Time to finish the posts about our last couple’s therapy appointment in Los Angeles. It seems so long ago. The coronavirus situation hadn’t even gathered steam at that point. We were still in the throes of mourning my dad’s passing, everyone had plenty of toilet paper. The toilet paper thing is still odd to me. I mean I get that people freaked out and hoarded toilet paper like it was the end of times, but why is it still a problem? Why aren’t the stores properly stocked, now? We actually haven’t purchased a roll of toilet paper since this pandemic started. Not sure if it’s an indicator of how important toilet paper is to us in general, i.e., we always have a back stock, or if we just don’t use as much toilet paper as the average family. We’re not hoarders, but having a stash of paper products IS pretty important. Honestly, since we’ve all been quite healthy, if we do run out of toilet paper and can’t find more in the stores, we have a rather large Kleenex tissue stock we will start using. Not that I intended for this post to venture into bathroom habits, but we are also quite fortunate to have invested in bidet-style toilets in both our houses. It’s one of our favorite aspects of Japan life, and so we splurged. Ours are actually German-made, Duravit brand. Really handy in times like these.
Back to therapy. As previously discussed, we were learning how to talk to and listen to each other in a respectful, loving manner. It seems like a couple with 35+ years behind them should know how to do this, right? Unfortunately, most of us were never taught how to couple. Sometimes we have decent role models, sometimes we don’t. Two distinctly different people coming together, baggage and all. Everyone has baggage. It’s called life. Sometimes we lose respect for each other and communication really breaks down, and sometimes we just stop caring. In our case, we respect and love each other, but are still incredibly fallible when it comes to kind and loving communication. Betrayal throws a wrench in things. It usually means one person in the relationship is really really fucked up. Sometimes both, but in our case, it was Blue Eyes. His upbringing, his childhood wounds, his addiction, his brokenness that caused the pain and suffering we have been going through as a couple for the past six years. That being said, we’re both struggling with how to communicate, post discovery.
The trauma therapist uses, as one of her many tools, the Imago Relationship Method for couple’s dialogue:
Getting the Love You Want
Imago Relationship Therapy, developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980, is a form of relationship and couples therapy that focuses on transforming conflict into healing and growth through relational connection.
There is frequently a connection between frustrations in adult relationships and early childhood experiences. Childhood feelings of abandonment, suppression or neglect will often arise in a marriage or committed relationship. When such “core issues” repeatedly come up with a partner, they can overshadow all that is good in a relationship and leave one to wonder whether he or she has chosen the right mate.
Through Imago Relationship Therapy, couples can understand each other’s feelings and “childhood wounds” more empathically, allowing them to heal themselves and their relationships and move toward a more “Conscious Relationship.”
With the little bit of time we had left in our four hour therapy session (previously discussed anger and fear) I will lovingly call this part of therapy, resentment. The therapist started with Blue Eyes. She really wasn’t so much concerned about what we were saying as that we were able to follow the prescribed steps for Imago dialogue.
STEP ONE: MIRROR
In the Mirroring step, when your partner pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you will repeat back everything you heard them say. You may paraphrase, but you will mirror without analyzing, critiquing, modifying or responding.
How to Mirror: “If I got it, I think you said…” or “So you’re saying…”
Ask if there’s more: “Is there more?” or “Tell me more.”
Blue Eyes started. He took this opportunity to talk about things I do that bug him. And once he got going, he really got going. Again, this was a training session, so it was supposed to be about learning the method, but Blue Eyes obviously really wanted it to be a bitch session about me, and about all the things in our life that he hates doing. And because all I could do was listen and repeat back, it was all very one-sided. First he started in with my watching television. Then my horrid habit of eating while watching TV, and he continued on from there. My part in this went a little like this:
“So, if I heard you correctly, you are saying you really dislike my watching television. Is there more?”
“I think you said, you hate it when I eat while watching television because you don’t like eating alone in the kitchen and you don’t want to eat in front of the television. Is there more?”
“If I hear you correctly, you hate doing ALL the laundry, especially all the towels and sheets. Is there more?”
“I think you are saying that you really don’t like going to the grocery store alone. Is there more?”
Well, I think you get the drift. There were more personal things as well and for some reason he didn’t really get the fact that he had gone a bit too far. It was like someone had given him permission to spew out all the resentment he had for me and my habits and also what was obvious is that he HATES doing household tasks ALONE. In other words, I am supposed to give up all of my personal time and hobbies so that I can be his constant task buddy. And, along with everything I do, I am supposed to do all the things he doesn’t like to do. And when I am tired from working until 8pm and all I want to do is sit down and watch a British Crime Drama, I really just shouldn’t do that because he doesn’t like it. The ironic thing here, though, is that there is this new Star Trek show called Picard… Blue Eyes is OBSESSED with it. He purchased CBS just to watch this one show. His whole Thursday is centered around this show and he wants everyone to watch it with him. Remember, he HATES doing things ALONE. I simply do not like the show, but both The Peacemaker and I sit there every week and watch the show with him. Poor Blue Eyes. Life is just so difficult for him.
