The Couple’s Dialogue


Effective communication is essential to a good relationship.  Good communication skills may not solve problems or resolve issues, but no problems can be solved or issues resolved without it.

    Defined as the verbal or non-verbal exchange of information, meaning, and feelings between two persons, communication covers every possible way we can interact.  We can communicate well or poorly, but we cannot not communicate. 

    One of the most effective forms of communication between two persons in a committed love relationship is the Couples Dialogue.  It consists of three processes called mirroring, validation, and empathy.

    Mirroring is the process of accurately reflecting back the content of a message from one partner.  The most common form of mirroring is paraphrasing.  A “paraphrase” is a statement in your own words what the message your partner sent means to you.  It indicates that you are willing to transcend your own thoughts and feelings for the moment and attempt to understand your partner from their point of view.  Any response made prior to mirroring is often an “interpretation” and may contain a misunderstanding.  Mirroring allows your partner to send their message again and permits you to paraphrase until you do understand. 


    Validation is a communication to the sending partner that the information being received and mirrored makes sense.  It indicates that you can see the information from your partner’s point of view and can accept that it has validity- it is true for the partner.  Validation is a temporary suspension or transcendence of your point of view that allows your partner’s experience to have its own reality.  Typical validating phrases are: “I can see that…”;  “It makes sense to me that you would think that.”; “I can understand that…”  Such phrases convey to your partner that their subjective experience is not crazy, that it has its own logic, and it is a valid way of looking at things.  To validate your partner’s message does not mean that you agree with his/her point of view or that it expresses your subjective experience.  It merely recognizes the fact that in every situation, no “objective” view is possible.  In any communication between two people, there are always two points of view, and every report of any experience is an “interpretation” which is the “truth for each person.  The process of mirroring and validation affirms the other person and increases trust and closeness. 

    Empathy is the process of reflecting or imagining the feeling the sending partner is experiencing about the event or the situation being reported.  This deep level of communication attempts to recognize, reach into and, on some level, experience the emotions of the sending partner. 

    Empathy allows both partners to transcend, perhaps for a moment, their separateness and to experience a genuine “meeting”.  Such an experience has remarkable healing power.  Typical phrases for empathetic communication include: “and I can imagine that you must feel…”, “and when you experience that, I hear..”, “I understand that you feel…”, and “that makes sense to me.”

    A complete couples dialogue may then sound as follows: “So, I understand you to be saying that if I don’t look at you when you are talking to me, you think that I am uninterested in what you are saying.  I can understand that.  It makes sense to me, and I can imagine that you would feel rejected and angry.  That must be a terrible feeling.” 


    The reciprocal exchange of this process is the Couples Dialogue.

The Couples Dialogue Instructions

There are three reasons why one might want to have a COUPLES DIALOGUE.

  1. 1.You want to be listened to and understood.

  2. 2.You are upset with something and want to discuss it with you partner.

  3. 3.You want to discuss a topic that you think might be “touchy”. 

The one who wants to send a message (the SENDER) must take the initiative and say:


        “I would like to have a COUPLES DIALOGUE.  Is now OK?”

The SENDER then communicates his/her message. 

1.  Mirroring:        “what I heard you say is…”


    When there is a natural pause, the receiver will say two things.

  1. a.“Am I mirroring you accurately?”

  2. b.“Is there anything more you would like to say about that?”

2.  Validation:         “You make sense because…”

    The words “you make sense” must be said.  It is important to add the word “because” so that you sate the “sense” that you heard.  You may want to preface it with something like “I’m listening to you carefully and I understand what you are saying,” but you must say the sentence “you make sense because…”

3.  Empathy:        “I imagine you might be feeling” or “I imagine you might have felt…”

    Then you must make some guesses as to what the SENDER is or was feeling.  Feelings are stated in one word (i.e. angry, confused, sad, upset, etc.) If your guess entails more than one word, it is probably a thought (you feel that you don’t want to go with me”-this is a thought not a feeling).  Also, one never knows for sure what another person is feeling, therefore, check you feelings by saying:

                    “Is that what you are/were feeling?”

When the SENDER shares with you other feelings, mirror back what you heard.

Then inquire:

                    “Are there any other feelings you are having?”

Then mirror what is said.

When you have gone through all three parts (Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy)  Then say:

                    “I would like to respond now.”

Then partners switch and the RECEIVER becomes the SENDER.