Learn the crucial communication technique that will help you and your partner move beyond painful arguments and power struggles.
According to marriage therapist Dr. Harville Hendrix, there are three basic steps to achieving healthy communication including an extra "gift" that will really strengthen your dialogue with your partner. Known as the Imago technique, Harville says, "Couples are able to create stronger relationships by first becoming more aware of just how deeply interconnected you are." By offering you a change to recognize the unconscious agenda each partner brings to the relationship, both of you can grow together in a creative, non-controlling and healing way based in understanding each other's wants and needs.

Try the 4-step intentional dialogue exercise with your partner to work through any issues or disagreements that may be holding you back from a more intimate and fulfilling relationship.

Step 1: Mirroring
How to listen to your partner without distorting his thoughts and feelings. 

Dr. Hendrix says the first step of an intentional dialogue is to mirror your partner and let him be heard without judgment. Follow this basic script with your partner.

Mirroring Exercise
  • Tell your partner the message you would like him to hear. The message should start with "I" and describe your feelings. (Example: "I feel hurt when you talk down to me.")
  • Your partner then mirrors your message. Example: "If I got it, you feel hurt when I talk down to you. Did I get it?"
  • If you feel your partner didn't understand your message, explain again and have him mirror you until the message is received.
  • Complete the message. If you were heard accurately, your partner says, "Is there more about that?" This helps you complete your feelings and prevents your partner from responding to incomplete messages.
  • When the message is completed, your partner then summarizes all of the message. (Example: "Let me see if I got that...")
  • He should check for accuracy with, "Did I get it all?"

When your message has been heard accurately, you can then move on to the next step.

Next: Why it's not enough to just listen
Step 2: Validating
Why it's not enough just to listen to your partner.

It's not enough just to listen, you must learn to pay close attention in order to understand your partner's truth. "It's not enough just to be heard," says Dr. Harville Hendrix, "It's 'Do you see that I'm not crazy?'"

Validating Exercise
  • Your partner does not have to agree with your argument to validate it.
  • In order to validate your message, he needs to use the right language. He should use sentences like this: "You make sense because..." or "I can see what you're saying...." Using the phrase, "makes sense" may be helpful—it tells you that your partner doesn't think your feelings are crazy.
  • Your partner must make certain that you feel validated before moving on. If you do, move on to the next step.

Next: Put yourself in his shoes
Photo: Thinkstock
Step 3: Empathizing
Once the feeling is expressed, it's time to put yourself in your partner's shoes.

The next big step in the dialoguing process is for your partner to empathize with your expressed feelings. "Figure out the feeling, and go to that place with him or her," Dr. Hendrix says. "Step into that place with them and they will know you exist for them in that moment. That's a connection."

Empathy Exercise
  • Your partner can start the empathy exercise with a statement such as, "I can imagine that you might be feeling..." or "I can see you are feeling...."
  • Since it's impossible to know exactly what a person feels, your partner should check for accuracy. He should ask "Is that what you're feeling?" If he didn't understand the feeling, you should readdress the message.
  • If you share new feelings with you partner upon reiteration, he must mirror those feelings. (For example, "Is there more about that feeling?")
Once your partner has gone through these steps, an extra "gift" helps solidify the discussion.

Next: How to turn frustration into a gift
Happy couple
Photo: Thinkstock
Step 4: Giving the Gift
It's time to ask your partner for a small, positive request.

What is it that you want that you're not getting? Dr. Harville Hendrix suggests that the best way to transform something painful is by giving your partner a behavior change request in the form of a "gift." He says, "Instead of beating your partner up about it, translate the frustration into your wish."

The Gift Exercise
  • Start by asking something as simple as, "Right now, can I make a request?" (Example: "Can you come and hug me? Can you say a kind word to me?")
  • Your partner should comply.
  • Keep working at giving each other "gifts" until a shift occurs and you can see your partner without judgment. "Once couples can rely on these gifts, the safety arena will go up and the defensive barriers go down," Dr. Hendrix says.

When you are finished with your intentional dialogue, reverse roles. You are now the receiver of your partner's feelings and should start with the mirroring exercise. With practice, you and your partner can continue to create the marriage of your dreams.

Couples Therapy
Dr. Harville Hendrix helps a couple with an abusive past
The real reason you choose your partner
Your marriage repair kit


Next Story