The Imago Dialogue: Mirroring (Step 1)

Over the month of June, I will provide a series of blogs on the Imago Dialogue.  The first blog will introduce the dialogue, and the following three will detail its steps – mirroring, validation, and empathy.  The dialogue is a powerful communication tool that can transform your relationship.  Want to learn more?  The series sets the stage for the Start Right, Stay Connected workshop that I’ll be leading on June 24 where you’ll learn and practice this skill and more.


Mirroring is the first step of the dialogue process.  To mirror, the receiver states what was said back to the sender without editing, interpreting or changing it in any, then checks for accuracy and asks if there is more the sender would like to say.  Example:  Sender:  “I appreciate when you bring me coffee in the morning.  It helps start my day in a light, positive way.”  Receiver:  “You appreciate when I bring you coffee in the morning.  It helps start your day in a light, positive way… Am I with you?… Is there more?”

Sounds easy, right?  Yet in practice it’s surprisingly difficult.  Here’s why.  We all listen with a filter running in our head, and that filter is preparing its response.  In much of our day to day communication, this can work just fine.  The more emotional things become, however, the more that filter breaks down and we distort the message.

Do you remember those fun house mirrors at the carnival?  Some were convex, others concave.  They made some things look smaller, and others look bigger; sometimes they reshaped the entire image.  That’s what we’re doing when emotions rise.  The brain’s “fight or flight” system kicks in and we blow things out of proportion, dismiss them, or completely change the story.  The challenge is to be a flat mirror – reflecting back accurately what the person is sending.

Imagine your partner says, “I was really upset when you were an hour late last night, and didn’t even call or text to say you were running late.”  You probably want to jump in, defend yourself, maybe tell him/her to stop making such a big deal out of it.   But instead you try to mirror, “You were really upset when I was an hour late last night, and didn’t even call or text to say I was running late… Am I with you?… Is there more?”  This simple yet profoundly different response can prevent this discussion from derailing.   Mirroring communicates safety to the brain of both yourself and your partner.  The unspoken message is “I want to be here for you and listen to you before I say anything,” thereby allowing the two of you to remain connected, even amidst the tension.

While the receiver has the responsibility for mirroring, the sender has also some responsibilities.  The sender checks to make sure their partner is ready – “I’d like to dialogue with you, is now a good time?”  The sender also shares about their experience as opposed to talking about the other person – no shaming, blaming or criticism is allowed.   This is destructive and invites a defensive response.  Remember egg toss – you’ve got to toss it across to your partner in a way that helps them be able to catch it.

Mirroring is essential to create the safety couples need to more effectively communicate.  Stay tuned for the next step which will further deepen the process – Validation.


Previously in this series:


Come learn how to play egg toss – and communicate more effectively – at my upcoming “Start Right, Stay Connected” workshop on June 24.  This one-day workshop for committed, engaged and newly married couples will provide the knowledge and skills to transform your relationship.  Click here for more details and registration.


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