As a result, Sophia and Marcus learned so much more about each other. Marcus learned that Sophia wants to set limits because it’s the way she learned from her parents, and that she was afraid that without setting appropriate limits their daughter would not learn how to do things herself. Sophia came to understand that Marcus was afraid to lose the love of his daughter, and was worried about hurting her by being too strict. They bonded when they realized how both cared deeply about the same thing, their daughter’s happiness.
Step 3: Become curious about what is going on for your child
“But she’s seven! Why can’t Jenny go to the bathroom by herself? Will she ever learn?” Sophia asked. “Let’s work on that question” responded Marcia “Why don’t you be Jenny for a moment, and talk to Marcus. He’s going to pretend to be you.”
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As Sophia put herself in her daughter’s shoes, she found herself talking about Jenny’s insecurity, as an adopted child, who had been abandoned. Early each morning Jenny would hear Marcus tiptoe past her door and leave. What fears did this bring up? Could this be why she looked for comfort and security, usually just an hour or so earlier?
They tried an experiment. When Marcus left, even though it was early, he would drop into Jenny’s room, and kiss her. From that day, Jenny never asked again to be taken to the bathroom in the night.
Step 4: Ask for change
Often when people are frustrated, they criticize the other person. Why not ask for the change you want instead? Well, often it’s because you don’t get it. Imago has a different approach to asking for the change you want to see.
Marcia led Sophia and Marcus through a process where before asking for change, they each explored what lay underneath concerns they had. For example, Marcus did have a deep fear of Jenny rejecting him. That’s why he resisted Sophia when she asked him to support her with some of the limits she set. But by sharing together Marcus’s underlying fear, he felt supported when he decided to stretch and respond to Sophia’s request to be stricter. He had also learned how much this would mean to Sophia, because he now understood her fear that if they didn’t set limits, they would be failing Jenny as parents.
Step 5: Support each other when change isn’t so easy
Most of us have an experience when someone agrees to do something differently, and then a week later they have slipped right back into their old habits. That’s what usually happens when a couple agrees to make their parenting styles more uniform too. It’s tempting at that point to feel worse than ever.
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Marcia guided Sophia and Marcus to use another concept from Imago. When change is hard, instead of despairing, simply use the opportunity to become curious about what the resistance is. Instead of blaming each other for failing, they used the Imago dialogue to discover more about why it was hard to change. In doing so, they learned more and more about each other, and their relationship became richer and more connected.