Ever notice how easy it is for a couple to fall into a cycle of criticism, blame, defenses and distance from each other? If your relationship has trouble with one or both of you handling criticism, judgment or differences of opinion, try this exercise, created by Harville Hendrix and taken from a John Mariner and Howard Lambert workshop:
SPEAKER: “I have a frustration about…. Would you be willing to hear my frustration?” (If not, make an appointment to talk about it).
LISTENER: Grant a dialogue as soon as possible.
SPEAKER: “What I’m frustrated about is …” Say one or two sentences at a time, so that the listener can mirror back to you what s/he hears. Continue to express your feelings on the issue until you feel finished. Re-send anything that the listener missed that is important, or that you wish to modify.
LISTENER: Mirror the speaker. To mirror is to paraphrase back what you think the speaker is trying to communicate. “Let me see if I’ve got that…” Mirror or reflect back—without analysis, judgment or personal opinion—what you think is being communicated. Then ask “Do I have it?” or “Did I get it?” If you missed something, let the speaker restate it, mirror that restatement, and then ask “Is there more?” Continue to mirror whatever the speaker communicates until s/he is finished. Mirroring is paraphrasing the speaker, not mimicking or repeating verbatim his/her words.
SPEAKER: “What I’m afraid of is…”
SPEAKER: “What this reminds me of from my childhood is…”
LISTENER: Mirror. Then validate your partner’s feelings by communicating that you understand what the speaker is saying and why it’s important to him/her. To validate is to suspend your own judgment and opinions, and to consider why the other person feels the way s/he does. Your task here is to understand, not agree. Communicate that you understand (“This makes sense to me,” or “What’s new information for me here is…” or “I never realized…”). Then offer empathy: “Given all that, I’d imagine you’d be feeling…” Guess two or three feelings, and then ask “Is that accurate?”
SPEAKER: State what you would ideally like. This statement does not have to be realistic.
SPEAKER: Create two different behavioral change requests that could be completed by the listener in the next seven days. Your requests must be positive, measurable and specific.
LISTENER: Mirror both requests and grant at least one, or propose a modification if you need to. Then grant the request by saying “I will gift you with…”
SPEAKER: “Thank you. Receiving that gift will begin to heal my childhood wound of…, and instead of feeling …, I will feel …”
LISTENER: “You’re welcome. Granting that gift will help me to grow—or to be a better partner to you—by…, and then I will feel…”