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Imago therapy is fascinating in that it scientifically can explain why we are fighting so much with our partner! Keep reading to understand why your spouse is pushing your buttons and how your conflict is actually a MAJOR opportunity for you.

“Did I marry the right person?” While you may expect this question to be reserved for newlyweds, unfortunately, there are couples who are grandparents still asking this question. I find this question to be one of the most destructive questions you could ask about your marriage. Living with an unhappy marriage can be one of the most painful experiences. It is easy to assume a passive role, give up, and daydream how things could have been different with someone else, yet this will only exacerbate your problems. Taking a proactive role in your relationship is the best way to ensure that both you and your spouse “become” the right person for each other. Taking that proactive role to get to the bottom of the discord and create connection again is exactly the path to learning how to be happy in an unhappy marriage and turning your unhappy marriage into a happy one.

What is Imago Relationship Therapy?

If you have been a long time reader, you may be familiar with the concept of the Imago relationship therapy. Imago means image in Latin and the theory posits that when looking for our spouse, each of us has an unconscious image of what we are looking for. This unconscious image is a composite of the positive and negative characteristics of our primary caretakers.

Imago relationship therapy says that we are looking to recreate our childhood experience so we can get it right this time and experience healing and growth.

This explains why marriage can be so frustrating. It recreates so many of our past hurts and frustrations. This time, though, if we can get conscious, we can finally make right what went wrong. Learn more about the principles of Imago therapy.

More principles of Imago therapy:

The first step you can take is to realize that it’s not all about your spouse. I have seen plenty of couples in a 2nd marriage come in for marriage counseling. If it was their ex’s fault, why is it that they are having issues with their new spouse? Is it bad luck? Ultimately, you take yourself into whatever relationship you enter. What are you doing to contribute to your relationship stress?

Most couples do not take responsibility for their role in their relationship disaster. Even better, now a spouse who has taken a psychology course in college is ready to diagnose their spouse with a personality disorder! Is it always the case that our spouse is the evil monster with psychological problems or do we play a role in triggering such undesirable behavior?

As I have witnessed with my couples, most of the things that really bother us about our partner are only partially about them and largely about us. 

Why would a particular incident bother you tremendously but appear insignificant to your friend?

The nature vs. nurture paradigm is very much involved in determining how we process and react to others.

Our external triggers, as real as they may be, are only a symptom of a greater problem. That problem is our story and ourselves.

By working on ourselves and becoming more conscious about why we react the way we do, we can learn how to be more effective in relationship and have more compassion for our spouse.

You’ll be much happier when you learn that it’s not about your spouse and because you won’t feel so stuck and that the “cards” just dealt you rotten, unhappy marriage.

Furthermore, these points of conflict are a blessing in disguise. Marriage is ultimately an opportunity for growth and healing.

The challenges that we face are there to do just that, to challenge us to become better and more balanced people.

The things that bother us most about our spouse or the things that our spouse complains about us are usually the areas in which we could stand to experience more growth.

If your inflexibility or carelessness didn’t bother your spouse, how would you be compelled to improve in these areas?

Your marriage crisis is not proof that you ended up with the wrong person; rather it shows that you made the right choice.

The hopes of someone better are futile because Mr./Mrs. Right will serve as a vehicle for your personal growth.

After the honeymoon ends, your spouse will surely push your buttons, but still this is not proof that you ended up with the wrong person.

Might as well give it your all and make it work the first time instead of breaking up a family, spending lots of money on attorneys, and suffering additional heartache.

Idea of the Bashert

I like to think of the imago theory regarding recreating childhood experiences in our relationships as similar to the Jewish idea of the bashert. Bashert is our destined partner that is most suited to us and the achievement of our spiritual completion. Although we think marriage is a conscious decision, there is something very powerful that attracts us to our spouse. G-d orchestrated it this way.

Does Imago relationship therapy mean that I really end up marrying my mother?

One of our readers recently commented that she knows many people whose partners are nothing like their parents. How does Imago theory answer this seeming contradiction?

Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Relationship Therapy, addressed this very question with regards to arranged marriages in India. He explained that we either pick our Imago, through unconscious attraction, project, or provoke.

    1. Pick- We have already explained how we pick our Imago. Even if you don’t think you are anything like your spouse’s parents, if you begin to share deeper and explore your frustrations with each other, you may very well be surprised. I have had many couples who were shocked when they realized how similar they were to their in-laws even though the thought would have never crossed their mind. They may also have many of the good traits of your parents.I have also noticed that sometimes our spouses have characteristics that remind us of our siblings or even ex-spouses. We seem to recreate traumatic experiences, interactions, to heal them, so that the issues we have with our spouses will be issues that particularly trigger us.If we still see no resemblance or we did not “fall in love” with our spouse, we project or provoke.
    2. Project- Even if our partner does not have the negative traits of our caregivers, he or she may exhibit a behavior that triggers the way we felt growing up. We may be projecting those traits onto our partner even if they don’t even have them in order to re-create the childhood experience. Thus, if we didn’t feel heard growing up, we may project on our spouse that he/she is not a good listener, even if he/she actually is.
    3. Provoke- We may provoke our partner until they exhibit the negative behaviors of our caretakers. Even if he/she is a good listener, if we complain about it enough, we may provoke him/her not to listen.Thus whether we pick, project, or provoke, we are trying to re-create our childhood so we can change it.

So in short, even if we didn’t choose our spouse, we will see or create in them what we need to relive our childhood.

This is an amazing opportunity to become more self-aware and achieve wholeness. Instead of getting stuck in the conflict, it is imperative to see the big picture and understand what is being triggered and how this conflict is really a call to greater connection. You can figure all of this out when you attend our 2 Day Private Marriage Restoration Retreat.

Talk with us today about our 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat.


If you still feel unsure about your partner and wonder if you’ve made the right choice, even if you’ve been married many years, talk with us ASAP about our Private 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat. One of the worst things is to feel doubt when it comes to your spouse and we want to support you either in person in our Pikesville, Baltimore office, or if you don’t live in Baltimore, Maryland over Skype.


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