Foresight Mental Health
How to Speak to Your Significant Other When You're Stuck
Updated: Apr 3
by Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
Reposted and edited from CounselingCurator.com
Relationships are hard work. We choose every single day to be a part of it, even though we aren't always conscious of it. We may be experiencing an intensified amount of strain during this year as there are many stressors and/or new encounters as we spend more time with our partners than ever before.
If you ever wanted to try couples therapy, it may be worthwhile to alleviate many stressors and work through some difficult conversations with a professional. I believe in a perfect world, we could all have couples therapy and learn about ourselves in a new way as we transition and grow through the stages of life.
One of the techniques or therapeutic modalities you might see in couples therapy is called the Imago Dialogue.
Quoting straight from my textbook here:
"According to Imago Theory, the bottom line is this:
Nature has put together two totally incompatible people--injured at the same place developmentally and missing opposite parts of themselves--in an effort to get their developmental needs met and to regain lost parts of themselves."
Sounds a little like a twisted fairy tale in a way, right? (Now that I think of it.. pretty much all fairy tales are like that..) Maybe you and your partner (or your ex) are not "totally incompatible", but there are those little things in every relationship that really just get on your nerves and seem to always come back. So how do you talk through something that never seems to be resolved?
1. Start with your "WHY", also known as: Commitment
In any emotional change, this is important and seems like common sense but it is easily missed: you want to make sure you're committed to the cause. (Not committed to like, marriage or even a relationship label, just committed to making a change.) Often when people come in to couples therapy, they would like their partner to be "fixed", or just the "problem" partner believes they need to change. But, as much as we don't want to admit it, both people in a couple must commit to their own personal growth and understand how both of your vulnerabilities interact.
When someone asks if they need to engage in personal growth, I might start a tough conversation with goal setting, believe it or not. If both of you are able to at least agree on a goal, "reduce our fights" or "figure out how to talk to each other" or "stop hurting each other", something as basic as that can keep you from getting derailed.
2. Establish Emotional Safety
Just like any science experiment or cooking venture or sports or physical exercise: safety first. Think of this as an emotional workout--it's gonna be difficult at first, maybe even awkward and definitely exhausting. And you're gonna have to practice again and again, so you don't want to get injured doing it! Creating safety in an emotional sense means soothing your trigger-happy reflex of getting angry, defensive, frustrated, upset.. by prepping for it! The Imago book talks about basically finding your happy place or memory in your mind, having it ready for the moment you start feeling challenged or afraid. For me, it isn't so much a place or a memory as much as it is a statement of personal truth, such as "I am worthy" or "I can get through this". In my opinion, think of whatever gets you through a tough workout at the gym or a long trip on a delayed flight.
Remember your commitment, remember your goal is to work together and this requires listening as much as it does expression. If it's hard to finish a conversation without getting upset, work in timeouts or a "pause" word to give you both a few minutes to go to a safe space (physically and emotionally) before resuming such a difficult talk.
Now this is really starting to sound like a workout. Except when you workout, stretching is the easy part. In Imago therapy, stretching is actually the heavy lifting. What are we stretching? Our "weak" social-emotional muscles, if you will. There are four expressions of energy in Imago Theory: thinking, sensing, feeling, & doing. Typically we are strong with two and challenged by the other two. For example, if you are more likely to be seeing "the problem" and looking for the "solution", then your strengths are more typically in the thinking & doing energetic realms.
If you are more likely to be caught in the moment of emotion, whether sadness or anger or even happiness and excitement, then you may be stronger in the energetic areas of feeling & sensing.
A feeler/sensor might ask their thinker/doer partner (remember, the opposites have what the other person needs) to recognize them when they're upset and notice out loud that they see them.
A thinker/doer might ask their feeler/sensor partner to talk out how they are feeling and take action rather than fuming about an argument. In this way, each partner has to try out the part of them that was muffled or repressed in childhood--the part that keeps them from being whole.
If you're able to have a safe space with your partner, I would try out asking each other to make one behavior change for a week, and make it specific to how many times a week; then reevaluate at the end to see what worked and what you can change. It could be the refresh you need to stop having the same argument/battle/war over and over again.
The main goal is this: you want to get to the point in your relationship when one person can express a need and the other person can work to meet that need, and vice versa.
It is possible, even though in the moment it may seem out of reach. With practice and the right support, we can discover even more about ourselves and our partners than we could have known without persevering through conflict.