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Love Homework: “Mirroring”

July 9, 2008


This is a guest post by Damien Riley of Postcards from the Funny Farm.

Hello, I am back again for the second in my “Love Homework” series. To recap, these are tips my wife and I use to keep our relationship happy, healthy and wise. I’m glad to share with you homework #2 today: “Mirroring.”

Mirroring is an activity where you and your significant other sit down and talk to each other. The goal of it is to get you really saying back what your partner is saying, thinking, and feeling and thereby you validate them. If you are like me, there are times when you just don’t get what the other is talking about. I can hear my wife go on and on about something and just shake my head because I’ve already judged her before I really took the time to listen.

Mirroring is taking the time to listen, and more.

If you would like to try mirroring, you have to see it as like an exercise at the gym: you may not do it right the first time but if you keep at it, it will have enormous benefits to your health. Here are some suggested steps as you try it:

  1. Imagine you both are not familiar with anything about the other. Our counselor put it like this: “Strangers on a bus.” As the first person speaks and the second listens, imagine you know nothing and simply pay attention to details about what they are saying. At first try something tame. Note: You may or may not want to try this during an argument until you are really practiced at good at it.
  2. Say “active listening” statements to the other as they talk, but don’t cut them off. Active listening is restating their ideas and feelings for them. ie; “So you said you really liked that taco, that it was better than anything you’d tasted at that restaurant.”
  3. When the speaker is done, summarize what they said, paying special attention to anything that was said about feelings. When you state these, you really validate the other.
  4. Switch and have the other person talk.

Though it sounds simple, this activity can be used like a life-preserver when you find arguing is getting out of control. My wife and I are almost to a point where when something comes up where the other is upset, we allow each other to mirror. It can seem condescending at first, my hope is that we will stop judging it and use daily even multiple times. It can be used to quell an argument but it doesn’t have to be intervention. You can use it when you go out to a nice restaurant for validating and clarifiying the feelings of the one you love.

More info on this topic at: Postcards from the Funny Farm.

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I’m a teacher and songwriter in California. It's always a pleasure writing for It Might be Love. I married my wife in 2002 and we have 3 kids. You can read more about me at my Google profile here. Get updates on Twitter and on my blog.

9 Responses to Love Homework: “Mirroring”

  1. Monique on July 9, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t think my husband and I have had a major fight in over 10 years. We made a rule that no argument can last more than 30 minutes from start to finish. We fight, we talk, we deal and we move on.

  2. Damien Riley on July 9, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for that great comment. I think you are right that interventions like these are not always necessary for a couple. We hope to one day not need as much “Love Homework.”

    My wife and I are not as fortunate as you and your husband currently though. I am more like you than my wife in that I prefer to “move on.” Unfortunately, we’ve only been married 6 years and there are still issues we can’t move on from until each feels they have been “heard.”

    Having said that, the mirroring technique can simply be an exercise a couple does to try and listen more carefully which leads to a better relationship. I’m sure you know this is according to most the studies and experts.

    I wish you and your husband continued success in your <30 minute fights :) I envy that arrangement and will certainly suggest it to my wife! ;)

    Damien Rileys last blog post..A Self-Rating System for My Blog

  3. Chelle on July 9, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for this great post Damien, I really enjoy the love homework, even if it is summer time :)

    I really like the concept of acting like “strangers on a bus” – that seems like it would really help deal with the issue objectively and without dragging past issues into it.

  4. Damien Riley on July 9, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    You’re welcome Chelle, thank you for having me. The strangers on a bus is great because my wife sould be telling me something and I will pour unmeant significance into it based on past fights/experiences together etc. If you just hear the words you can’t get caught up in that “hearing between the lines” stuff. It’s so great when we understand our partners. (I sound like the guy from Harmony.com huh?)

    Damien Rileys last blog post..A Self-Rating System for My Blog

  5. Measuring The Worth of Ones Work on July 9, 2008 at 11:57 pm

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  6. katelynjane on July 10, 2008 at 11:17 am

    When my hubby and I first got married we joined a newly married bible study. In the study we watched Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend’s show on how to fight and it was the most helpful thing I’ve ever watched! Their advice is really similar to the stuff you wrote here. Thanks for refreshing it in my mind!

    katelynjanes last blog post..Wedding Ideas

  7. nepspeed82 on July 10, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Interesting post about validating and clarifying of feelings. When I read the title, I thought it was another mirroring thing I’ve read before about sexual body language and how to tell if someone likes you stuff.

    nepspeed82s last blog post..What It Takes to Create a Not so Killer but Highly Participated Blog Contest

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