Stages of Relationship in Imago

It’s often useful for us to talk about the stages of a relationship when I first meet a couple who have come along to couples therapy. It’s likely that most of us will move through these stages (or some of them) over time. In this blog I’ll take you through the 6 stages according to Imago Relationship Therapy.

The First Stage: Romantic Love

It feels like I’ve known you forever ……………….. In some ways, you have!

One of the basic premises of Imago (which means image in latin) is the idea that we look for a partner who is a match for us. We now know that our choice of partner is a lot to do with the influence of our unconcious mind. We are  attracted to people who have similar childhood woundings to ourselves but who may have coped with these in a different way. We look for someone that might be able to fill in the gaps of our unmet needs from childhood and out of awareness we are attracted to those who remind us of our primary caregivers.
It’s the idea that even with good enough parenting, there are always times when, as a child, we don’t get all our needs met. It’s natures way of building resilience to enable us to manage the challenges of life.  There are those of us who are more deeply wounded  than this of course.

In romantic love, Imago Relationship Therapy suggests that you are attracted to the positive aspects of your caregivers.
In the romantic love stage, you are in love!

In love with the other and with how great you are feeling! You’ve got a fantastic cocktail of hormones rushing around your system. There’s dopamine; a feel-good hormone. Also oxytocin a hormone associated with trust, sexual activity and relationship building. Not to mention PEA: a natural amphetamine called phenylethylamine. PEA is present in both chocolate and orgasms (who knew!)
For most couples, the romantic stage lasts around 12 to 18 months!
Then what………….

The Second Stage: The Power Struggle Phase

The drugs are wearing off!
I love you, but I’m not in love with you!
It’s common that if you are seeking couples therapy, you are probably here!
It’s normal and ordinary to be in this stage! You are in love hormone withdrawal, and you flip between what can I do for you to what can you do for me. Remember those positive aspects of your partner that out of awareness reminded you of a caregiver? Now, what takes centre stage are the negative aspects instead!

Here are some common examples:

I love the way you take care of your appearance
flips to…
Why do you take so long to get ready?

I love the way you are so generous with money
flips to
Why do you waste so much money?

There is pain in the loss of connection, and this is where relational exits come in to play. In an effort to avoid the pain you find yourself watching more TV, working later, spending more time with kids. Worst-case scenarios are addictions, separation and divorce.

No one is trained in how to manage a relationship; it’s not an innate skill that we are born with and it’s normal to find yourselves here.

In Imago Relationship Therapy, it’s called

‘Growth trying to happen!’

The Third Stage: Recommitment

What’s significant here is a shift from an unconscious relationship to a conscious one where each partner commits to doing things for the benefit of the relationship.

It’s not about ending your relationship. It’s about learning to be honest, vulnerable, revealing and supportive.

You begin to see your partner is different from you and accept their difference. You create a more realistic, accurate image of your partner.

Both of you commit to the next stage.

The Fourth Stage: Do the Work

What’s the work? Building safety and connection into your relationship with the help of Imago!

There’s lots of ways to ‘do the work’ which we’ll look at in further blogs. The number one thing you will learn to do in our couples therapy sessions is the dialogue. It’s a way to communicate that is calm and safe and builds that all important connection between you. You can start to explore why you are both behaving as you are and drive the shift from an unconcious relationship to a  concious relationship.

It’s all about safety, understanding, acceptance and change.

The Fifth Stage: Awakening

You come into your own as a couple: the  growth in your relationship is starting to happen.

You will be taking responsibility for communicating your needs and desires and become more intentional in your interactions rather than reacting without thinking. You will be learning to value your partners wishes as highly as you value your own. You will begin to accept the less positive parts of yourself and your partner and build on your hidden strengths.

The Sixth and last stage: Real Love

Real love is that deep connection that’s interdependent. You can rely on each other but also have your own autonomy. You can be in love with each other but also do your own thing and then bring it back into your relationship to enhance and nourish it.

There’s an acceptance between you that a good relationship requires hard work. It takes courage to grow and change!

We also come full circle with the idea that in this concious commited relationship we get an opportunity to heal our childhood wounds.

If we are lucky to get here, do we stay?

The reality is that we naturally move through these stages as if they were a spiral or cycle. The exception is the romantic love stage; that’s the only one we experience just that one time with our partner. It’s more likely that we move from real love to power struggle as life events and time get in the way and round we go again.

If you are interested in finding our more about couples therapy and Imago then please do get in touch.

Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher

Hello, I’m Eileen Fisher. I’m an indoor and outdoor therapist and nutritionist. I offer counselling and psychotherapy for both individuals and couples, as well as nutrition advice and support around disordered eating.


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