“To truly listen to another means that you are open to their ability to change you.” Anonymous
In working with married and long term couples, it is noticeable that those inevitable conflicts often spring from certain specific contexts and behaviors. While communication itself is a wellspring, influenced by depths of current which underlie its thrusting façade, the primary source of communicative energy is found in the depths of our psychology. It is under layers and layers of consciousness, those healthy and unhealthy parts of the self, formed in our earliest years and expounded upon as our life’s story unfolds. Yet with that being said, an exploration of communication itself is still a valid starting point to note the many ways in which attempts to convey our points, needs, and caring words may exhibit opportunities to be strengthened.
The most important point in understanding effective communication is that you allow the listener the opportunity to change you; anything else is in fact, not really listening. Imagine entering into a discourse in which you and your partner have been disagreeing about divergent political opinions, this is a longstanding issue of which both of you are well aware and your manner of relating to each other becomes almost pathologically scripted. Meaning that you are both mostly tuned out and non-receptive to the others viewpoints despite having much passion for the topic. It may have become beneficial for one or both of you to tune out and or shut down when it comes to certain sensitive topics as the mounting memory of failed communication attempts stings! Yet today is a new day and this is the point where the opportunity for strengthened communication can really offer gains. Now notice that you are not attuning to your partner and you cast aside your preconceived beliefs about yourself, your world views, parenting differences, and you instead and quite differently from your typical way of relating, you allow she or he to enter your thoughts and affect you.
One of the greatest gifts that we can offer another is our presence and attunement to their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we don’t even want anyone to fix our problems or change anything but merely to be heard is often a powerful elixir to feelings of loneliness and disappointment and just as well to flavor our joys with a surplus of buoyancy.
The Imago Dialogue is a therapeutic tool that some practitioners utilize to help facilitate the kind of presence in conversation that sometimes becomes lost in the time or distance of our marriage or long term relationship, it has even been featured on The Oprah Show. While I would recommend that this be utilized in conjunction with marriage counseling / couples therapy to identify any other issues that are effecting the bond, this may be helpful for you or your partner to note as you attempt to repair your bond.
Listen– Listening means that you are offering your presence to you partner and that you are really entering their feeling state with the only goal being, to hear them. Other more faulty methods of listening may include hearing with the goal of responding which is not a part of empathetic communication.
Mirror- After your partner has spoken their entire point; you now are able to enjoy your chance to communicate by parroting everything that you have heard them say. You should be careful to contain only what your partner has said because this is about hearing your partner and not about adding in your thoughts, feelings, or reactions. When you finish speaking your mirrored statement ask your partner to follow up by saying “have I heard you correctly” or “does that sound right” or “can I add any more?”
Summarize- The next key component to the dialogue is that you paraphrase by distilling the key thoughts of your partner’s points into your own words.
Validate – Now you validate which extends your empathy and understanding to your partners view point, this is often easier to do after having truly listened to and internalized your partner’s viewpoints. The statement can be something like, “I can understand that _______ or it makes sense that_________.” This doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with the points being conveyed but you are only indicating that you understand because you have entered his or her feeling and being state.
Empathize- Finally you can finish up by conjecturing what your partner may be feeling as a result of this new understanding of them, it is sometimes challenging to imagine what another person may be feeling but you can consider what you may feel if you were in the position that you have just heard as a result of the issues that your partner has shared. This is a stunningly healing and powerful point in which your partner may feel heard and understood this is often the height of what we are looking for!
To close and before switching roles, it may be helpful to have a discussion about how it felt to have this kind of communication for both of the partners.
This is certainly a helpful tool to prompt the kind of furtive dialogue which sustains the strongest bonds. If your marriage or relationship is suffering it may be time to explore a professional perspective!
In love and good health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
1010 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]
Imago Instructions retrieved from http://imagoworks.com/pages/dialogue_instructions.html