Did you marry your “Imago”

July 13, 2011 by  
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If you have been a long time reader, you may be familiar with the concept of the Imago. 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. 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.


I like to think of this similar to the Jewish idea of the bashert, 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.

Do I really marry 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 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 out 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.


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