As spring approaches with the promise of new growth and lighter days and as winter's grip loses her hold you may well be starting to think about spring cleaning your life. A few people I know are making big changes in their love relationships including some that are ending because they feel they can't communicate anymore and the lack of being able to speak the same "language" has brought forth ....adios....farewell ..next!
As numbers of people going down the aisle decline, a quarter since 1991 and divorce rates climb, one can't help but wonder what is it that is failing in our world and making us despondent about staying in relationships? Movies and songs are ever woven with fairy tale love and happy ever after, keeping us chained to the promise of our soul mate and yet the desire to stay happy and not experience negativity seems to be increasing at the same time.
One of the big misunderstandings in relationships is that 80% of the time conflict and bad patches are inner resistance to growth and healing. Martin Buber, a Jewish Philosopher once said "the gift of relationship is a helpmate in opposition", in other words our loved one is there to push our buttons and help us grow to a place beyond inner conflict, to acceptance of the self and of the other, warts and all...why be in a relationship if you don't have that ? You may say, yes I hear that but I have tried and tried and well I feel like I am making all the effort...I hear you, it simply has to take two to tango. Both of you must be committed to a path of inner growth and healing, period.
What is the main problem with conflict? The wrong type of communication. Effective communication is where you leave your judgements, opinions and what you are not getting, to visit the world of the other person and really see the world from their position. True understanding is the healing balm to conflict. You don't have to agree with where your partner is at but you must have an appreciation of the position they are in. You may be surprised what you see when you SEE them in their truth. Your way of taking what they say is often slanted and filtered through your own experiences and oh boy how often we can get it wrong !
Working with couples lately, I have seen TRUE connection happen when the right communication is present. No amount of sex and spending quality time beats the art of the right communication. Just talking doesn't fix it because usually we are trying, even if we think we aren't, to get our needs met in the relationship and one of the worst habits we perpetuate is, we want to be right ! Wanting to get one over on our partner, to be smarter, more spiritual (oooh ..this is bad one !), more intelligent only serves to harm the relational space and it's selfish.
During my training with Imago Relationships International, I was introduced to their main communication tool called The Intentional Dialogue. "It is a basic 3 step process to help people communicate thoughts, feelings or experiences with the intention of being clearly heard and understood and to hear and understand the other. On a deeper level, the Imago Dialogue invites, creates, enhances and preserves connection". At first I cringed, as some of you will, at the thought "not another process". I guess that’s my conditioning from the corporate world. But as I have used it in training and working with people I am seeing "soul connective" experiences that leave me in awe of its potential power. That "certain something" that we search our whole lives for and want to be part of, appears when you truly SEE the other in communication.
The process consists of:
mirroring what the other person says,
validating their point of view and then
empathising your imagined feelings of other.
How to dialogue
To make this communication work with effect, you need to find the time, first of all, to sit down and be totally present with your loved one. Ask them if it's convenient to talk at a given time. You both need to be ready. Watching TV while eating dinner, is not a good time to dialogue! Once you have found the space, sit close facing each other and link knees and perhaps hold hands. Body connection, brings a feeling of purpose and safety.
The next vital step is to gaze into each other’s eyes and stay visual with each other as much as possible. This will help you to be totally present and help your mate feel that you are really there for them.
Decide who is going to "send"/talk first. Whoever is going to "receive" first make sure you leave your place of judgement, opinion and ego and "visit" your partner’s world. Imagine that you each are an island and to talk to your partner, you must travel to their island, which means leaving yours behind. Be fully alert and present to them and only them.
The sender can then start to speak about something that they want to discuss. You then mirror back, as close as possible using the same words, that your partner has said, using "I hear you say that......" For those who love to talk and "transmit" only, this can be tricky because us transmitters are usually preparing what we are going to say next and can miss completely what the other person is saying. Listening is a learned art and mirroring helps us to "get" what the other is REALLY saying. Keep mirroring until the other person has expressed all they want to say by encouraging with "is there more about that ?" and then try (it's not easy !) to summarize what they have said using, again the same words if you can, using "did I get that/you ?" at the end.
Validation follows. Please don't assume that validating means you have to agree with what your partner is saying! It means "I understand you and I accept your experience". As Imago says "it allows two different worlds to co-exist - the both/and rather than the either/or." When you, as the receiver, start validating your partner after summarising, use the words "it makes sense that...." or "I understand that...." It acknowledges the existence of the sender's internal experiences and perceptions of the world.
The third and final step of the Dialogue, is empathy. The "receiver" imagines the feelings of the sender by stepping into their shoes. It is important here to verify that the imagined feelings are correct with "I imagine you might be feeling...." Try to steer clear of words such as "must" and "should" because their world is not yours, so don't assume you know what they are feeling.
Over time, we move from communicating with what we see on the outside to touching each other’s interior world, as you learn to participate in the world of the other, while holding onto your own separate experience.
Close the dialogue with appreciation and thanks to your partner for sharing their thoughts. This is an important step.
Now I know you may think, as I did at first, boy this seemed a little contrived and stilted. I can't pretend it won't feel awkward to talk in this way initially, because like new shoes you need to keep trying them on to feel comfortable, but after time and with practise, you will find your own energy and words to complete the process that feels right for you both.
Intentional Dialogue is used extensively in Imago Therapy and is the key tool for shifting blocks in couples who have forgotten how to communicate properly. The main benefit is the re-vitalised and deeper connection that grows from this simple but incredibly effective technique. In my own experience it is valuable to be able to know and accept the differences that exist in other human beings and that often we get it so wrong in our perception of what we think they have said. It has helped me to really listen with intent and to appreciate the essence and deeper beauty of another person.
So try it on, see how it goes and let me know! You don't necessarily need a partner to do it, you can ask your friends or family to dialogue with you. This is valuable on so many levels with many people. If you need guidance, please contact me via the web site. I would be happy to guide through this!
Happy communicating all!
When to use Dialogue?
To express love and appreciation
To simply "connect" by practicing the steps
To be heard and understood
To listen and understand
You are upset about something and want to discuss it
To discuss a topic that might be touchy.