In 1988 I read the book, “Getting The Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix. The book inspired me to train with the Imago Institute and became a clinical member of the Imago organization. I held many couples weekend workshops in Corpus Christi, TX. Imago Therapy was the very best I found for my work with couples in my 30 plus years as a marriage and family therapist. The most important part of Imago work was in a process created by Hendrix. He called it the Couples Dialogue. It consists of three parts:
Mirroring has to do what the word suggests. When one person talks, the other listens and mirrors (reflects) back the words and even the body posture, facial expression, and tone of voice.
To mirror might begin like this, “If I heard you correctly, you said……” or “What I hear you saying is…..” Mirroring simply says that what you said is important to me, and I have heard the content of your words, without judging you, blaming you, or finding solutions for you.
Mirroring is the essential skill for couples to learn. Many issues are solved with mirroring alone. Mirroring encourages the talker to continue since the listener is hearing accurately the words that are spoken. When the listener also mirrors the tone of voice and posture of the talker, the talker feels safe and risks revealing what is inside.
Validation is a process of letting your partner know that you understand the meaning behind her/his words. To validate, you might say, “What you said makes sense to me,” or “I can understand your point of view, “ or “I see what you mean.” It may mean that you as listener have to stretch to understand the meaning, but it is worth doing and becomes an act of compassionate caring toward the other person.
Validation is an advanced competency for effective relationships. To understand the message and its meaning is not the same as to agree with the message or its meaning. Validation means to set aside one’s own opinions while stretching to understand the meaning of the other person’s message. The result is to reach for the possibility of real individuation—real grown-up freedom for each one. Validation is about growing up.
Empathy is the concept of understanding and acknowledging the feelings being expressed. It usually can be stated by saying, “I can imagine you are…” and filling in the feeling word. Feelings are usually one word: mad, sad, glad, afraid, ashamed, guilty, and versions of those emotions. To empathize with the talker is to understand the feelings behind the words and meaning.
One observation over the years, I have seen many persons respond with “I feel that…” which means you are giving your opinion and your ideas, not empathizing. The subtlety of empathy rests in the loving detachment from judgment, criticism, blame, self-pity, or “fixing” the other person. To find a solution or to explain why sends the message, “You are weak…I am superior”…
This dialogue is the core of Imago Relationship Therapy. While it may seem simple, it is a skill that takes a lot of practice to really learn and make it a habit. You may need a coach (I recommend an Imago therapist). It works and it is worth learning.
Three parts compose the Couples Dialogue:
1.Mirroring for the content of the verbal and non-verbal messages;
2.Validation for the meaning of the messages;
3.Empathy for the feelings underneath the message.