I use Imago Relationship Therapy when conducting marriage guidance in Manchester. The last article looked at the role of the receiver in the Imago relationship dialogue process. In this week’s article I will give you my take on the sender’s role.
In the Imago dialogue process both partners take on a set role then swap around. This allows both partners to be the sender and the receiver. It also creates a safe way of talking to each other and allows both partners to feel fully listened to and validated by their partner. This is much more likely to result in a successful outcome and deepen the connection between the couple.
The sender is the person who is doing the talking. If you are sending then you get to express yourself to your partner and have your thoughts and feelings mirrored back to you. Compare that with how couples usually communicate with each other;
The “lets have an argument” way
Pete “I hate it when you come home late from work and don’t let me know you are going to be late”
Jane: “Well you came home late from work last Tuesday and I didn’t pick you up on it, why are you always nagging me?”
Pete: “That’s just typical of you – last Tuesday was a one off, you’re always late and you wonder why I nag?”
You can see that just three transactions into the conversation things have spiraled out of control and many of Gottman’s four horsemen of divorce have reared their ugly heads.
The Imago Way
In imago the sender has responsibility to do things differently and the receiver is not going to answer back, just mirror, validate and empathise. In the early stages the conversation may look like this;
Pete: “I have something I want to talk to you about, are you available to listen to me?”
Jane: “Sure, what’s up Pete?”
Pete: “I’m feeling frustrated about you coming home from work late and I want to work it through with you”
Jane “So I hear you say you feel frustrated about me coming home from work late and you want to work it through with me, did I get you?”
Pete: “Yeah, you heard me”
Jane: “Is there more about that?”
Pete: “yeah, when you turn up late from work I feel angry and the story I make up is that you have forgotten about me”
Jane: “So, when I turn up late from work you feel angry and the story you make up is that I have forgotten about you, did I get you?”
Pete: ” Yeah, you got me”
Jane: “Is there more?”
Can you see how the whole dynamic of the conversation is different? Pete is sending information in a safe way and taking responsibility for what he sends. He talks about his feelings and does not accuse or criticize Jane. He stays away from the four horsemen and has a soft start up – another key way of keeping the conversation safe for both parties. Jane listens and attunes to Pete and mirrors carefully to demonstrate that she is listening and she is understanding Pete. With each “is there more?” the dialogue deepens and the real issues behind Pete’s feelings will be revealed. This increases the chances of Jane wanting to change her behaviour because she really “gets” what is going on for Pete and, as she loves him, wants to reduce the pain he feels about this issue.
Won’t it take hours to discuss anything?
You may think that this is a slow way to communicate with each other but I beg to differ. If you can discuss issues in this safe way then they can be resolved cleanly and both partners can feel listened to and cared for. Compare that to the first conversation where the transactions are swapped rapidly. When you add in the two days of sulking/arguing/unhappiness that follow without anything being resolved then you can see it is a very slow way to solve problems.
It’s the sender’s job to keep it about them, send in small enough chunks to be mirrored and check that the mirror is correct. If it’s not, the mirror can be corrected with care for the receiver, e.g. “You almost got that, let me send it again more clearly…” It’s also the sender’s job to stay on topic and avoid bringing other issues in – otherwise the dialogue can lose focus and could go on forever.
Want to read more about Imago Relationship Therapy? Read Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix. If you are interested in working with me, ring 07966 390857 to check availability or use my contact form to get in touch.