The authors make a strong case for what they perceive to be the dominant form of dialogue for centuries – the monologue.
“For eons, monologue and its vertical structure have predominated not only intimate partnerships but also in virtually every other kind of human relationship – king and subject, lord and servant, father and son, political leader and citizen, priest and penitent, physician and patient, teacher and student, boss and subordinate….By design, the vertical, top-down, hierarchical structure of monologue elevates the speaker’s priorities over the listener’s priorities. This makes monologue incompatible with an egalitarian relationship, especially a romantic one, and from inefficient to oppressive in all relationships.”(p.191)
They go on to say:
“Whereas monologue is a remnant of the individual paradigm and the monarchial culture which spawned it, Imago Dialogue is the language of the relational paradigm, spoken in the Space-Between, and the vehicle for transforming personal relationships and all social institutions.”(p.192) “for the creation of a relational civilization, the next stage of human social evolution.” (p.193)
Imago Dialogue Process
The Imago Dialogue Process, now called Safe Conversations, was actually initiated by Helen early in their relationship in the midst of a fairly heated discussion. She insisted “Stop, and one of us talk and the other listen, and take turns.”(p.193) This intervention eventually led to the three-part Imago Dialogue Process that is, now, the centerpiece of Imago Relationship Therapy.
The basics of Imago Dialogue are:
- “Mirroring: accurately reflecting back what was heard without changing anything.
- Validating: seeing the ‘truth’ of another point of view and maintaining one’s own.
- Empathizing: feeling/imagining the emotions another person is experiencing in their world.” (pp.194-195)
The Imago Dialogue Process
Because safety is so important in a relationship, couples have to learn to talk to each other in a safe way. The Safe Conversation Process (the Imago Dialogue Process) ensures safety because it takes things out of the power struggle. The power struggle tends to be I am right and you are wrong, whereas in the Safe Conversation process, one person is not right and the other wrong, even though there might be quite different views on a topic.
This morning I’ll look at the first step of the Process which is to simply mirror back what your partner says. No add; no subtract. Just a flat mirror.
The Process of Flat Mirroring
“Flat mirroring requires not only that partners practice the skill of paraphrasing but also that both the sender (speaker) and the receiver (listener) take on a special attitude, one characterized by intentionality and goodwill. Flat mirroring is harder than it sounds: it requires mirroring back messages that might, to the receiver, seem unimportant, illogical, or otherwise at odds with the listener’s perspective. It also requires accurately mirroring the sender’s emotional tone and intensity.”(p.199)
The great gift the receiver can give the sender, besides mirroring them back accurately, is to ask ‘Is there more about that?’ which gives the sender a chance to nuance their thinking. And the great gift the sender can give the receiver is to use ‘I statements’, rather than ‘you do this’ or ‘you never’ etc. The sender also needs to use a soft voice, go short, and stick to one topic without bringing in other issues.
“Although it may seem simple, hearing and repeating back accurately – without distortion or additions – can be very challenging for partners. It’s a muscle that is weak for most of us and can be a mentally and emotionally demanding task. Remember, this is a training for quieting the inner mind (i.e. reactivity) in order to hear the pure voice of another without judgment.”(p.204)
The Language of Conscious Partnerships
“Given its power to transform the personal and the collective, Imago Dialogue is the most important skill set a couple can possess. It is the language of conscious partnerships.” (p.194)
“Another discovery is that while a conversation is always about a topic, whether the conversation creates connection or polarization depends on the nuances in the verbal exchange, such as tone of voice, facial expression, soft or hard eyes, and stiff or relaxed cheeks – not so much similar or different views about the topic.”(p.193)
In other words, and the research backs this up, HOW something is said is generally more important than WHAT is said. “At the basic level, Imago Dialogue is two people taking turns talking without judging, listening without criticizing, and connecting around and beyond differences.”(p.193)
Safety: A Rule of Thumb
Keeping in mind the importance of safety in a relationship, here is a basic rule of thumb of mine: ‘Anything negative by appointment only’. Think about it. If a person doesn’t know when an attack is coming then, or where the arrow is coming from, for sure, they will have their armor on. It is hard to be intimate when two people are clanking around the same house with their armor on. The authors expand this notion to include “conversations (whether sharing something simple, such as an appreciation, or something more complex, such as a frustration) be by appointment only.”(p.197)
The advantage of asking for an appointment, for example, is that if my partner does ask me for an appointment, it gives me a second to get intentional. I’m not going to react. I’m consciously going to put 100% of my energy over there on whatever it is she wants to share. In other words, I’m going to be very intentional.
Know too, that just because it is a good time for one person to talk, doesn’t automatically mean it is a good time for their partner. If it is not a good time for the partner, that is ok, but the partner then needs to indicate a time that will be better for them, preferably within 24 hours. Otherwise, the sending partner has to chase them which isn’t fair.
Mirroring is the first step in the Imago Dialogue process. I’ll explore the second step, validating next week.