Focus on Positive Outcomes

While Imago Therapy involves addressing conflicts and deep-seated issues, there is also a strong focus on highlighting and building on the positive aspects of the relationship. Couples are encouraged to share affirmations and acknowledge each other's strengths regularly. This positive focus helps balance the more challenging aspects of therapy and reminds partners of the love and value between them.

Benefits of Imago Relationship Therapy

Couples who engage in Imago Relationship Therapy often experience significant improvements in their relationships. Benefits include:

  • Improved Communication: Couples learn to communicate in a way that promotes understanding and connection.
  • Increased Emotional Intimacy: By understanding each other’s childhood wounds, couples can develop deeper empathy for each other.
  • Conflict Resolution: Couples learn to transform conflicts from battles into opportunities for growth.
  • Renewed Passion: The therapy can help rekindle love and appreciation in relationships.

For Imago Relationship Therapy in Austin, TX, Trust Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates 

Imago Relationship Therapy offers a unique and effective approach to couples counseling, emphasizing the healing potential of romantic partnerships. At Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates, we are committed to guiding couples through the intricacies of their relationships using therapeutic approaches like Imago. If you’re interested in exploring how Imago Relationship Therapy can benefit your relationship, we invite you to contact us for more information or to schedule a session.

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