The alternative to a power struggle is to compassionately ask for what you need and to empathically give what your partner needs, in other words, to consciously collaborate with your unconscious purpose to overcome your childhood adaptations. Imago therapy teaches you how to do this, in safety, and with respect.
This may bring you to the third stage of an intimate relationship. The first stage (romantic love), is when you want the other person. The second (the power struggle), is when you want the other person to satisfy you. The third, “real love”, is when you want what is best for the other person.
For every negative interaction, you need five positive interactions to restore balance. In other words, if your relationship is 80% good, the 20% that is not good will tend to dominate your experience. Often the hardest part of addressing this balance is accepting the gifts that your partner has to offer.
There are five basic tasks in Imago relationship therapy —
- Re-imaging your partner as a wounded child.
- Re-romanticizing your relationship, through things like appreciations, caring, fun, and pleasurable surprises.
- Restructuring your frustrations through converting complaints to requests.
- Resolving your rage.
- Re-visioning your relationship as a source of safety, fulfilment, and joy.
- The fundamental technique of Imago therapy is a structured dialogue. Your therapist takes you and your partner through a process of speaking and listening that creates what psychologists call contingent communication. The more vulnerable you can be with your partner, the safer your relationship will be for both of you. You may be thinking that you could be vulnerable if it was safe, but paradoxically it works the other way around — if you can lower your defences to allow your partner to feel tender and caring towards you, you should not get the negative reaction you anticipate. A certified Imago therapist can help you to experience this in safety. You fell in love with your partner because your imagos match. (In other words, your unconscious composite images of the characteristics of your childhood carers are sufficiently complementary.) You also fell in love with each other because you both experienced a similar kind of distress in childhood, but adapted to it in opposite ways (“same wound, different defence”). This means that what you each need the most may be the hardest for the other to give. In granting you partner’s request for a particular behaviour, you may have to reclaim a lost part of yourself.
- What Happens In Imago Therapy?
- The objective is to get you and your partner intimately connected with each other.
- The thing that you want the most may also be very difficult for you to receive, since you have adapted so well to its absence that its presence may feel like a powerful taboo has been violated.
- There is a magical aspect to Imago. If you can ask for what you need from your partner, in the giving of what is needed, your partner can heal and grow at least as much as you do.
- Contingent communication happens when disclosure of vulnerability is met with expressed empathy. For instance, if I tell my partner that I feel lonely when she leaves me alone to go to work for a night shift, I am being honest about how vulnerable I feel in that situation. If she chooses to respond by letting me know that she understands what I have said, and that she gets how it affects me, we have had an instance of contingent communication. The Imago dialogue firstly allows and encourages this to happen, and teaches you how to do this for yourselves, so that eventually it becomes habitual, and deep intimacy is possible between you.