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Childhood Imprints On Your Relationship


Think about the statistics on marriage and divorce. They aren’t very good, are they? Yet, I claim that the tools are available in today’s world to have your dream relationship.

Go back to the coaching analogy and think of preparing to play a rival team. It is helpful to know what strategy that team will employ, because when we know what is coming at us, we can  better defend against it, and thus have a greater chance of winning. If you are in a relationship, you may already have a strategy in place, but that strategy is broken. I help couples understand the situation they are already in, much like preparing to play a rival team. If they can understand what is actually happening or going to happen,then they will have more chance of success.

Learning The Playbook

The system I teach, Imago Relationship Therapy, is the best explanation I know of, to understand the dynamics of the relationship that we are already a part of. It helps couples better understand, WHY THEY ARE WITH THIS PARTICULAR PERSON. Then, like in sports, because they know what is going to come at them, they can prepare to deal with it.

Imago theory suggests that all of us have an unconscious image or Imago of the person who will take care of us or who will make us whole, in our hearts and in our heads. That image is unconscious for sure, but it is, in fact, made up of both the positive and also negative traits of our original caretakers. To me, this just makes sense. You can’t live with someone for 18 years, especially as a young child, and not be influenced by them. Personally, of course, every day in my office, I see couples struggling with issues that replicate childhood wounds.

I use two analogies to explain to couples why  Imago theory makes sense.  The first is to think of your brain as a computer and the Imago as the bar code with which we are all familiar. Say Mom is a great cook but Dad is working a lot and not around much (the positives and the negatives – the black and white stripes of the bar code). As a child, I don’t differentiate the positives and the negatives – it is just Mom and Dad. But when it comes time for mate selection, that bar code is in my heart and in my head.

Recognizing The Imprint

The second analogy comes from our time in Africa. Zebras all look alike to me, but we were told that the stripe pattern of each animal, is as unique as our fingerprints. When the mother zebra drops her foal, apparently she spends hours with it, while the little guy gets her scent, but also imprints on its brain her stripe pattern. When the lion comes, the foal has to find mom quickly among 50 animals that all look very similar. It is the same in relationships; the imprint of the person who will take care of us, is again, in our hearts and in our heads, when we are searching for a soul mate.

That is the theory – but let me ask you a question. Can you remember when you first met your partner? Most people can! I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but I can remember when I first met my partner 45 years ago. So what is going on? Could it be, we recognize someone who is familiar?

When I was giving a workshop, asking how couples met, someone stood up once and said, “I met her in a bar.” We all laughed, but then I  pointed out that there were probably 20 other young women in the bar, all pretty, all smart, why this one? I suggested that he scanned them all, but only one registered with the bar code or imprint he already had in his head and heart.

The first step, then, in creating your dream relationship is to recognize that you are, in fact, partnered with someone who has  some of the positive, but also, some of the negative traits of your family of origin. Armed with this information, being aware of the negative, you are better able to deal with the issues that will show up.

Next month we will examine how this plays out in your relationship.


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