Sophia stirs in her sleep as she hears the insistent whine from her daughter Jenny’s room. “Mommy, take me to the bathroom please…Mommy”. By this time Marcus is already wide awake. “Take her, please” he says “I have to be up in an hour”. It’s 4 am.
Now Sophia is wide awake. “She’s seven. She can learn to take herself” she snaps. Marcus angrily throws off the covers, and storms out to take Jenny downstairs to the bathroom. Once he comes back, the two argue until dawn, when Marcus heads off for his early start.
By the time they visited Imago relationship therapist, Marcia Ferstenfeld, for help, their relationship was verging on the rocks. “He just doesn’t know how to set limits” Sophia cried “It’s ruining our daughter.” Marcus muttered darkly under his breath “And your obsessive behavior is ruining our marriage.”
“I stop couples right there” Marcia told me, “and teach them a different way to talk about things called the Imago dialogue.” Many couples have a great relationship until they become parents, and then suddenly to their horror they discover they have dramatically different ways of relating to their children. “One parent may take the role of the limit setter, whereas the other is eager to give the child space” she told me, “The Imago dialogue can be used to develop deeper understanding, and use a conflict like this as an opportunity for creating a deeper connection between everyone in the family."
Step 1: End blame and criticism
Parenting is a subject that people hold strong opinions about. It’s important to them to get this right. After all, a child’s future is at stake. So it’s natural to feel that it is right to criticize a partner who seems to be consistently spoiling the child with their lack of parenting skills, and to blame them when the child acts out. But to move forward as successful parents, the first step is to eliminate this negativity, and instead to shift the conversation so that you can reconnect.
Step 2: Become curious about what is going on for your partner
Marcia taught Sophia and Marcus the Imago dialogue, which is a safe way of talking about things which have a lot of emotional content, such as how to bring up your child.
Sophia started by explaining to Marcus why setting limits is important to her. Usually when I listen to someone I disagree with I use all my listening time to work out a good response. But using the Imago dialogue, Marcus was coached to just listen, and then show that he had heard by mirroring back Sophia’s words. Then he would ask “Is there more?”