The Imago Dialogue

The Imago Dialogue is designed to enable both people’s perspectives to be heard, respected, valued and create a sensation of feeling emotionally held in a judgmental free environment.  Sometimes simply feeling listened to and respected is enough.  Differences in opinions are not only normal, but healthy.  The goal in utilizing the Imago Dialogue, which can be thought of as a fair fighting techniques is to take the emotional energy out of the fight so that each person can understand what the fight is really about.  In an Imago Dialogue the process of how a conversation occurs is just as important as the actual details of the fight.  For example in a fight about the dishes is the argument really about how the dishes are truly being stacked? Or is the fight about the symbolic representation of what it means about how the dishes are being stacked.  Frequently, from the dialogue the answer, and thus the resolution(s) appear.  Resolutions often happens because both people are able to take a step back from their own position(s) and truly look at the situation and decide together what makes the most sense.  Sometimes the issue is having two different styles, and sometimes the issue is technique.

Fighting Fairly- Step One:

1. Ask your partner if they are ready to have an Imago Dialogue about Subject X.  Making sure that each person has the time and space to discuss a situation is crucial.  Too frequently couples are too harried to invest the time and energy to really listen and hear their partner’s concerns.  Fair fighting in the short term often takes more time than other tactics that people frequently utilize.  The payoff for the investment in time is that in the long run both partners feel better about how they fought and feel more secure in the idea that together they can work through differences.

2. State the problem.

3.  After listening to your partner’s position, mirror back what she has said.   The purpose of mirroring back her perspective is to ensure that you got it.  Additionally mirroring back the information (which includes matching her body position and energy associated with what she just said) provides her with the opportunity to truly hear and see herself her and see if she communicated the information that is most important to her.  Each time you mirror back what she has said start off by saying “What I heard you saying is . . . “Do not include your opinion.  Your opinion comes later. When you are done summarizing her perspective, ask her if you got it, or if there is more.  Remember, sometimes your lack of ability to mirror back the information is a reflection of a) not remembering everything she said b) not understanding what she meant c) not listening because you got too caught up in trying to develop the perfect rebuttal d) your partner having made too many good points all at one time, thus making it hard to actually hear everything.  If this is the case, encourage her to be more succinct.  And lastly e) what she thought she said, isn’t what she said, thus she might have given your summary a poor score, even though it was her who made the mistake.  Regardless of why you failed to accurately summarize her point, thank her for the clarifications and move on.  What counts is that you heard all of her points. Do not get lost in the details of who said what and how.  You heard her point, now move on.

4. Empathize with her position.  Tell her “I imagine you must be feeling “Angry” or “Sad” or “Mad.”  Ask her if there are better words to describe her feelings.

5. Validate what she has said by responding to the information she just shared with you.  You could start by sharing with her what you appreciated about what she said.  Then share with her what you agree with.  Sometimes you will agree with a lot, and sometimes you won’t agree with anything.      If that doesn’t feel comfortable to you, you could start by saying “It makes sense to me that you are feeling X, Y and Z because……”

4. Then, after you have let her know that you did hear her, and were listening, consider this your opportunity to respond by telling her about how you see things.  What is your perspective of the situation?   When you are done talking, ask her to summarize what you said. If something doesn’t seem right in her summary (either because she couldn’t properly summarize what you said, or you realized you wanted to shift what you were saying) simply say “Let me clarify” and then proceed to share in real time what you want your partner to understand.

5. Ask her to reflect upon what you are saying. What pieces does she agree with, what makes sense to her about what you just said?  Then she can respond to you.  When she is done talking, summarize what she said and continue repeating this cycle.

The advanced version of fair fighting: fine tweaking the Imago Dialogue

At the end of the entire conversation, summarize each of your positions what each of you learned from the conversation and what, if any resolutions the two of you came up with.  Then ask your partner if you got it, or would they like to clarify / add information.   Being able to remember everything that was said is a completely different skill than simply working through an argument.  For those of us with a limited memory, taking notes is helpful.


Useful Hints in having an Imago Dialogue:

1. When dialoguing with your partner, stick to the issue.  Keep focused.  If you find your partner starting to discuss a different topic, simply ask her how point A is related to point B.  Help her make the connection, then continue responding to point A. Do not let yourself get sidetracked.

2. Keep the issue specific. Do not let yourself or your partner generalize.  For example, if you are upset that you partner was 20 minutes late, focus on how you felt in that instance. Do not talk about all the other times your partner was late.

3. Tell your partner when she has made a good point

4.  As you are sharing your version of the facts it can be useful to say:

  • An example of X is
  • The story I make up in my head about X is
  • My fear about X is
  • What X symbolizes to me is
  • What this reminds me of from my own childhood is
  • What I wish you would have done is
  • My hope is that
  • Before you respond to me, to help me feel safe, what I need from you is X

Working with an Imago trained therapist will help you develop fair fighting techniques. And working with a therapist that actually has knowledge about the subject matter that you are fighting about will help you learn the skills needed to resolve the issue.  There are behavioral skills needed in classroom management, parenting, sexual performance, managing bi-polar etc. Sometimes talking isn’t enough.  Behavioral skills are required 🙂