When we all got the notification in mid-March 2020 telling us we’d have to stay in our homes for an extended period with only our immediate family members or significant others, little did we know the effect this would have on our personal relationships. It turns out that for many of us, there is such a thing as too much togetherness.
Working from home, helping kids manage remote learning, stress about finances and fear of getting sick has put a significant strain on many relationships and, in some cases, communication has become more challenging.
“Our routines have been shaken up. We’re spending more time together in the house, boundaries are blurred and couples are feeling stressed,” explains Linda M. Grande, M.S., LPCMH, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Ocean View who specializes in relationship therapy. “Some of the issues people are facing right now include achieving work-life balance, communicating needs effectively, and keeping romance and passion alive.”
Grande, a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, helps couples reconnect, explore and resolve difficult issues, as well as grow together to form a conscious and loving connection. Imago therapy was developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., authors of Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find. Imago, Latin for “image,” allows couples to look at each other through their partner’s eyes.
“Imago therapy creates a safe space that allows couples to explore issues without placing blame or finger pointing,” Grande says. Partners are encouraged to look at their contribution to the problems they’re experiencing and take responsibility. “The technique uses a process called intentional dialogue to ensure that we hear and respond to what our partner is actually saying. The dialogue consists of three parts, known as mirroring, validation and empathy,” she explains.
Mirroring involves listening to and repeating what your partner says, word for word, without analysis or judgment. During this process, one person takes on the role of the “sender,” while the listener becomes the “receiver.” Once the sender shares his or her concerns, the receiver repeats the information and asks, “Did I get you?” and “Is there more?” to let the sender know they heard and understood what they were saying.
Validation involves letting your partner know that what you said makes sense to them, and that they’re not crazy, even if you’re not seeing things eye-to-eye. It allows people to realize there can be two points of view, even if you don’t always agree with each other.
Empathy shows you are concerned about the other person’s feelings and helps them feel understood. All three parts of the intentional dialogue help to promote open, safe communication and healing.
“Imago therapy allows you to put yourself in your partner’s shoes,” says Lena Khavinson, a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist in Pennsylvania who also sees clients in Delaware. “So often we assume that we know what the other person is thinking or experiencing. We may think we’re communicating, but we still may not actually be hearing what the other person is saying,” she stresses.
“These techniques give individuals the tools to communicate better,” Khavinson says. “Partners are encouraged to make an appointment to have a dialogue, to schedule a time to talk when both parties can be present and truly pay attention to what the other person is saying. Once we’ve addressed the conflict, we can begin to grow and take the steps that are needed to improve our relationships.”
By learning how to listen to each other, we can create a conscious relationship and solve problems in a healthy way, creating a safe outlet for our feelings and learning to love each other—despite our differences.