Imago Dialogue is simply a new way of talking…
It is broken down into three parts: mirroring, validating, and empathizing. Mirroring is an experience whereby you listen to another person and you get what they’re saying and you don’t deflect it. Validating is when you see the logic in what they’re saying and you don’t have to agree with it, but you see it and you honour it. Empathy is when you experience the emotions they have with what they’re saying and you really understand that, that is, the experience.
The biggest impact that Imago Dialogue has on couples, is that it transforms relationships. It doesn’t just improve it incrementally, but it actually transforms the relationship because partners begin to see each other in a new way. They begin to relate to each other in a new way.
This dialogue process creates a place of emotional safety and in the place of emotional safety, partners begin to express themselves in new and different ways. They become vulnerable to each other. They feel safe, there’s no judgement, they hold their partner’s reality without judgement and without criticism. Without, any kind of blame or disagreement. It’s simply, them being themselves.
When you hold people in that space, the “otherness” of each other begins to emerge with great delineation and clarity; you see the other as not you, and they see you as not them. And, when that “otherness” emerges, connection at a very deep level takes place and love can be born. Because, love is in fact, two people who are an “other” to each other, caring for each other’s welfare and being an advocate for each other’s potential. Once this wholeness occurs, the conflict level in the relationship deceases. Partners become interested in something other than themselves. They have energy that has been used in conflict and fighting, now free to be used for something constructive and creative. So they turn that energy into social action.
Dialogue is not only a conversation that transforms personal relationships, but it can also be applied as conversation in other sectors of society.
Harville Hendrix, Creator of Imago Relationship Therapy
The Importance of Dialogue
Dialogue is a method of intentional communication that invites both the speaker (sender) and listener (receiver) to actively engage in conversation. When we bring mindful attention to both sides of the conversation, by conveying our meaning clearly and to active listening, we decrease the time and energy it takes to be understood. With intentional IMAGO dialogue we enhance our ability to increase clarity of understanding, empathy and connection while working to decrease frustration and disconnection. It is a common experience that ‘regular’ conversation can go sideways or ‘off-track’ rapidly. Intentional IMAGO Dialogue is a tried and true way to engage in a more calm, kind and productive method of communication.
The Stages of Dialogue
There are 5 stages of Dialogue as it is experienced in IMAGO therapy. The couple is encouraged to sit facing one another, while keeping all other distractions at a minimum.
- Sending: The sender (or speaker) expresses themselves in short ‘sound bites’ so that the receiver is able to fully digest the information being shared.
- Receiving: The receiver (or listener) ‘mirrors’ back what their partner has told them, staying as true to the language used by their partner as possible. They then check in to ensure accuracy. This will sound like “Let me see if I heard you…(mirror)” and “Did I get that?”
- Summary: The receiver now summarizes what they have heard their partner say “Let me see if I got most of that…” and ensures accuracy, “Did I get most of it…?”
- Validation: The goal of validation is to ensure your partner feels seen, heard and understood. This is the ‘gem’ of dialogue. When validating, you can go ‘off script’ and tell your partner how they make sense to you. “You make sense to me because” is a good beginning for this. *Validation is not about agreeing with your partner, it is about understanding their experience and viewpoint with compassion.
- Empathy: Here the listener imagines how their partner is feeling, once they have been given the space and attention to fully express themselves. In this final stage of dialogue, the listener offers 2-3 words that they imagine encapsulate the sender’s emotions upon completion of the previous 4 steps. (I imagine right now you are feeling…(eg…heard, hopeful, connected, worried, believed, etc…)
The Do’s and Don’ts of Dialogue
- Ask for a good time to have the dialogue (schedule it).
- Always let your partner know the subject you want to discuss and stick to it.
- Use ‘I’ language (i.e. I feel, I want, I am struggling with).
- Ensure both people have the opportunity to be both sender & receiver.
- Set an intention to stay present and in connection.
- Avoid distractions (i.e.cell phones or other devices).
- Trust the process and stay with the protocols as outlined in ‘the stages of dialogue’.
- Jump in to a heavy talk without ensuring you can both be present.
- Criticize your partner. If you wish to share a frustration ensure you use language such as “The story I make up about you is…” or “What I interpret about your behaviour is…” (note: we all live in ‘story’, so make sure to share your story rather than your ‘truth’ as this will lessen defensiveness).
- Hurry or interrupt your partner (their processing speed is likely not the same as yours).
- Add in other concerns worries or complaints as this will reduce the safety of the dialogue.
How to do an Appreciation
An appreciation a day (or on a very regular basis) helps to to build and maintain a connected and positive relationship. An appreciation is deeper than ‘thank you’. It goes to the heart of what you love, admire, respect or simply appreciate about your partner.
Here are the ‘sentence stems’ for an ‘Appreciation’. You can follow the ‘Stages of Dialogue’ above for more ‘how to’ details. Appreciations must be kept positive throughout. Do Not, for example, say something like ‘ I appreciate how you are now cooking supper for us, as for so many years you didn’t do this’.
- Are you open to an appreciation?
- One of the many things I appreciate about you is…
- Deepen the appreciation with one of the following:
- What I love about this in you is… (or)
- What I learn from you when you do this is… (or)
- What I admire about you in this is… (or)
- What touches me about this is…
- When you (do this, offer this, or when I see this in you…) I feel… (name an emotion)
Partner mirrors, thanks the sender and then offers an appreciation in turn.
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