“Imago” is the Latin word for image. Each of us has an “image” or “template” of love that is familiar and based on the care we receive from our parents or caretakers. This image developed a birth and throughout childhood. Our Imago can be described as a perception we carry with us internally of what love feels and looks like. It is based on how the people who love us when we were children interacted with us both positively and negatively. The significant people for us who help formed our Imago could be our parents but also our siblings, our grand-parents or anyone else who was a parental figure when we grew up. For example our Imago could be someone with personality traits resembling those of our father who is charismatic, enthusiastic, joyful, creative, but also short-tempered , impulsive and punishing and/or our mother who is nurturing, dependable, reliable, loving but also critical, anxious and shaming.
The Imago Theory Describes 3 Stages of a Relationship
In the Romantic stage, the feeling of love is an unconscious process where a chemical reaction is released in the part of the brain causing Euphoria. When we are in love, we experience a heightened awareness of our five senses and everything looks better and feels better. As Harville Hendrix PhD, puts it:
“Romantic love is not designed to last. It is a prelude to mature love and as it fades, couples naturally move into the power struggle.”
The power struggle happens because since we are married or in partnership with our Imago, we will start to have our buttons pushed. As our buttons are pushed we will react in the same ways we learn to react as children when we felt hurt by our parents or our caretakers. Harville Hendrix describes 2 universals and different style we react under stress: We either expand our energy outward (Maximizing it) or inward (Minimizing it)
For example as a minimizer, our partner would tend to keep feelings in, diminish emotions, deny dependency, exclude others from his or her personal space and tend to alternate between passive aggressive and dominant controlling.
As a maximizer, our partner would tend to exaggerate emotions, depend on other, exaggerate needs, be compulsively open and subjective and tend to alternate between aggressiveness and passivity.
When couples are conflicting about the issues where their buttons get pushed they naturally and unconsciously behave by either maximizing or minimizing their energy. Hostage of the unintentional minimizing/maximizing dance, they deprive themselves of 2 gifts: 1) learning deeper truth about each other and 2) growing their relationship toward mature Love.
This does not mean that people should never get divorced, but it does mean that most divorce do not need to happen and if you do not work on your buttons and underdeveloped parts of yourself, you are setting yourself up for repetitive disappointments in life partnerships.
” Truly loving another person means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood.”
– Karen Casey