Using Conflict to Deepen Connection through an Imago Dialogue

January 14, 2024

Most people avoid conflict. It makes sense, because for most of us conflict historically has not ended well. What if I told you that conflict can be an opportunity to connect on a deeper level with your partner? Conflict makes us vulnerable and brings our feelings and needs to the forefront. However, individuals often lack the tools to communicate through a conflict effectively. The communication skill that seems to fall by the wayside most often is simply listening with the intent to better understand your partner. 

An Imago dialogue is a structured and intentional process in which partners take turns sharing their feelings, childhood frustrations, and unmet needs one person at-a-time while the other partner listens offering validation and expressed empathy. Here is a brief breakdown of the Imago dialogue process:

First, partners select one person to act as a “sender” and the other to act as a “receiver”. The sender then has the opportunity to share their experience and emotional truth with the receiver. 

It is good for the sender to start with a statement of intentionality to help the receiver feel safe like, “I want to share this with you because I care about our relationship and I want us to be on the same page.” It is also beneficial for the sender to use “I” statements focusing on their feelings and needs instead of “you” statements which can come across as an attack. For example, an “I” statement could sound like “When you don’t respond to me I feel unimportant,” whereas a “you” statement would sound more like, “You never listen to me, because you’re always on your phone.”

The next 3 steps are for the receiver:

Step One: Mirror

The receiver demonstrates that they heard and understood what the sender shared with them by summarizing what was said. The receiver simply paraphrases the words of the sender without responding to them. This could be phrased like, “It sounds like you are saying _____.” The receiver would then ask the sender if there is more they would like to share.

Step Two: Validate

The receiver indicates that what the sender shared is valid and makes sense. If there is any part of the share that the receiver finds confusing they can ask for more information about it. This could be phrased like, “That makes sense. Can you please tell me more about _____?”

Step Three: Express Empathy

The receiver tries to put themselves in their partner’s shoes and imagine how their partner would likely be feeling. The receiver then labels how they guess their partner would be feeling with a statement like, “I imagine you might be feeling _____.” 

Once the steps are complete the sender and receiver would then switch roles and start over so that the receiver would get a chance to share, as well.