This article is by Imago therapist Brenda Rawlings.

Think for a moment of a time in your life when, with your partner, relative or friend, you felt really connected. I’m imagining that these moments have bonded you together – the meeting of eyes, the laughter when you just can’t stop, the reaching out toward each other in moments of tenderness or need, a warm touch, or a shared gaze around your love for your children.

It is unlikely that you would be together without these moments of intimacy and softening. Often accompanied by vulnerability, there is trust associated in these moments. The other person will be there for you, and you for them.

When my first husband died suddenly, I was naturally, totally bereft. The saving grace was that I had a newborn baby to love and connect with. But I remember saying to my doctor at the time, “There is no way that I am getting into another relationship!” The pain of loss was too much, and there could be no replacement. He smiled knowingly, and said “Tell me that in 5 years time when biology takes over.” He was a wise man.

We are biologically hardwired to desire to pair together and to connect intimately with another human being. It is only recently, however, that we have learned how to keep and strengthen our connection over time.

What seems to be present in any such moment of connecting is empathy. It turns out that this resonance that we have always imagined to be born of voice, smile, tears or touch, is actually encoded in us far more deeply and inexorably than we ever knew.

As human beings we are capable of deep empathy. Recent research around mirror neurons indicates that there are tiny and inescapable vessels of empathy which reverberate between us, allowing two brains and two hearts to attune with each other and to warmly vibrate together, without melting into one.

It is possible to harness and channel our natural-born empathy for the good of our relationships. It is likely that a great relationship will be accompanied by the ability to tune into our partner, and to learn how to listen to their vulnerable emotions.

Both empathy and the ability to tell each other what is happening for us, requires us to let go the defences that we set up when we feel hurt or disappointed; when we experience our own or our partner’s withdrawal or intrusion.

There is an in-built struggle within our intimate relationships. This wonderful intimacy which we can experience through empathic connection, has a secondary biological response in that it can also trigger, consciously or unconsciously, the possibility of losing this wonderful experience.

We struggle with the dichotomy between our wish for and experience of intimacy, and our fear of the other not being there for us in the way we need.

The Imago Dialogue structure helps us to hold this struggle, to cross into each others’ world without losing our own; to consciously lay down our defences in order to feel for the other and connect. It assists us and our partners to feel safe, appreciated and heard, and to experience us as being ‘with’ them.

A connecting conversation is one where we are able to reach out past the rupture which we may experience together – the fight, the argument, the fear, and to reach out in a way which will pull our partner toward us.

Through dialogical conversations, we can learn how to eliminate the negativity that disconnects us, thereby increasing those tender moments of togetherness and empathic connection.

Watch the video below to hear Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy explain what dialogue is.

Learn how to build more empathy in your relationships with the Getting the Love You Want Couples Workshops

We are presenting Getting the Love You Want workshops in Sydney and Auckland in 2015. The next workshop in Sydney is in Balmain on the weekend of 30/31 May.

The Early Bird fee of AU$795 per couple is available until 15 May. Please also see below for the dates of the Auckland workshops. We have had a number of couples travel to Auckland to attend these over the last few years.
You can register on-line here.

Click here for more information on couples workshops.

Couples Workshops dates for 2015:


  • 30/31 May
  • 21/22 November


  • 16/17 May
  • 18/19 July
  • 12/13 September
  • 05/06 December

About Brenda Rawlings  BSW(Hons) DipCouns MNZAC
About Brenda RawlingsBrenda trained originally as a Social Worker through Massey University in Palmerston North. After several years working in the Department of Social Welfare, she took time to travel overseas for several years before moving to Warkworth as a Community Health Social Worker. This particularly suited her interest in community development, in that she was involved in initiating and developing a number of social service agencies, including a Women’s Resource Centre, Family/Whanau Support Services and Stopping Violence Services, all of which continue to flourish after close to 20 years.

In 1989 Brenda retrained in Counselling, beginning in private practice in 1991. She has specialised in relationship counselling since 1998. She is a leader, both in New Zealand and internationally in the field of relationships. She is currently Dean of the Imago International Institute and in 2013 was the recipient of the Harville Hendrix Award for Clinical Excellence.

She is a member of New Zealand Association of Counsellors and is approved by WINZ, ACC (for work with trauma), CYFS and the Family Court. Brenda has extensive experience in working with abuse and domestic violence. She has been Women’s Programmes Coordinator and Counselling Coordinator of Rodney Stopping Violence Services. Find out more about Brenda and the Imago Institute for Relationships at