Created by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt in 1980, Imago Dialogue is a form of relationship communication that focuses on transforming conflict into opportunities for healing and growth. (What is Imago? 2022)
The intention of the dialogue is to move from blame and reactivity to understanding and empathy, so that people can build the safety to create deeper relationships with each other.
The dialogue follows three basics steps and an understanding that only one person will talk at a time.
1. Mirror - so they feel heard
2. Validate - that they make sense
3. Empathize - for connection
Let's go a little more in detail. To get started, one person will first ask if the other person has time to have a conversation. If now is not a good time, then ask them to suggest a time that is.
To get started, one person will be the 'sender,' the person speaking, and the other will be the 'receiver,' the person listening, mirroring, validating, and empathizing... and then the roles will switch.
In order to be able to Mirror properly, one must be present and listening to the other. (It's easy to start thinking about how you have a different opinion, or what you want to make for lunch), but then you will not have heard what they are saying and not be able to Mirror back.
The sender needs to practice being concise, otherwise it's unfair to expect the receiver to remember it all, or get the key point. When the sender is finished, the receiver will say:
“What I heard you say is . . . . .” And then fill in the blank with everything they heard you say in a way that reflects their energy and tone. (Hence the mirror!) No analyzing or critiquing.
Check in with them after the Mirroring back.
“Did I get you?” If your partner corrects you, mirror again. Continue until your partner says you got it.
Ask if there’s more.
“Is there more?” Typically we can't wait until our partner is done. "Is there more?" is a way to say I'm curious about your world.
“You (or what you’ve said,) make(s) sense to me because . . .”
Validate what your partner is sharing. Validation is not the same as agreement. Rather, it is saying that given their experiences, their history - that they make sense.
“Does it feel like I’m getting you?”
“I can imagine that you might be feeling . . . . (angry, hurt, scared, frustrated, etc.).”
Empathizing with someone means putting yourself in their shoes, imagining what it must be like to be them in this moment. (Reichlin)
This is just a quick overview of the basics on the Imago Dialogue and anyone interested in learning more about it or finding additional therapists trained in Imago Dialogue can visit Imago Relationships.
Reichlin, B. J. (n.d.). Imago dialogue: Building great communication - imago
dialogue: The basic steps. Houston Marriage Counseling.
What is Imago?. Harville and Helen. (2022, March 15).