What is Imago Therapy, and Can it Help My Marriage?

Imago Therapy is a modality of couples therapy created by Dr Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want. Imago is unique in that it provides a theory that helps conceptualize the couple’s conflict as well as a structured approach to manage the relationship in real time.

Imago theory believes that marriage is for the purpose of growth and healing and that the conflict a couple experiences is not random. Why does one choose their spouse over other potential mates? According to Imago, we have an unconscious image, or “imago”, of our ideal partner who is a composite of the positive and negative traits of our primary caretakers. In essence, we marry our parents, someone very familiar. We do this, unconsciously of course, in order to complete the unfinished business of childhood. We find someone so familiar, who will push our buttons in the very same ways, in order to get it right this time.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to do that? Because when we fall in love, we are not in our right mind. There are three stages to a relationship. We begin with the romantic stage, where we are too blind in love to see the reality that lays ahead. It is not until we commit and get married that those neurochemicals flooding our brain begin to dissipate and the dream turns into a nightmare. Suddenly, we feel like we made a mistake, like we’ve been duped. This isn’t the person I thought I was marrying. 

According to Imago, this is not only normal, but expected. The power struggle, as the second stage is called, is where most couples reside. They either choose divorce or they resign to living like roommates instead of soulmates. The good news is this is only a transitory stage to achieving real love, or what we call the conscious marriage. The conscious marriage is achieved by becoming aware of the unique conflict we experience in the power struggle. As we become more conscious of our conflict, we notice that it is not random, but tailor made for us. We begin to see that the very things that bother us about our spouse are triggering our own childhood wounds or unmet needs. When we come to this realization, not only do we realize that our partner is not the enemy, we begin to see the big picture and opportunity for even greater connection and healing.

What goes on during a session with an Imago Therapist?

Imago therapy creates a safe space by having a very structured session, where one person talks and the other one listens by repeating back, or mirroring what was said. This enables couples to self-regulate, calm down, and be able to access their full brain, enabling them to develop further insight into their situation instead of perpetuating conflict. As the couple explores the present day issue and understands the childhood connection, it provides an opportunity to have compassion for our partner’s story, and better facilitate change.

How the Imago dialogue helps couples struggling with ADD or ADHD

What Imago can do for the ADHD marriage is to help create greater understanding and compassion for the other. It is often hard for the non-ADHD spouse to enter the world of their spouse and understand how challenging it is to be neuroatypical. In the non-ADHD spouse’s world, willpower is enough to get something done. It may be hard to fathom why that doesn’t work for their spouse. By being able to differentiate and realize that your spouse is a world onto his/herself, you can make the leap, have more compassion, and be less reactive when expectations aren’t met. You no longer have to take it personally because your ADHD spouse is not necessarily having trouble following through because you aren’t important; rather, they have an impairment that makes it that much more difficult.

The Imago process can help you see these differences as an asset and a growth opportunity instead of a reason to throw away your marriage. It can also help the ADHD spouse self-regulate by learning how to listening in the structured Imago Dialogue process. Not only will this help the ADHD spouse be less reactive, it will help the non-ADHD spouse feel heard, like he/she has a captive audience because the listener is not allowed to interject or respond.

While there are other tools that will be helpful to manage the ADHD, the Imago process is a great way to help provide more hope for the success of the relationship, improve communication and connection.  

How to find an Imago Therapist who has experience working with ADHD couples

As with any investment, an investment in your relationship requires discerning research to make sure you are making a wise decision. This is especially true when it comes to something as sensitive as couples work. While the very essence of the practices of Imago therapy can be valuable for a couple with and ADHD spouse, you will probably want to interview the therapist prior to agreeing to working together so that you explain your concern and get a feel for whether they have experience in this area and can provide the unique guidance you will need.


Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC is a Certified Imago Therapist with The Marriage Restoration Project.  He writes, "In our practice, we work with couples over two intensive days, in-person or online, in order to help them really create a breakthrough both in understanding their relationship, working through issues, and learning new skills. Accompanied with 8 ninety minute follow-up sessions, we are committed to the long-term success of the couple. As someone who has personally done Imago therapy with and ADHD spouse, I have the both the personal experience, sensitivity, as well as confidence in this process and how it can serve as a helpful vehicle for deeper understanding and restored connection. To learn more about our programs, please visit, www.TheMarriageRestorationProject.com"