How often do we bring our attention to automatic thinking patterns and actions, when communicating or responding to those we have a relationship with?
We do things all the time without thinking
The example that always comes to mind for me is getting ready in the morning. There are many times in the morning that I turn on my hair straighter, the iron, etc., go about my routine, get in my car to leave for work, only to wonder if I turned everything off.
This is because my mind races a mile a minute and I am not actually mindfully performing these tasks. I am either thinking about my upcoming workday or errands that have to be done instead of focusing on what is in front of me.
How often do we hear the phrase “live in the moment”? A lot of talk in the psychology field has been centered around mindfulness practices.
It is touched upon in yoga, meditation, and now I will discuss it within the article in terms of how we communicate in our relationships. Not only the idea of being mindful and in the moment with our partner, but being mindful of ourselves. Being mindful of our assumptions based on our experiences, and being mindful of our expectations that we build from those experiences as well.
When we first enter a relationship or fall in love with another person, we are in the infatuation phase.
Initially, there is an automatic notion to understand the other person
Things are new, exciting, and it is a time where we are completely in the moment with one another. Additionally, there is a desire and automatic notion to take the time to understand the other person. We are automatically mindfully exploring, learning each other, and connecting to one another.
Over the course of time, as we get more comfortable in our relationships and feel more secure, we move away from this mindful infatuation phase.
It is because we feel we are understood, we trust the other person, and we may feel that we know our partners better than ourselves. This is shown in what develops to be issues with communication down the line. We forget to explore on a deeper level as we communicate with each other or even come into conflict with one another over time, which leads to an eventual communication breakdown.
When I was an intern, I was doing counseling for a local agency for couples. My supervisor and mentor had introduced me to a technique referred to as Imago Relationship therapy.
Imago relationship therapy
Imago Relationship therapy is a form of marriage or relationship therapy and that was co-developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt. This technique refers to the “unconscious image of familiar love”, which I found to be a brilliant concept in that there is usually a relationship between the frustrations experienced in adult relationships and early childhood experiences.
An example of this concept immediately came to mind with a client I was working with at the time. He would speak about his marriage and said to me in one session, “I have one word for you.”; “Golf.” He went on further to explain how he had been so frustrated with this wife that she would not play golf with him. He loved golf, and deeply wanted to share that with her.
He would express that when the topic came up, she would often shut down, dismiss him, and appear a bit distressed. After a long time of this occurring, he finally asked her, “Whenever I bring up the word Golf, I feel that you appear distant, frustrated, distressed. This is something I want to share it with you, can you help me understand why you don’t feel the same way?”.
At this moment, he was taking the extra steps to explore and understand what golf meant to her and not just assume or follow through on the automatic thoughts (e.g. frustration, dismissed, etc.) he was having.
From her response, he learned that golf was not a pleasant experience for her. Growing up, her father would put a lot of pressure on her while they played, and even become verbally aggressive at times. That day he learned something new about his wife. They had been married over 20 years, and yet he learned something new by taking the time to understand, rather than assuming or reacting due to a failed expectation.
In Imago, this can show up in many examples, such as if you have felt neglected, put down, or smothered by family a member in the past, which can translate to these types of behaviors, automatically, in your current relationships.
Mirroring, validation, and, empathy
Furthermore, in Imago, they discuss a concept called the Imago Couples Dialogue, which helps facilitate healthy communication. What happens is that you and your partner begin to understand each other’s feelings and experiences from a place of empathy and move toward a more mindful relationship. The three areas of doing this, which you can see from my examples, are through Mirroring, Validation, and, Empathy.
Be mindful of your assumptions and always take the time to reflect
Overall, be mindful of your assumptions and always take the time to reflect. Though it may take extra work to try to understand our partner’s feelings, actions, and reactions, incorporating this into your communication style can increase you and your partner’s connection to new levels, potentially not yet explored. Taking the time to continue learning about your partner can facilitate healing and growth in your relationship.