Fighting Loop, Relationship Problems? Change Them
In my office, I hear many couples that have the same fight over and over again. The fighting loop can be exhausting and destructive.
We hear so often that you need to love yourself. What does that actually mean? It seems silly to wake up and think how much you love yourself. Helen Lakelly Hunt said it best, “The most important task we are given as human beings is trying to learn to love someone. “
With the divorce rate still at 50% or greater, we are having real problems in loving each other. Relationship education is vital. We need to re-think the nature of the relationship and the kind of environment in which the relationship can be sustained.
We are not just individuals and all live in a context of relationships and an interconnecting universe. If we just look out for ourselves then we’re actually going against nature. When we look out for other, that’s in our best interest because that sustains the connection. We need a relationship civilization where everyone is equal and conversations are safe.
Over the years, I have read books and listened to Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt. Along with Mo Therese Hannah and Wade Luquet, they are co-authors of the book, Imago Relationship Therapy. They have educated many of us on Imago Therapy.
Imago Therapy – Fighting Is Destructive
Imago Therapy is a structured conversation. The structure is important. Most of us think we know how to talk. We also think we know how to be in a relationship or to parent. Parenting and relationships can appear to be instinctual. If we have to learn about it, we may think it takes away from the magic of the relationship.
Statistics represent the urgency of learning more about structured conversations.
1. 100% of people in a negative relationship have a greater risk of cardiac arrest.
2. The breakdown of marriage produces a 60% drop in creativity.
3. The breakdown of relationships leads to the breakdown of family, which leads to the breakdown of our economy, which leads to the breakdown of our culture.
Talking is the most dangerous thing people do and listening is the most infrequent thing people do. When you talk with judgment, then you will polarize. If you can talk without judgment, you can connect beyond your differences. Everybody is different. People are like snowflakes and there are no two people that are just alike. The differences are an element of nature. We don’t have to be like each other to be accepted by one another.
Negativity – Putdowns in Relationships
Scrutinizing and negativity can decimate your marriage. Negativity can be a mild put down or a gross put down. Negativity activates the amygdala and squirts out cortisol into your body. Cortisol makes you feel wary, alert and like you are looking for the predator. You are in the fight, flight or freeze part of your brain. The amygdala is the oldest part of the brain. The deluge of cortisol forces you to go into alert mode, which creates a protective armor around you.
You cannot connect or relate when cortisol is dumped and you are in a protective mode. In order to be relational, you have to be vulnerable. When we are on alert, we are not capable of vulnerability. We are unable to connect with our partner.
Cortisol may be the only stimulant we know in a relationship. Stimulation of any kind makes us feel alive. The neurochemistry of this negativity is very powerful and it can be addictive.
The dumping of cortisol can make the problem seem monumental. The problem can never be solved because the tone of the problem creates a defense stance. In defense mode, we don’t hear each other.
If we aren’t listening to each other, we can’t resolve the problem. We are only reacting to the problem. The 3 steps in the Imago communication process allow each of you to hear each other without reacting to each other.
The emotional injuries that can be created when we are reacting make it impossible for each of you to hear each other. You are constantly in defense mode. This Imago communication process creates absolute safety to discuss any topic.
Safety In Hot Topic Conversations
You aren’t safe if you put your partner down or your partner puts you down. Without safety, you can’t connect. You have to take out the negativity that triggers the amygdala, which creates fight or flight. When you trigger the amygdala, you can’t have endorphins, which are our feel good and attachment hormones. Endorphins create a good feeling and cortisol creates a wary and disconnected feeling.
A working partnership is the best gift we can give to one another. Your relationship is not a competition but a working partnership. We need to truly learn how to love each other. The most important task we are given as human beings is trying to learn to love someone.
Being brought up with Christianity, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus said, “There are two; love God and love your neighbor as yourself. “ It’s all about love. Don’t ever get off the train of marriage; you will then be forced to figure it out.
