The Intentional Dialogue is something that is at the root of Imago Therapy. By design, this is a very structured way to communicate and is very different from regular “communication”. Its purpose is to create emotional safety, which will deepen emotional intimacy. By taking turns to respectfully hear each other with open ears and an open heart you can get out of the typical power struggle – someone is right or wrong. Instead, the goal is to respect each other’s different viewpoints. This structured yet conscious way of speaking can have endless positive effects on improving the communication in your marriage.
The purpose here is to achieve understanding, not agreement. The feeling of being understood is priceless and the benefits the couple will receive will be overwhelming.
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Dr. Janet Greenwood explaining the Intentional Dialogue
The first step is mirroring.
Let me briefly explain the purpose of mirroring. One purpose is to slow the communication down which will keep the emotional reactivity contained and keep it emotionally safe for both of you. It is the emotional safety that leads to emotional intimacy. Another purpose is to be sure that you have completely and accurately heard your partner’s viewpoint.
1. Now let’s decide who will be the sender and who will be the receiver. The sender will share his/her thoughts, viewpoints and feelings about an issue. The receiver will listen and reflect back what you’ve heard, as closely as possible to your partner’s words and tone.
2. Does that make sense? (Yes)
3. How about if you both choose a topic that you’d like to discuss. We’re going to address your issues differently while learning the dialogue structure.
4. I’ll coach the receiver. It’s important to hold up your hand to have your partner pause, so you can catch up with them. Just take in a few words of a sentence at a time. Have your partner pause, then repeat what you’ve heard.
The next step is summarizing:
1. This is when you summarize concisely all that you have heard so far; just highlight the key points.
2. Then just check to be sure your partner feels heard.
The next step is validation:
1. Validation sounds like this:
2. “What you’re saying makes sense because……”
3. This is not agreement, it is simply validation that your partner has a reasonable point of view, given their wiring and their history.
4. Validation is key to ending the power struggle. Validation is about respecting one another’s different points of view.
The 4th and last step is empathy:
1. Empathy sounds like: “I imagine what you might be feeling about all of this is…..”
2. Be sure to use just feeling words like happy, sad, glad, mad etc. to deepen your understanding of your partner’s feelings.
Practice using these guidelines when communication in your marriage becomes difficult. Although in the beginning it may be hard to express yourself in this manner, hopefully you will be able to use these techniques not only in your marriage but in other relationships as well.