Let’s go back to basics. When you or your partner has something to say, how do you communicate with each other? Do you allow each other to speak, or rush to give your opinion? Do you find the right time to talk, or jump into an argument when tensions are high?
Being able to communicate with your partner in an open, honest, positive manner is the cornerstone of any loving relationship. So let’s go over some of the basics of the Imago Intentional Dialogue, including:
Assuming the Position. We often say more with our body language than we do with our words. When you have an important conversation with your partner, think about your body language. Is your body language open or closed? Are you making eye contact with your partner? What is your body language saying about your openness and your ability to listen?
It can be silly to maintain this type of body language if you’re goofing around or having a lighthearted conversation with your partner. Let’s think about serious conversations; the ones that may potentially upset you or your partner. If you and your partner are preparing for a serious conversation, assume the position:
- Arms and legs uncrossed
Open body language tells your partner that you are open to hearing what they have to say and making a decision together.
Sender vs. Receiver. You’ve assumed the position, and the conversation has begun. What role are you playing during this conversation?
Determining your role in a conversation is simple. The sender is talking, or sending a message to the other person. The receiver is not only listening to the sender, but also mirroring the sender. We’ll talk about what mirroring means in a minute.
Say you’re the sender. You have a message that you would like to communicate with your partner. How can you communicate that message more effectively through Imago Intentional Dialogue?
Consider these “responsibilities” of a sender:
Ask before Beginning: If your partner is not ready to be a receiver, then you must wait before sending your message. Ask your partner, “Is now a good time to talk?” or a similar question to start the conservation. Confirm their interest in having a conversation.
Keep Statements Short: A good receiver will listen until you are finished speaking, but you have to let them respond at some point! Keep your statements short, sweet, and to the point. If your partner needs you to elaborate or clarify, they will let you know.
Make “I Statements”: Don’t point fingers, literally or figuratively. When you are communicating with your partner, focus on what you are feeling or what you think would be a good solution to your conflict. Saying “you do this” is putting the blame on your partner. Saying “you act like” is making an assumption about your partner’s feelings or intentions. Both of these behaviors are dangerous.
Use Soft Words and Tones, Maintaining Neutral Body Language and Facial Expression: Be aware of your body language throughout your entire conversation. What is your tone of voice saying to your partner? What does your facial expression communicate?
Make Positive Statements If Receiver Did Not Understand/Missed Something: You want to make sure the receiver understood your message, but if they didn’t, that’s okay! Before you correct your partner or repeat what you originally said, praise and validate what they did understand.
Remember to Breathe and Self-Regulate Emotions: Check in while you are talking. How do you feel about what you are saying? Is the talk going the way you “planned?” If these feelings are starting to effect your conversation, it might be time to take a step back.
That was a lot, but we can’t forget about receivers! When a sender comes to a receiver with an invitation to talk, the receiver must be prepared to take on the following responsibilities:
Accept the Invitation to Talk in a Timely Manner: It’s okay if you’re not ready to talk. If you are still thinking about a conflict or don’t have an answer to your partner’s questions, it is better to be honest and delay a conversation than to give a dishonest answer. However, it’s very important for you to express interest along with your reason, and then begin to negotiate an ASAP appointment with your partner for the Dialogue. Otherwise, one partner is ‘hung out there,’ while the not-ready partner could be unconsciously avoiding emotional intimacy. So the appointment is always important.
If you are sure of your answers, accept the invitation. It’s all right if you tell your partner you’re hesitant – just be honest!
Breathe and Stay Calm to Be Present: Even if the message is not something you want to hear, stay calm. Your partner is brave for coming forward and being honest with you. If you are getting upset or anxious, breathe deeply and continue to listen to your partner.
Suspend Your Own World View and Stay in Your Partner’s World: Focus your energy on what the receiver is saying and put yourself in their shoes. If you spend your time waiting to become the sender, or only think about rebuttals while you’re a receiver, you will most likely miss what your partner is saying to you. Stay present, and look at the situation from your partner’s point of view. Become curious. The more curious you are about your partner’s world, the more you will be able to understand, feel, and hear them.
Mirror Word-for-Word, Provide a Mirroring Summary, Ask “Did I Get That?”: To prove that you actively listened to your partner, respond by mirroring what they say. Using this method for a response helps to clarify anything that your partner may have said about, and also shows that you are making the effort to see your partner’s point of view.
Validate Your Partner: Once you are clear on what your partner is trying to say, it’s time to validate. Don’t start with negativity, arguments, or a defense to what your partner is saying.
Pick out the things that you agree with or like. Where did your partner make sense? Where did your partner make a good point? Was your partner honest and brave for sharing their feelings (the answer is yes!)?
Before you go on to provide solutions, or become the sender yourself, make sure you validate your partner.
Want to Learn More?
Understanding and acting on the responsibilities of a sender or receiver can benefit you whether you are talking to your friends, family, coworkers – you name it! But you should definitely keep the Imago Intentional Dialogue in mind for those tough conversations with your partner.
If you want to learn more about Imago Intentional Dialogue and how Imago Relationship Therapy can help a couple to communicate, contact a Houston relationship coach!