Early in a relationship we feel all of the chemical flush of serotonin and dopamine that draws us together. When this begins to wear off, we slip into the power struggle, objecting to differences in our beloved. We notice this and decide to do something conscious about it. Conscious connection has skills and tools. When we apply them, we experience awareness of self and other. New knowledge leads to an awakening, a new beginning. We see our partner with new eyes, this is the start of mature love. Safety, warmth, reliability, consistency, passion, stability, possibility all describe mature love. With this comes that lovely flood of dopamine and serotonin. And the cycle begins again.
Safety is the solution
“…the requirement for all thriving organisms is Safety. The mechanisms of safety turn out to be structured conversations called Imago Dialogue, a commitment to and practice of Zero Negativity, and the exchange of at least three daily affirmations. We eventually called the interaction between partners “the Space-Between,” informed and inspired by the I–Thou constructs of Martin Buber, a Jewish mystical theologian, and Harry Stack Sullivan, a psychiatrist who posited that what happens between people is what matters, not what happens within them.” Harville Hendrix
5 things you can do to create connection
1. Offer appreciations
Our nervous systems produce dopamine and serotonin when we offer and receive appreciations. Words of affirmations may be your love language. If so, it is easy for you to give this to your partner. It may also be a welcomed gift for you to receive from your partner. it is a simple practice that plants seeds for safety and connection.
- Are you available to receive and appreciation from me? [Yes!]
- I really appreciated when you…. (name a specific action or words that you heard) [Partner mirrors using your words…Is there more?]
- When you did that, I felt…(list feelings or emotions) [Partner mirrors using your words…Is there more?]
- Thank you for listening. [Thank you for telling me!]
2. Slow Down and When in Doubt: Mirror!
The structure of Imago Dialogue slows down our familiar survival dance in the moment. Imago Dialogue has five simple parts.
- Ask for an “appointment”: Are you available to dialogue about…?
- The asking partner then shares their thoughts, concerns. The listening partner “mirrors”* what they heard, using their partner’s words, setting aside their opinions, editorializing, and agenda. *[What I heard you say... Am I getting you? Tell me more. Is there more?]
- After the asking partner has said all they need to say, the listening/mirroring partner offers a short summary. [Is that a pretty good summary?]
- The mirroring partner then offers validation to the asking partner. [You make sense… I can see that when I…, you feel….] If the listening/mirroring partner is unable to validate, then listen more. Validating is a process of saying “I get you,” “I understand you.” It does not require agreement or liking the content that is validated. It helps to check with your partner: “Am I getting you?”
- At this time, the listening/mirroring partner offers to empathize with their partner. This is a process of stepping into their shoes and making their best guess at what it must be like to be their partner.
3. Own what you put into the space between you
Each of us is 100% responsible for what we put into the space between. It is the space between us where our relationship is growing. When that space is filled with nurturing words and actions, the relationship thrives. Alternatively, blame, shame, criticism and cynicism will fill the space between with toxic sludge, dragging the relationship into survival. Replace blame, shame, criticism, and cynicism with acceptance, warmth, and delight.
4. Everybody makes sense if you listen long enough
If I am unable to validate and empathize with my partner, then I need to keep listening. Validating says: “I get you. You make sense. Whether or not I agree with you!” Starting from a place that assumes that everyone, my partner, my friends and family, my colleagues, and strangers Make Sense, we can change the world one engagement at a time.
5. Express empathy
Empathy is the secret sauce to relationships. In another career-life, I watched the married couple who owned the business I worked in, work side-by-side every day and go home to each other every night, all with warmth and delight and ease. I once asked my boss, what’s the secret. She answered after a moment: “We both want what is best for the other.” I love that! In order to want what is best for my partner, I need to know what it is like to be him. I need to walk in his world, see life from his experience. This is what empathy looks like.
“When couples shift the focus from themselves as discrete entities vying for needed satisfaction to creating safety in their relationship… and focus on the quality of the Space-Between, their unmet needs from childhood… Couples discover that connecting is their essence, and disconnection is their problem and the source of their complaints.” Harville Hendrix
Get practical experience building a conscious connection by immersing yourselves in a Getting the Love You Want™ weekend workshop. Single and wanting to have better relationships? Save the Date for Keeping the Love You Find