When I looked at my survey notes again, I noticed that therapists most often found couples were saying “we need help with communication”. It sounds like couples themselves sense that there are things which need to be discussed, but they can’t seem to find a way to get them out into the open. Sometimes sharing things of the heart makes them feel too vulnerable, or creates too much of an angry reaction from their partner. For example, it turns out that it’s relatively common for a therapist to encounter couples who give each other an “F” in sex. That’s not so easy to talk about, without getting your partner quite hurt and defensive.
I talked to 6 different therapists about 6 completely different situations, asking them to map out a five-step process which the couple could use to resolve their problems. The common theme that emerged was that these five steps followed a structure for a meaningful conversation. Often the first step was about recognizing the problem; the next steps were about becoming curious, and looking underneath the surface.
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To do this, Imago therapists use a central tool, called the Imago Dialogue. It’s a way to guide a conversation about our feelings that can feel safe enough, so that each partner can share openly. It is also carefully designed to build connection at each step.
Whether it's understanding what to do if you want a baby and your partner doesn’t, or why your step-kids are destroying your marriage, the key solving both, and countless others, is to understand what is going on for your partner. To truly step into their shoes and see the experience and feelings through their eyes and heart. That’s why the Imago dialogue is central to the work of Imago therapists.
That doesn’t mean that all the therapist needs to do is to run through a standard approach in every situation. Each couple is unique, and over the series we will show you how different situations require a different therapeutic approach. For example, when you have just found out your partner is cheating you may not be ready to hear what the emotional circumstances that in their mind led to the affair. But eventually, this is one of the goals. Each article in the series includes an interview with a therapist who will help outline the steps needed to resolve a particular conflict.
I’ll leave you with one question to ponder: If conflict leads to growth, what’ so good about growth anyway? It starts with one core belief: as people we’re simply able to grow grow more complete through our deepest relationships with others, especially our partners. The more complete we are, the more we can get out of life, and the more we are available to love deeply and in a rewarding way. But, often, the road to true connection has major obstructions – often those “elephants in the room” that we’ve always known were there, but never talked about.
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Clearing those obstructions, together, can be one of the most intimate experiences you will ever have, leaving the way clear to a wonderful, full relationship.