In this series of article I have been discussing my view of the Imago Relationship Therapy Dialogue process. This process forms the core of all Imago work and the first thing I will teach when couples counselling. The framework is there to provide safety for both members of the couple. When we feel safe within our relationship we have full access to all parts of our brains land we are less likely to revert back to survival behaviour such as shouting (fight), withdrawing (flight) or stonewalling (freeze).
I have explained each stage of the process in detail in previous articles but as a quick recap they are;
When the sender has finished a send, the receiver mirrors and checks the mirror using “I heard you say”, “did I get you?” and “is there more?” questions
When the sender has finished the send the receiver summarises, validates and empathises.
This last article in the series is about empathising with your partner. Once more in the dialogue process you will be doing something the opposite way to how you usually behave in an argument. Usually it’s all about how you feel, how you are angry, sad, disappointed etc. Your partner will also be focusing on how they feel. In Imago terms you are both on your own Island and there is a huge gulf between you. With imago when you empathise with your partner you are going over to their island and checking out how they might be feeling. You are moving over to their world and this encourages connection.
How might this look? Well imagine your partner has just sent that they are annoyed at your constant lateness. You have summarised and validated their feelings. The empathy stage is to simply have a guess at how they might be feeling “I guess you might be feeling frustrated, is that how you feel?” You may or may not choose the correct feeling and as long as you have had a serious attempt at empathising with them it doesn’t really matter whether you have guessed correctly or not.
The sender will then agree or clarify what feelings are happening for them. This stage also encourages you both to talk about your feelings. If I’m going to point the finger I would have to say that us men are pretty rubbish about discussing feelings and that makes sense given that we have covert and sometimes overt messages as we grow up from numerous sources that we should “be strong” and not tell people how we feel. The empathy stage of the dialogue process encourages sharing of feelings and breaks this pattern.
Once all stages have been completed then the couple swap roles, the sender becomes the receiver and vice versa. You may think that this is a slow way to have a conversation but I disagree. If you take into account the several hours of bad feeling, sulking and withdrawing that often results from a badly ending argument done without using the imago dialogue process then the imago way looks positively sprightly. Discuss, move closer, understand each other and built a stronger relationship.
Read the book: Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix explains the Imago relationship theory in full. It’s an easy read and will help you understand how to move from the power struggle to a conscious relationship.