At some point in every serious relationship, a serious conflict is going to arise that will test the strength of the relationship. While the two people in the relationship could resort to yelling and screaming, nothing ever gets solved in the end. For couples who truly want to solve a conflict, Imago relationship therapy is by far the best way to turn conflict into healthy communication.
Imago relationship therapy has three main steps that will help solve a serious conflict between two parties. Using this technique will bring you and a partner together to actually sit down, discuss the problem in a healthy way, and reach a resolution. Here are the three steps to Imago relationship therapy.
Step 1 – Mirror
In many relationships, one person often feels like the other person in the relationship doesn’t listen to what he or she says. This is why the first step to healthy communication is mirroring.
To mirror is to literally repeat your partner’s words back to them so both parties know that you have actually heard the words your partner has just spoken. However, mirroring goes much further than this because both parties have an important role to ensure the rest of the process works properly.
The sender’s responsibilities: If you are the sender, or the person talking to your partner, then you need to help your partner understand how and why you feel a certain way. Help them understand what it is like to be in your shoes.
You as the sender also need to be specific when talking to your partner as well. Instead of saying that you are frustrated with your partner because he or she constantly talks down to you, give them a specific time or event that made you frustrated.
If your partner misses something when they repeat back to you what they heard, simply tell them the part they missed. Do not criticize them for making mistakes because we all do. Simply add to what they missed so the two of you are on the same page.
The receiver’s responsibilities: The receiver’s primary responsibility is to literally repeat the words that the sender has said. This does not mean paraphrase the words of the sender. If you paraphrase you can completely change the meaning of your partner’s words, so it is vital your mirror their words to the tee.
After mirroring your partner’s words, you should ask them if there is more to what they have just said. Your goal should be to do your best to understand what is going on in their mind and how they feel. You do this by saying their words and making a real effort to put yourself in their shoes. Never repeat the words back in a negative tone. That will defeat the entire purpose of this step.
Once this step is complete, you can move onto step 2.
Step 2 – Summarize and Express Understanding
Once you are finished mirroring your partner, it is time to summarize. Essentially, both you and your partner should summarize what each other has said up to that specific point. While you no longer need to say your partner’s words exactly as he or she said them, it is vital you at least have the main core ideas while you summarize.
Once you have summarized your partner’s words, it is time to express understanding. Basically, you should let your partner know that their thoughts and experiences make sense to you; however, you need to take it a step further. You need to also explain to your partner why his or her thoughts make sense to you.
Once this step is complete, you’re ready for step 3.
Step 3 – Empathize
The third and final step is to empathize. Empathy requires you to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Take the event or experience that your partner mentioned during mirroring and guess how he or she felt. You may be right or you may be wrong. Give it your best shot and hopefully you now understand how your partner feels.
Once you’ve empathized, you should ask your partner if there is anything else you may have missed. If there is, then you should repeat the process of mirroring, summarizing, understanding, and empathizing over again.
Once your partner feels you “got it” and they have nothing further to communicate with you, it is time to switch roles. You are now the sender and he or she is the receiver. It might be best to take a few moments so each of you can gather your thoughts and to prepare to be in the opposite role.
Once you begin, the process is exactly the same. You should mirror, summarize, understand, and empathize as much as you need to until you have both said everything that needs to be said. Once you’ve both said everything you need to say to each other, you and your partner should be at an understanding and the conflict should be resolved.
Neither you nor your partner may get this 100% correct at first. However, with some time, patience, and practice, you and your partner can perfect this process to peacefully and calmfully resolve any conflict. The more you work at it, the stronger your relationship will be and chances are you and your partner will reach a new level of understanding and intimacy, which is the end goal after all.