Do you ever dream of a beautiful exotic getaway with intimate moments of delight? The adventurous intimacy that you yearn for is not as far away as it might seem, but it’s not always easy to get there. You have to visit your partner’s world–not their office or their hometown, but rather their private inner world, the land of their feelings, thoughts, preferences, childhood stories, fears, and dreams.
Now imagine a bridge between your world and your partner’s world. Crossing that bridge is one of the hardest relational practices to learn, but it is an important step towards a mature, differentiated connection and deep intimacy.
Why is it so hard? Mainly because when we first fall in love we think we know everything about each other and love the same things and see everything exactly the same way, and even if we don’t really, we often convince ourselves that we do. We are symbiotic, and often we don’t even know it! When I was dating my husband Jason, before we got married, I temporarily convinced myself that I really liked eating macaroni and cheese (his favorite dish) and listening to heavy metal music (one of his top music choices). A few months into our marriage, I regained my senses and went back to enjoying salads and international music.
Our differences go beyond our tastes in food and music, however, as do most couples’. The conflicts and tensions that arise from our differing, sometimes clashing, perspectives can be softened, often even resolved, by crossing the bridge into each other’s realities. This kind of intentional “visit” deepens understanding and empathy and is not about problem-solving.
In my work as an Imago therapist, when I teach couples how to visit each other’s worlds I use the Imago Dialogue as a safe structure and communication tool, as well as language and wisdom from Hedy Schleifer’s Encounter Centered Couples Therapy.
A good visit requires that each partner pay attention to their roles. What does it mean to be a good host? As a gracious host, you are hospitable, extending a warm invitation with openness and care. You make sure your guest feels welcomed, and not criticized, blamed, or shamed. You want your guest to want to return again! However, it requires vulnerability for you to share “the geography of your soul,” as Schleifer calls it. But it’s worth the fulfillment of feeling seen and known.
What does it mean to be a good visitor? As a grateful visitor, you intentionally leave your world behind. Crossing the bridge into your partner’s world with curiosity and open-heartedness, you bring what Schleifer calls “new eyes” to what you encounter. Once you land, your only role is to mirror word-for-word everything your partner shares, to validate, and empathize, and to be fully present. It takes courage and humility to travel to your partner’s world in this way! But it’s worth the fulfillment of making new discoveries.
Tolerating that our partner’s world is different from our own is challenging. We actually really like staying in our world, comfortable in our own bubble!
It takes practice to realize that we can visit our partner’s reality without denying our own, that both realities can be valid at the same time, and that it doesn’t have to be about who wins. Imago therapists often like to say, “you can be right, or you can be married.” Over time, we can learn to accept and even appreciate our partner’s otherness. We can learn to speak their language and be in their culture more comfortably. After almost 25 years of marriage, my husband and I are still learning these skills. He still thinks he is right more often.
So stop being a couch potato and invite your partner to take a trip with you! Practice crossing the bridge into each other’s world. It’s a real adventure that is always full of surprises and well worth the risk—but only if you dare to experience new levels of connection, passion, and intimacy.