The third step of the Safe Conversation Process is empathy – getting in touch with the sender’s feelings. Empathy is the communication to another person that you hear and understand his or her feelings and that they make sense. It is really a guess at what they are feeling. I might say, “You seem angry”, but my partner might reply, “No, I wasn’t really angry, but I was sad, or disappointed or hurt”.
Sometimes the sender will tell you; I felt angry or hurt or just frustrated. At other times the receiver has to guess at what is going on ‘between the lines’ so to speak. It is an attempt to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.
2 Expressions of Accurate Empathy
“The most the receiver can do, as far as expressing accurate empathy, is to
- listen and mirror carefully and thoroughly
- try to tune into the emotions the partner is expressing, whether verbally or nonverbally; 3) and check with the sender to see if the empathy statement was accurate.” (p.211)
“At bottom, empathy’s aims are the same as those for the entire Imago Dialogue (the Safe Conversation Process). These goals are both uncommon and profound. Every step – mirroring, validation and empathy – offers both sender and receiver a golden opportunity for something that cannot be bought with money: for the listener, differentiation and connecting; and for the sender, connecting and differentiation.”(p.213)
How Couples Truly Connect
The authors are adamant that a couple must differentiate before they can truly connect. In the romantic love stage of a relationship sometimes couples feel and say, ‘We are so good for each other, we are just like each other, we like the same stuff, we are the same, etc., etc.’ The fancy psychological term for this is symbiosis, a term more commonly associated with a mother and newborn child. The term really comes from biology. As defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary: “The living together of two dissimilar organisms in close association or union, especially where this is advantageous to both.”
The way it shows up in the office at times is someone will say, ‘I can’t live without my partner’. For me, I can certainly live without my partner and she can get on very well without me, but we have chosen to go in the same direction together. Also, for those of you who know us, you know it would be hard to find two people more different than the two of us. But the Imago system has helped us figure out how to go in the same direction together.
Harville and Helen are saying that the Imago Dialogue process allows couples to recognize and celebrate that they are different but connected. As they say: “it is a golden opportunity to both differentiate and connect.” For me, the structure of the Safe Conversation Process ensures safety which is the overarching key principle in a conscious relationship. It is a way of talking without criticizing; listening without judging, and connecting through your differences.