Thoughts about the Imago dialogues. It is mostly intended for people who have some experience of this couple therapy.
The Intentional Dialogue and Behaviour Change.
I am putting together some thoughts about the purpose of the Behaviours Change Request Dialogue (Request Dialogue) and how to link the Request Dialogue to the Imago Intentional Couple Dialogue (Intentional Dialogue). I will not explain these dialogues here, as this is intended for people who have some knowledge of these processes. My aim to put the Request Dialogue in a context.
How Dialogues heal Relationships.
Dialogues enhances the relationship because in dialogue couples attend to deficits from childhood and heal childhood wounds. In dialogue couples develop new roles that lead them to connect.
The Intentional Dialogue is structured to do this in a rapid efficient way. The sender learns to make a request and to speak from experience without blame or criticism, this will transform a relationship. The receiver develops the ability to mirror, learns to contain all responses that arise from within, learns to enter and become absorbed in another’s world and then learns to make sense and validate the sender, and learns to be empathic. The closure of the dialogue develops the ability to appreciate the other and to take in appreciations.
One reason the dialogues initially seem unfamiliar and paradoxically why they work is that they develop ways for the couple to be together, not focusing on fixing. There is in our culture an over-developed desire for solutions and outcomes. There is a tendency to want to fix another person’s pain rather than be with them in their pain. Exploring a need may be uncomfortable because needs are confused with demands and may evoke guilt. To identify a need takes time, the beautiful phrase in the dialogue “…is there more?” creates space for self knowledge. The process of meeting, with the intention of simply hearing each others stories and perspectives is at the core of the Imago work. In the dialogue the couple become adventurers into each others inner worlds. The dialogue is a way to have conscious intimacy.
Dialogue as Crucible
Not only are couples learning new ways to talk and listen, they are in a new structured container. They have made an appointment. They are, if they honour the form, in a safe place, within a therapeutic frame. The couple have made a commitment to a process, even if it is only for one dialogue. Tight structure leads to freedom within it. The dialogue is like an alchemical vessel. The base matter comes in, and as long as the vessel remains intact while the material cools and heats, boils and shakes the transformation can happen, at the end of alchemy is gold.
Decisions belong to the realm of discussion not dialogue. Roberts rules. But don’t go there too soon! Read this post:
So is anything more needed? That is the question that prompted me write.
Of course there is. Life outside the therapeutic holding space, life off the stage of relationship drama is where it all happens in real life. The dialogue is separate, special, Tapu in Maori terms, life is more rough and ready, real ordinary, Noa.
An additional dialogue structure has been developed to attend to action as well as being, to doing, to making behaviour changes. The Behaviour Change Request Dialogue. I think of the Request Dialogue as a “plug-in” that can occasionally be usefully applied.
In my experience the Request Dialogue works best when two things are present in an Intentional Dialogue.
One: the Sender feels and expresses their feeling and links it to a need. Usually the history of that need and the associated feelings will have been identified as well.
Two: the Receiver is empathic and willing to engage with the sender.
In practice this means there has been a successful dialogue that has moved from a frustration (say around housework) to an understanding that the current circumstances trigger (for example) a need for feeling loved or valued. The pain and grief about how those needs have not been met in the past will be present, in the here and now. The Receiver is not too conflicted or too involved with their own needs and feelings and has the desire to be attentive to their partner.
The frame for the sender to make requests can begin naturally if the receiver changes tack and asks: How can I help when you have that feeling or need? I would like to hear your requests. The receiver writes them down, three of them is about right. The receiver commits to one such behaviour change. Together they re-frame the raw request into a S.M.A.R.T. request, (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time specific — how? when? where? how often? and how long for?). Dialogue about how such behaviour may be sabotaged by either party is useful. Closing with a statement from the sender is useful. “if you do that as planned then I will feel more hope, and it will heal something in me.” The advantages to the person making the changes is also worth expressing, for example “Being more expressive about my feelings will help me unblock my tensions and I’ll feel more free.”
These conditions can’t always be predicted as occurring in a dialogue. A therapist can usually spot the right moment for a Request Dialogue to be activated in an Intentional Dialogue. It is useful that there is some awareness that a the possibility of a practical dialogue about behaviours is on the agenda. Some readiness is needed as the Receiver will not be able to respond in the usual way, and may experience being cut-off unless they are prepared for the new structure.
The Power of Behaviour Change
One Request Dialogue is best followed by another in the next few days. The behaviours that come out of the Behaviours Change Request Dialogue become most powerful when each person is making behaviour changes.
For example one person may agree to spend time working together on the finances. The other may agree to speak softly and take breaks should they get irritated or reactive. Such behaviours create a “virtuous circle”, completely reversing an old vicious one. A book-keeping mess might get tidied up. And more importantly personal growth and deeper healing. It is likely that the person working on the finances will develop a new role, one that was under-developed as they grew up. The other person is learning a new way of handling reactivity, quite unlike the way feelings were handled in their family of origin.
Experiencing the soft voice in their partner is soothing and helps the person overcome disabling anxiety as they learn to trust this new behaviour in their partner. The other, seeing their partner contributing to this task is also healing some deficit from childhood. Perhaps they were taught to be overly responsible, taking care of all the chores, and feeling burdened, the collaborative experience is showing that another way is possible.