Repairing Communication in Relationships: The Mirroring Technique
Maintaining communication and connection can be one of the hardest obstacles in a marriage or long term relationship. Remembering to preserve and nurture an emotional bond is often something that falls to the wayside, especially when life’s other tasks get in the way. You might find that you’ve been having trouble connecting and seeing eye to eye with your significant other, or even with a close friend. The mirroring technique, used often in couples therapy, is a communication strategy that can serve as a guideline for reigniting meaningful and empathetic conversations. This technique is a multifaceted approach, the pillars of which include listening, reflection, accepting, and encouraging.
The first step of the mirroring technique is active listening. While this may seem like something that would come into play automatically during a conversation, it can actually take a great deal of effort to truly listen and hear what your partner is saying. The key to this first step is giving your partner undivided attention. Some ways to do this would be to turn off your phone, turn off the television, and find a quiet space without distractions. To practice active listening, it’s important to maintain eye contact and provide your partner with assurance that you’re hearing them. To show this, you could give verbal cues such as "tell me more about that" or "I completely understand." The second step of mirroring involves reflection. Once your partner has shared their thoughts and feelings, and you have listened with undivided attention, a good practice is to then summarize and reflect back to them what you have heard. This is a good way to ensure that you are understanding them correctly and also make them feel validated in what they are feeling. Providing reflection and affirmation such as "it sounds like you’re feeling a lot of pressure at work" or "it sounds like that conversation with your friend really upset you" shows that you both heard and understand what your partner is telling you.
The next step of mirroring is acceptance, which means listening and connecting to your partner without judgment or assumption. This can be a tricky step, as you want to reflect and validate without adding your own interpretation to their words. In this step, it’s important to remain curious and acknowledge their emotions using language that they themselves have used, instead of providing an alternate perspective or saying phrases like "have you thought about doing this instead" or "you shouldn’t feel that way."
The fourth step of mirroring is encouragement. Once you have successfully listened, reflected, and accepted what your partner has been saying to you, you can then leave space for your partner to expand upon what they were expressing. Encouraging your significant other to elaborate on what they were saying not only shows that you value their perspective, but also shows that you are genuinely curious to hear more. Some examples of encouraging phrases could be, "how have you been handling that so far?" or "what else have you been feeling about this situation?"
There are many benefits to utilizing the mirror technique, both in couples therapy and just as an occasional exercise in your relationship. One benefit is that this technique creates a space for honest communication without judgment. It encourages partners, in both the speaker and the listener roles, to express themselves without the fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreting their partner. The mirror technique can also be very helpful in conflict resolution. During an argument, tensions and negative emotions may overwhelm the understanding part of our brains, and so this technique can create a calm environment to hear your partner from a place of empathy. Providing an element of validation can make a huge difference during conflict.
By incorporating the mirroring technique, you can create a pattern of fulfilling dialogue and a deeper connection within your relationship. It’s important to remember that while it may sound straightforward, this technique may not always be easy, as you might not always agree with what your partner is telling you. The point of this exercise is not to come to an agreement, but to attempt to see things from your partner's position and respect their perspective as you would want them to respect yours.
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