A few days ago, I was in the grocery store, in the throes of the decision between zucchini or yellow squash, and I heard someone say my name.
I looked up and a familiar face smiled as we recognized each other from… somewhere. She knew; I didn’t. I’m getting old. She had two little ones in tow. Something about my expression must have shown that I was searching for context and she quickly and graciously spelled it out.
She said “You sat with my husband and me at an Imago Workshop and helped us with a dialogue”. “I just want tell you that day changed us permanently”. “We love each other again”!
Then she immediately called out “Honey, remember Jeannie”? He broke into a smile and came over and shook my hand with the same positive enthusiasm.
I looked at the kids and I looked at the couple and then I remembered them so well. I remember them because their dialogue was AMAZING and still brings a tear to my eye when I recall it.
We met at a workshop Harville Hendrix was doing. I was one of several assistants that day. He prescribed a dialogue called the “Gift of Change”. Couples were given a specific dialogue to do and told to raise their hand to ask for help from an assistant if they wanted it.
And this is how we met and changed each others’ life. They raised their hand. The dialogue was fairly simple; their change in relationship was quantum. That was the day they opened up a willingness and commitment to be different in relationship. They grew up. They gave each other the gift of change in their own behavior toward one another, in lieu of blame. Not tit for tat, not expectation from the other, not “I will if you will”, but a commitment to a mature approach of taking personal responsibility to be a better person . They did it “for the kids”; then realized everyone reaps wildly rewarding benefits.
Standing in the grocery store, they laughed easily and told me they still see things differently and disagree; they still get triggered. What has shifted is how they handle getting triggered. They are now curious, conscious and intentional, and that is the goal. They have the connection that made possible by those three attributes. And folks, when you have the connection, who cares if you loaded the dishwasher “wrong”?
Once you know something, you cannot un-know it. You are changed in the way you see things and you cannot go back to “un-knowing”. When you consciously understand that YOU contribute to the frustration you experience with your partner, and YOU decide YOUR behavior can change, everything changes. This couple got it that day and with the applied curiosity, consciousness and intention in their dialogue, their relationship bloomed into beautiful living color we call “conscious love”. That is what replaced the power struggle, and that is why they can laugh easily about getting triggered.
Of course we get triggered! And on the other side of the responsible way we communicate about it is a connection that is rewarding beyond description. Pain and fighting dissipate as dialogue creates connection.
What got to me was what always gets to me in the work I love to do: their tenderness. Underneath all that defensive fighting, bickering, blaming and criticizing is a vulnerability, and ultimately a desire. This vulnerability is tender and intimate. And the desire is honorable and easily addressed without the animosity of fighting. Imago dialogue allows us to lose all that defensiveness and get to a place where we talk positively about what we DO want instead of fighting about what we DON’T want.
Seeing the children of this lovely couple reminded me of their motivation. Children grow up and get into relationships that are familiar based on what they learned from watching and interacting with their parents. This couple knows their own pain from childhood has impacted their adult life, so like most couples, wanted to get it right for their kids.
And they did. And they healed. And their children will grow up with good memories and a healthy approach in relationship.