“If there’s no way off the train of marriage except to change and make it safe here, then all of your creativity will begin to move in the direction of the welfare of the brain. The brain wants to be safe, because it knows that’s the only way it will thrive.” Harville Hendrix. Our brain can only thrive with safety. If your brain doesn’t have to just stay alive, it can perform other tasks like creativity and curiosity. That is our true nature to be human.
Imago Dialogue Structure
The Imago Dialogue Structure is a 3-step process to talk. First we need to ask if it is a good time to have a conversation. We then need to put a topic of conversation in there so the other person knows what you would like to discuss. You may want to talk about your sex life or where to go to dinner that night. We need to make an appointment.
Most of us are movie house crashers. I walk into a room and throw my thoughts at you and expect you to stop what you are doing in order to have a conversation with me. Would you look at my movie and turn yours off.
Most conversations begin with a collision of two people in their own individual two worlds. If you say no, then you tell the person when you are available to discuss the topic. We need a sense of safety in the relationship when we set a time to discuss a particular topic. I have to know that I am not going to be hurt by you or spoken to in a bad tone of voice. Or, even worse bad words.
Three Step Process of Imago Therapy
1. Mirroring – 1st step. The listener needs to really listen. The person responds by mirroring. The mirror is so if I got it correct, you want to talk about what happened last night at the dinner table. Did I get it right? We want to mirror it back with accuracy. Accuracy is a problem. The brain at a resting place only retains about a 13 % accuracy rate. You want to get it as accurate as you can so your partner feels heard.
Is there more about that dinner last night that I didn’t hear? Are you done yet and can I talk now?
You need to say it with interest and not the desire to defend your position. The partner’s defense will relax. You want to relay to your partner that you are interested in them and what they have to say regarding the topic. The meaning of experiencing interest is powerful. Defenses relax. You create a deepening and creative process within your relationship.
Did I get it all? It’s a time to summarize what it is that you heard from your partner. If I got it all, I heard you say A, B, and C. Is that correct?
2. Validation – 2nd step. Validation is a bigger step. I can listen to you and get what you are saying. Now I have to say something like you make sense. I have to make sure you know that I see the sense that you are making. You have your own inner world with it’s own inner logic. When I listen to it, I will see that you are a logical person.
3. Empathy is step #3. A couple can echo each other’s point of view and really truly hear each other. We need to understand and provide empathy. It is the empathic understanding of the experiences of other human beings. It is compassion for your spouse’s experience.
With this communication style, we allow ourselves as a couple to slow down and to be present for each other’s experiences. We need to be curious and not defensive in discussing each other’s needs and desires. Everyone is longing to feel understood and cared about.
When this occurs, it is truly a transformational process. The relationship becomes safe when we take time to talk about it. You can learn to be safe within the relationship.
The solution to conflict is to connect in a safe structure of conversation. We need to be present for each other with safety and without judgment. This is the solution and we don’t need anything else after that.
When we continually come back to the dialogue, we melt away any problems that originally existed. We connect and develop the joy in intimacy that most of us are starving for within a relationship.
We may feel this kind of talk is too artificial. Many of us may think we want to be more authentic in our relationships.
There is nothing more healing than learning this structure in communication and putting it to use on a regular basis. This communication style brings you a sense of safety and being loved, which is essential to humans.
Neuroscientists tell us that the brain needs prediction in order to feel safe. This communication style brings predictions of mirroring, validation, and empathy, which makes us feel safe within the relationship. If I know we are going to have a dialogue, I know what is coming next. I’m going to mirror or you are going to mirror and we are safe.
Having a better relationship is about shifting from judgment to curiosity and wonder. We are taught in our world to get things right and are rewarded for making a case well. We don’t get awards for just listening well. No one rewards us for being curious. Our partners are longing for us to be curious about them and to wonder what is going on with them. Switch from judgment to curiosity and wonder and find the beauty of love between the two of you. The relationship of your dreams is born.