Understanding the Imago
We have been thinking about the word marriage and noting that it is rich in associations. Is the immediate picture in your mind – a paradise, a perfect Garden of Eden, the safest of cradles from which you emerged and to which you long to return? Or does a nightmare of a place come to mind, inhabited by angry, unhappy, or absent caretakers; where you feel both lonely and as if in a constant war zone, where everything seemed to be dying or dead?
The Good News About the Imago
The good news about the Imago is that, like a heat-seeking missile, it zooms in on a potential partner who carries–at least to some degree–the most admirable personality traits of the parents, as well as the largest and most expansively hopeful dreams and promises of the parental marriage. We believe, at the outset of the 21st century, that the promise got implanted in us human beings, no doubt at the moment of conception, a kind of Ur-image of marital bliss that was engendered by our parents’ romantic love.
And the Bad News?
The bad news about the Imago is that it remembers, records, and projects onto potential romantic partners, all of the bad, the ugly, and the dark sides of the original caretakers, right along with the nightmares that were part of their marriage.
How does the Imago Help us Create Better Marriages and Hence Improve us as Individual Beings?
The even better news about the Imago is that it asks us to both acknowledge and accept our parents worst shortcomings, right along with their noblest of achievements, their greatest attributes, and their genuine efforts to raise us up and send us out to find our way in a just and sane world. And to integrate all of our experiences with them, whether nurturing or wounding, whether expanding or limiting, into our adult lives and marriages.
It’s Not Just about Staying Married to Our Partners: It’s about Staying Married to Ourselves
Up until now we have been addressing this issue of our Imagos in the context of the relationship paradigm; that is, that it “takes two to tango,” and “there is no such thing as a happy man or woman without the Other/Partner.” In these last years we have come to see that the important question is not just, “How do I stay married to my beloved partner/spouse, who at times might be repeating the worst patterns of my original caretakers and reminding me of how powerless, terrified, and lonely I might have felt as a child?” Or, I might be living through a drama that resembles the all-too-familiar scenes of my parents’ nightmare marriage; and that along with the fluctuations of life in a highly competitive society that seems to give us so little time and space for self-nurturing and self-reflection. So, the additional pressing question of our time is, “How do I stay married to myself?”