The Imago Dialogue, originally conceived by Dr. Harville Hendrix and his wife, Dr. Helen Hunt, is a unique and powerful tool that has been utilized by Imago therapists for over twenty five years.
When properly practiced, Dialog has the power to move participants from the surface content of a discussion down to the core of an issue in rapid order. The depth of understanding found at that level typically results in a “shift” in one or both partners that allows empathy and connection to be restored and problems to be solved.
Communication skills alone may not solve problems, but seldom can problems be solved without them. It is unfortunate but true that although we humans seem to require good communication in order to thrive, we do not seem particularly well designed to deliver it.
The Romantic Love Stage: Communication in the bath of romantic love feels so easy. Lovers enveloped in romantic bliss are under the influence of their bodies’ natural drugs that convince them (us) we have found someone whose reality is almost identical to ours. Truth is, Nature needs us to be paired with someone who is more our opposite than our clone.
The Power Struggle: In the Power Struggle, as in the Romantic Love Stage, communication is largely driven by a host of unconscious forces, only now the result is painful communication, miscommunication and/or non-communication.
A Conscious Marriage/Relationship: The Conscious Marriage or Relationship is a partnership of mutual respect, where neither partner dominates; the realities of both are equally heard and respected. Here is a format that allows this to happen:
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE RECEIVER
(Instructions for the Sender below)
As your partner speaks, listen without interrupting until he/she pauses or until you ask them to pause.
2. MIRROR: “What I heard you say is…”
Repeat back everything your partner says without significantly adding to it, nor taking away from it. Paraphrasing is fine but be careful NOT TO SEND while in the Receiver role. The magic of dialogue lies in allowing the Sender to be COMPLETELY in charge of where the conversation goes. Once you ask a question or insert a comment or tone of voice not sent by the Sender, the dialogue is now about your agenda, not theirs.
Check it out: “Did I get that?” Or, “Did I get you?”
Check to make sure you correctly mirrored all that your partner said. If your partner clarifies or corrects something, listen, then mirror again. Continue until your partner says you got it.
Ask for more: “Is there more?”
If your partner adds more, mirror, check it out, and then ask, “Is there more?” again. Repeat until your partner says there’s no more.
3. SUMMARIZE: “If I got it all, …”
Check for completeness. “Did I get it all?”
Mirror any additions your partner makes.
4. VALIDATE: “You (or What you’ve said,) make(s) sense to me because…”
Validate the content of what your partner is saying. Remember, validation is not about agreement. Rather, it is about letting the other know that what they are saying makes sense from their point of view. (“I can see how when I didn’t speak to you after I came home last night, you thought I was mad at you. That makes sense.”)
If something your partner says doesn’t make sense, ask them to help you understand by asking them to say more about that. “Help me understand, could you say more about…”
5. EMPATHIZE: “I can imagine that you might be feeling… (angry, hurt, scared, frustrated, etc.)” To empathize means to imagine what another person is feeling about what they are saying or experiencing. Feelings can be distinguished from thoughts in that feelings can generally be described in one word: hurt, excited, hopeful, etc.
If you have trouble empathizing, try to imagine how it might feel if the tables were turned. Or, try to recall a time when someone did something to you that is similar to what your partner is describing now. Although you may well have reacted somewhat differently than your partner, you can still utilize .your memory of that experience to help you understand and empathize with your partner’s feelings.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE SENDER
1. Make an appointment: In a Conscious Marriage/Relationship, all issues are discussed “by appointment only”.
2. Statement of Intentionality: Begin with an introductory statement that helps your partner feel safe about “what” and “how” you are going to send. “I want you to know that I am sharing this with you because I care about our relationship.” Or, “I want this to be a win win discussion.”
Remember to pause periodically so your partner can mirror back what you’ve said. If your partner does not mirror, ask them to do so in a non-demanding manner.
3. One topic per dialogue!
4. Use “I” statements: These are sentences that begin with the word “I” and which describe how you feel and what you need. ”I feel uncared for when you…” Or, “When you don’t call, I start to get scared and angry…” “I” statements reduce the blaming caused by “you” statements. (”You don’t care about my feelings…” “You make me…”) Note: “I think that you…”, does not qualify as an “I” statement.
5. Maintain a non-threatening, non-accusatory tone of voice: If your voice is angry, your partner will have no choice but to put up their defenses and they will have a difficult time mirroring. If you cannot remove the anger, it is not a good time to ask for a dialogue. Wait until you are more calm.
6. Select your words carefully: It is inflammatory to blame, label, mind-read or use absolutes (e.g., ”you always” and “you never”). It is quite acceptable to say: “I feel unloved when you don’t talk to me”. It is NOT acceptable to say: “You never talk to me because you are selfish and do not love me.”
7. Actively reinforce positive behaviors: If you like the way your partner mirrors what you have said, SAY SO! “Thank you for hearing me. It really helped.”