For more than two decades, marriage therapist Dr. Harville Hendrix has been helping couples understand their relationships with a technique he calls Imago Relationship Therapy. Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Hendrix about the theory behind his therapy and three basic steps he says couples can take to achieve healthy communication and move beyond the conflicts in their relationship.
Dr. Hendrix says your "Imago" is a picture you form in your mind that consolidates all the traits of your primary childhood caretakers, both positive and negative. Your "Imago" becomes the template by which you select your partner, or "Imago match," as an adult for an intimate partnership, he says.
That partner has the potential to help you work through all your unresolved issues from childhood, Dr. Hendrix says. Yet, he says it's those same feelings of pain, frustration and anger carried over from childhood that unconsciously cause the pain and conflict in your adult relationships. "The trauma of childhood becomes the drama of adulthood," he says.
In Imago Relationship Therapy, Dr. Hendrix says there are three steps couples can practice to help them communicate effectively and heal both past and present wounds:
- Mirroring: First, couples learn how to listen and mirror back exactly what they hear rather than an interpretation or reaction to what they've heard. They should use expressions such as "I have something to say..." and "Let me see if I've got that..."
- Validating: Once both partners have clearly spoken and been listened to, they can then validate each other without necessarily agreeing. They should use statements such as "That makes sense because..."
- Empathizing: At this point in the process, both partners can identify with the other partner's expressed thought process and feelings, Dr. Hendrix says. To convey this newfound understanding, he says they should use language to the effect of "I can imagine what you're feeling..."
When couples practice this process faithfully, Dr. Hendrix says the relationship becomes a safe place where partners are emotionally available and can discuss anything. In this way, the relationship heals and grows stronger, he says.