by Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin MS, LGPC
What is the first thing that comes
to mind when you think about couples or family therapy? If you are a
therapist, you might dread what may be your most difficult clients.
If you are a layperson, you might imagine bickering, fighting, he
said/she said. Who is right? Will I convince the therapist to join
my side? Therapy traditionally focuses on solving problems and, in a
conflict, there is likely to be a winner and a loser. There are
couples who sigh at the thought of counseling as they doubt there is
any hope for resolving their differences. While some may choose to
terminate the relationship, we would much prefer a couple to stay
together. With a whopping national divorce rate, new methods of
approaching marital conflict are necessary.
Imago Relationship Therapy is on the cutting edge of couples
therapy. Its increasing popularity is due to its effectiveness in
healing the ruptures in relationships and making room for passion.
One of the best things about Imago is its emphasis on safety.
Therapy is no longer to confirm what you already know is wrong about
your spouse or to convince the therapist to align with you, but a
realization that whatever is going on in the relationship is equally
due to both of you. It is sometimes hard to believe that the same
person who was your friend when you got married has becomeyour
enemy. The only way to redevelop trust and rekindle connection is to
feel safe. If you do not feel safe you cannot fully show up with
your entire being in a relationship.
It is no wonder why couples who do not feel safe with each other are
apprehensive about entering counseling. What husband wants to pay
money to hear himself get blamed and shamed by his wife in front of
a stranger? What wife wants to pay to be told it is her problem,
that she is wrong, and that these are the changes she must make?
This model only contributes to further discord. Creating an
atmosphere of safety makes seeking assistance much more inviting. I
have successfully been able to encourage otherwise unwilling parties
to engage in a counseling session solely because I assured them that
they would not be ridiculed or ganged up against. Safety must be
primary in any counseling experience, as without it one cannot
Safety is achieved by a very structured therapy session where
couples are taught to dialogue with each other. The therapist acts
as facilitator, making sure couples follow the process and remain in
connection. They face each other, looking towards each other, not
the therapist, to heal the rupture in their relationship. More
important than solving a particular problem is the maintenance of
connection, for once one problem is solved, another will arise. The
best gift we can give to couples is tools which assist them in
developing the sacred space of their relationship, so that they are
able to tackle any issue that confronts them and emerge intact. As
couples become dialogical, their whole way of being is safe and
The structure of Imago is what allows the passion to reemerge in our
interpersonal relationships. The discipline of dialogue brings about
centering and connection. When both parties feel safe, the walls
between them that did such a great job of protecting them are no
longer necessary. A wall is only needed when there is perceived
danger. In addition, there is no longer a need to pry or to force
insight, for when we feel safe, insight will come out. Couples are
now able to share, to listen, and to heal, making the journey from
conflict to compassion. When we place safety first, we contain the
fire of volatility that too often plagues marriages and rekindle the
flame of passion.
Rabbi Slatkin is a Licensed
Graduate Professional Counselor in private practice with Pastoral
Counseling and Consultation Centers of Greater Washington, serving
clients in the Baltimore metropolitan area. He specializes in Imago
Relationship Therapy with couples and families and is available for
lectures and seminars on the secrets of interpersonal relationships.
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