Creating Positive Change: Two Paths

Creating positive change in relationship



A) Communicate Your Needs Clearly and Assertively

1. Identify the Problem (or an Unmet Need/Expectation)

“When _______ happens (name the situation/your spouse’s behavior that is connected to a negative emotion in you), I feel _______ (name your emotional response).”

Example: “When you don’t help me with any of the household chores (situation), I feel angry (emotion).”

2. Explain How That Problem Makes You Feel

“When I feel _________ (emotion), I tend to __________ (identify the behavior that follows your emotion).”

Example: “When I feel angry, I tend to pick fights with you.”

3. Try To Identify an Underlying Hurtful Feeling and Thought

“When I express ______ (a stronger feeling), I am also feeling ______ (your hurt feeling) because I think _______ (your associated thought).”

Example: “When I express my anger, I am also feeling disappointed because I think you don’t seem to care about me.”

4. State Your Need

“What I would appreciate is ______ (state what you want to see).”

Example: “What I would appreciate is your helping hand.”

5. State a Clear Request or Invite Your Spouse to Problem-solve Together 

“Can you _______ (state a request)?” Or, “What do you think you can do to ________ (meet my need/expectation)?

Example: “Can you try helping me out once in a while?” Or, “What do you think you can do to help me out?”


B) Use the Imago Dialogue To Improve Understanding and Connection

The Imago Dialogue is a great tool for turning negative communicative patterns into positive ones for couples. It ensures that partners are heard and feel understood and validated.

Here is a quick guide to the steps:

  1. Before the dialogue, make an appointment: One partner, Sender, makes a request to the other partner, the Receiver, for a dialogue appointment. Receiver makes a sincere effort to grant that appointment within 24 hours.
  1. Sender prepares for the appointment by thinking about what frustrates him/her. Identify his/her feeling as a reaction to the Receiver’s behavior. Use statements such as “I feel _____ when you do ______.”
  1. Receiver repeats Sender’s messages. “What I am hearing you say is that ______.”
  1. Sender’s responsibility is to provide feedback as to whether Receiver has accurately grasped Sender’s message. “Yes, that’s what I said.” Or “No, what I mean is ______.” Repeat until Receiver has gotten it right.
  1. After Receiver has gotten the message down correctly, Receiver adds “Is there more about that?”

***It is not unusual for partners to get upset during this process. When you notice negative emotions rising up in you, take a deep breath and make a conscious effort to stay with the structure of the process. Remind yourself the goal of going through this is to turn over a new leaf for your relationship.***

  1. After Receiver has gotten down all of Sender’s messages, provide a summary of the messages. Stay with the gist and avoid interpretation.
  1. After Sender confirms that Receiver has provided an accurate summary, Receiver can move on to showing understanding. “What you are saying makes sense to me because ____________.”
  1. When partners feel heard and understood, they can then move towards tackling problems together more easily.

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