STEP TWO: VALIDATE
Once the Sender says there is “no more”, the Receiver will attempt to validate what the Sender has said by letting the Sender know if what they have been saying is making logical sense to the Receiver. If it does not, the Receiver will simply share what does make sense, then ask the Sender to say more about the parts that do not yet make sense.
How to Validate: “You make sense to me because…” or
“That makes sense, I can see where…”
Ask for clarification: “This part (X) makes sense, but help me understand,
can you say more about…?”
The validation part was easy. I totally understood what Blue Eyes was saying, I just didn’t agree with it. This wasn’t the time for bickering. I told him everything made sense to me.
STEP THREE: EMPATHIZE
In the final step, Empathy, the Receiver takes a guess as to what they imagine the Sender might be feeling with regard to what they have been saying. If the Sender has already said how they feel, then the Receiver can simply reflect this back once more. If, however, the Receiver can think of an additional way their partner might be feeling, this is where they can add that.
When sending empathy, it is fine to say something such as: “I can imagine you feel like …. (you’re the only one working on our relationship).” However, it’s important to know that once the word “like” comes into play, what’s being expressed is is a thought, not a feeling. The best way we have come to distinguish the difference between a thought and a feeling, is that a feeling can generally be described in one or two words: e.g., happy, excited, safe, cared for, hurt, frustrated, scared.
Try to include some “feeling” words if you can, in this step. Doing so, especially when you are lucky enough to hit the proverbial nail on the head, will often bring a look of recognition and joy to your partner’s face faster than anything else you could say.
How to Empathize: “I can imagine you might be feeling…”
Check it Out: “Is that how you feel?”
I am very good at empathy, so I did understand what Blue Eyes was saying and I did my part by letting him know I understood his feelings of resentment and frustration and loneliness.
Now that the Sender has said all they have to say and the Receiver has mirrored, validated and empathized, the whole process reverses. The Receiver now gets their turn to respond with whatever came up for them while the first partner was sending and the Sender shifts into being the new Receiver who does the mirroring, etc.
Note; When partners trade places, the new Sender does not start a new topic, rather she/he responds to what the first Sender said.
There actually wasn’t time for us to trade spaces during this session. The therapist let us know that we had done an excellent job of figuring out and following the rules for Imago Dialogue. I found the process to be really good for me as I was forced to listen, really listen, and repeat back how Blue Eyes was feeling. The issue is, I am not the one with the problem here. Yes, I need to remain calm and present during “discussions” about frustrating topics. Yes, we both need to slow down and really listen. I know as we continue to practice this kind of dialogue, that we will both benefit from it. I’m glad we had the chance to practice it during the session. I think Blue Eyes will want to continue to use this kind of dialogue going forward.
After we walked out of the the therapist’s office, Blue Eyes started apologizing. Apologizing for being petty and for bitching about my “bad habits.” By that point I wasn’t angry or frustrated. Maybe Imago therapy is good for me. I simply wanted him to know where I am coming from. Why I use TV as a distraction and to decompress, and I always have, but he knows this. He knows TV is my happy place. Like books, it’s my diversion, my separate universe. A place where I don’t have to think about real life. I wanted him to know how much the grocery store had triggered me in the past and that sometimes it still causes anxiety. Too many people crammed into too small of a space. Even yesterday, at a local market here at the coast, he wanted me to go into the store with him even though our son was going in with him. I just didn’t think we all needed to go in and be exposed and in turn expose ourselves to strangers. Grocery shopping is a necessity, but I am prone to pneumonia and with the stress of everything going on, have been unable to manage my blood sugars well. Why force me into the grocery store when it is completely unnecessary. He just didn’t get it.
He chose to one-down me during therapy in order to make himself feel better. He learned this one-up/one-down process from his mother. Somehow he feels better about himself by putting me down. It’s a horrid habit, but I am completely familiar with it. What I really wanted to do was learn a better way to communicate. I believe we are doing that. I will always do my part for this marriage. I believe Blue Eyes is trying to do his, and I know he will get better at it. We need more therapy, for sure. Just not sure when that will be able to happen now. I’m totally not good at virtual meetings, especially therapy. I need to sit in that cozy office, bundled in soft blankets and within touching distance of someone who I know understands me. I can be patient. For now we will try to do this Imago thing on our own.
Stay well everyone.