How to Develop a Healthier Emotional Relationship with your lover

Our marriage counselers and relationship therapists at Marriage Couples Counseling in New York City are using the Couples Dialog, first developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, in helping couples create a healthier relationship.

The key to the couples dialogue is to listen and really take in your lover’s point of view, without having to agree with it. Start by sitting down together and taking, say 30 minutes, to talk about something that’s really important to each of you. Agree that you each get 15 minutes to speak while the other listens.

First decide who will be the sender and who will be the receiver. The sender talks for a few minutes, sending the message he or she wants the receiver to take in, but never blaming the receiver. For example:

  • I get frustrated when you blank out on me whenever I try to talk to you about something serious.
  • I was hurt when I tried to express my opinion and you cut me off, even though I know you didn’t mean it.
  • I’ll never expect you to have a love affair with my parents but I need you to try harder with them because I’ll feel reassured about us.

When the sender has completed message, the receiver mirrors or summarizes what the sender has said. For example:

  • What I hear you saying is that sometimes I don’t really listen to you.
  • What you’re telling me is I should be patient and give you more time to speak.
  • Am I getting it? Is there more you want to tell me?

After giving the sender time to respond, the receiver then validates the sender’s message. For example:

  • I’m starting to see how anxious you get when I don’t really listen.
  • I’m beginning to realize you need more time to find words to say what you’re really feeling.
  • I can see now how anxious you get when I don’t try harder with your parents.

It’s important to understand that validating in the couples’ dialogue has virtually nothing to do with agreeing with your lover. You can validate him or her while still disagreeing and keeping your own point of view.

Next the receiver empathizes with the sender. This is the moment of golden opportunity, when the receiver can make the sender feel that he or she is deeply, emotionally understood. For example:

  • You must have felt horrible and completely alone when I cut you off like that.
  • It must be terribly stressful for you when I clash with your mother.
  • I’m beginning to feel now what it’s like to be in your shoes when I do things that upset you.

Next you switch Roles

After the receiver has gone through all three stages – mirrored, validated and empathized with the sender – they switch roles.

The receiver now becomes the sender and can respond to the sender’s earlier thoughts and feelings or express entirely new ones.

The Couples Dialog is a powerful way of deepening your understanding of what you need from your lover and what your lover needs from you. But like Yoga it takes practice. At Marriage Couples Counseling, our marriage and couples counselers and relationship therapists, have been using Harville Hendrix Couples Dialog for years to help couples create deeper, richer emotional connections.

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    Marriage Couples Counseling & Life Coaching
    160 Bleecker Street, 9C East, New York, NY 10012
    (212) 673 4618