A Case History:  Learning to See the Other By Suzanne Corcoran, LCSW-C Recently, I was working with a couple where the one spouse was having trouble understanding the other spouse’s point of view.  When listening, the first spouse would always become defensive and upset when hearing things that did not match their own personal way of seeing things.  This is a frequent problem with couples when they attempt to listen to each other while trying to fit things into their internal picture of how things should be.  Often, our partner’s experience just does not match ours so we simply disagree, building explanations in our head why the other is just plain wrong.  This sort of defensiveness is very effective at protecting our own view, and our own selves, but it is a barrier that blocks the way to really seeing the other side that our partner desperately needs to tell us.  In Imago couples therapy, we teach couples to use a dialogue process with each other that slows down the couples’ communication and helps highlight each partner’s individual experience through the practice of what we call mirroring and validation.  This serves to remove the hurt and defensiveness from the equation and allows both partners to feel that they can lower their defensive postures. In the above case, during the dialogue exercise I asked the first spouse to imagine listening to their own child at home instead of their spouse.  I asked them to imagine that their child was upset and wanted to express their feelings.  If the child disagreed or expressed a different point of view, would you reject or dismiss them?  Further, what would it be like to be in your child’s position being told that your feelings were wrong? After thinking about this, the first spouse found a way to acknowledge how they rejected the child’s feelings.  We often do this with our children.  We dismiss what they say and tell them they are all wrong saying, “How could you possibly think that?”  Simply put, this is denying the child the safety to express their thoughts to us.  It is hard for us to hear their thoughts when they do not match our own. For this spouse, imagining how the child felt helped the parent make the leap to understanding the spouse.  A dramatic shift occurred from defensiveness and frustration to one of wonder and understanding.  This shift in thinking helped the first spouse truly see the child and the other spouse in a new way.  Defensiveness was dropped and room was made for the other spouse’s opinions and ideas.  The family reported that the household tension level dropped dramatically, which made them all breath easier. This kind of shift frequently occurs as a product of the Imago dialogue exercise.  It is a big step to take in creating safety in expressing thoughts with our partners and children.  It is a real personal victory to be able to view your partner’s world of feelings with openness and acceptance.
A Case Study in Imago Therapy
Suzanne Corcoran, LCSW-C, Counseling for Couples and Individuals in Rockville, Maryland