What Is the Imago — and Why Does It Matter for Your Relationship?
Imago is Latin for “image,” and in Imago relationship therapy, the Imago is the unconscious image you carry with you of your perfect partner. That’s right — at least subconsciously, you already think you know who Mr. (or Ms.) Right is. It’s why we’re drawn towards certain types of people in our love life.
Which sounds like a good thing, right? Our brains are unconsciously pushing us towards the right person. The person who will be perfect for us and give us that “happily ever after” we’ve all been trained to want, right?
Because the Imago is complicated. It’s not simply everything we like combined in a single person. Instead, the unconscious image we carry around of the perfect partner is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster.
You’ve probably heard it said that we choose partners who are like our parents, right? Well, that’s partially true. Imago theory says that our image of the perfect partner — our Imago — is made up of two different groups of things:
All of the positive and negative traits our childhood caretakers displayed in relation to meeting — or thwarting — our needs.
Those parts of ourselves that we rejected or abandoned in childhood because either our caretakers or society did not find them acceptable.
In other words, the unconscious image in your head of the perfect partner is of someone who will both satisfy and frustrate you, and to whom you will both be attracted and, at times, repulsed by. (Thanks for being so complicated, brain!)
Why in the world would we do this to ourselves? Imago theory argues that it is our attempt to replicate the situation we had in childhood so that we can heal wounds that were created during that time and grow. In short, we’re trying to recreate a version of the past… but do it better this time.
The Imago and the Success… Or Failure… of Your Relationship
You can probably already see why the Imago matters for your relationship. Quite literally, your brain is actively encouraging you to enter into a situation where there is bound to be conflict. It wants that conflict because it believes it’s the only way to work through your lingering childhood relationship issues. And your partner was attracted to you for exactly the same reason. Which means you really are perfect for each other… or at least that you can be.
But if you don’t know that part of the purpose of your relationship is to work through that conflict, you’re far less likely to stick it out. You will be expecting that “happily ever ever” we’ve all been force-fed instead of the work that goes into real relationships — and real personal growth. And it will be a huge shock when the initial rush of the honeymoon period wears off and you discover that your partner isn’t perfect.
Understanding that there is a reason for this — that it is, in fact, exactly what should happen — can alleviate a lot of fears and grief. And prepare you for the challenge and adventure of working through each other’s issues and healing those wounds — together.