You often hear stories from couples who want to rekindle the effortless intimacy they had at the beginning of their relationship in the days when they were full of fascination and curiosity. When the chemical cocktail of love explodes in our brain and body, it is easy to find unending interest in a mysterious new love interest.
We all know romantic relationships are hard work. Like cars, they require regular maintenance to keep them running well. If a problem arises it is best to have it repaired right away to avoid further complications down the road.
Over time, a person will know their partner inside out. Even in a great relationship, there are responses which shut down communications. Reviving a relationship often takes doing things differently, risking vulnerability, and leaving your comfort zone. Just like physical fitness requires practice, so does communication fitness.
Couples Dialogue is a good approach to help such couples move beyond painful struggles to reconnect and create a new space permitting the free flow of conversation they once enjoyed. Unfortunately, many couples start couples therapy when a significant amount of damage has already been done to the relationship. For long-standing problems, it is a more challenging and time-consuming endeavor, requiring a great deal of commitment and effort from both the partners.
What is Couples Dialogue, and why is it used in therapy and counseling?
Couples therapy can be categorized as psychotherapy. A therapist with clinical experience works with couples. The therapist is typically a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who helps the couples involved in a romantic relationship gain insight into their relationship, resolve long-lasting conflict and improve relationship satisfaction by utilizing a variety of therapeutic strategies.
The brilliance of the Couples Dialogue is how quickly it can restore safety for the speaker and create empathy in the listener. The purpose is not agreement but understanding – and sometimes that’s all that is needed to remove the destructive energy from an issue.
In the Couples Dialogue, both parties agree to a basic ground rule which both has to abide: one person is allowed to speak at a time. In the four-step dialogue process, one person (the sender) is speaking, and the second person (the receiver) is listening. This basic dialogue process involves three essential elements whereas other therapies use any one of these elements. The combination of the program works because the aim is to make the couples truly understand each other and be understood by the other partner. Although the dialogue may sound strange and feel awkward at first, the structure creates the opportunity for honest, open, and non-defensive communication.
Here are the essential steps of four-step dialogue therapy practice:
Step 1: Inviting your partner to dialogue
Make sure you have enough time for the dialogue. By inviting, you create an intention and a space that’s free from the outside world of distractions. The person who wants to initiate the dialogue, the Sender, must ask for a prior appointment. The Receiver has to agree to give the appointment as soon as possible — within a limited period of time.
Step 2: Mirroring
Mirroring means repetition of your partner’s words so you both can confirm that you have actually heard the Sender’s words. Choose any one topic to talk about. Both the Receiver and the Sender have responsibilities during mirroring. In the mirroring step, when your partner pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you will repeat back everything the other has spoken up to that point. You may paraphrase, but you will mirror without analyzing, critiquing, modifying or responding.
Your endeavor should be to mirror your partner’s message with empathy, trying to match the energy and the tone in their voice. Check for accuracy at a later stage. Continue sharing messages back and forth until there is no more to say. When the messaging is completed, summarize everything you heard them say.
Step 3: Validating
It is an important step as you tell your partner that they are not wrong, bad, or crazy to feel a certain way. You need not agree with your partner and have a different perspective, but it is key that your partner is informed that you have understood their view. This is not a defense or an explanation. Once the Sender says there is “no more”, the Receiver will attempt to validate what the Sender has said by letting the Sender confirm what they have been saying is making logical sense to the Receiver. If it does not, the Receiver will simply share what does make sense, then ask the Sender to say more about the parts that do not yet make sense.
Step 4: Empathy
To empathize means trying to put oneself in one partner’s shoes in that experience and imagining what that must have felt like for him/her. It effectively means that the Receiver again steps into the Sender’s world, in order to identify the feelings behind Sender’s experience.
Imago Couples Dialogue
The Imago Couples Dialogue is not referred to as a problem-solving process; rather it is a way to seek understanding. The more a person practices dialoguing, the better he/she will get at it. As part of the Couples Dialogue, couples learn how to speak so that their partners can hear them; how to listen so that they may hear their partners; and how to mend the inevitable ruptures that arise in any relationship and reconnect with one another.
As you lower your defenses, the compromise becomes easier, sharing is safer, and intimacy can be restored or ignited in a new way. Ultimately, you and your partner will be willing to take more risks while talking to each other when your goal is understanding instead of winning. Sharing something you like and appreciate about the other is a great and easy way to initiate a dialogue. Additionally, it reminds both the partners of the things they love and appreciate each other. Basically, it creates a safe connection and breaks the ice. Thus Imago Couples Dialogue can be used by anyone: groups in conflict; friends; adult members of families; couples and in other forms of relationships.