If you are a therapist, currently using the Imago Couples Dialogue or something like it, I strongly recommend using it with a body-informed approach. If you're not using it, I highly recommend doing so and perhaps also adding Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks concept of the Unarguable Truth. Here's why.
These methods, used together, provide a communication structure that requires the sender to communicate cleanly, without blame or judgement, making it easier for the receiver to hear it. It also makes it so the receiver hears what the sender is actually saying versus running it through the filter of his or her own pain-body, thereby reducing projection and knee-jerk reactions.
The Imago Dialogue by itself is a great tool. But I can't tell you how many times my former partners and I left our therapist's office feeling more frustrated than when we went in. We seemed to have an endless amount of dialoging to do and never really seemed to get to the core of what was going on. Twenty years ago I didn't know about speaking the unarguable truth from the level of the bodymind, hence our communication was expressed from the level of the thinking brain - the ego.
It's not that my partners and I weren't trying. We just didn't know that communication expressed from the neck up is limited. It is limited to our ideas about how we feel, the surface-level familiar emotions, and the stories our defended brains have come up with as to why we feel the way we feel and why it is the way it is.
The egoic mind creates and runs its version of the truth, but it's not the unarguable truth. My partners and I weren't intentionally lying. It's just that we couldn't get down to the real truth because we didn't know it. The unarguable truth lives at the level of the bodymind, not the thinking brain. So accessing it requires an ability and willingness to access emotion at the level of the body.
I feel scared. When you said that, I felt a pain in my chest. I'm starting to feel like I want to shut down. These are all examples of the unarguable truth - truths that can't be argued about. You never listen to me (along with recounted examples), is not. The first examples require body-level awareness, the latter doesn't. And because we typically live from the neck up, from the egoic mind, our communication follows suit. And two egoic minds, which by their nature must maintain their sense of identity and separateness, are more invested in their respective versions of the truth than being open to knowing a deeper truth.
I can't tell you how many times a woman has said to me, "But I am expressing my feelings! I'm so frustrated that he _____. " She has been expressing her frustration to him and to herself to the degree that he's become numb to it and she's staying stuck. Because she's expressing a surface-level feeling, he hears it at the surface. He hears her expression as noise or complaint. And because it's a surface-level feeling, she stays stuck in the loop of an endless tape in her head, the energy of which is fueled by a deeper, unacknowledged feeling. The surface-level feeling is often, unconsciously, protecting her egoic mind from this deeper, more threatening feeling. It is threatening in the sense that it threatens the ego - her sense of identity.
When she can be coached and feel supported in tracking her body sensations and their accompanying feelings beneath the level of surface awareness, a deeper truth, a more vulnerable truth, will emerge. I'm afraid you're going to leave me, comes organically, like bubbles rising to the surface from the depths of the ocean. She feels relieved and so does he. Because regardless of his level of consciousness, he feels it as the truth. On some level he's been feeling it all along. He just couldn't attend to it long enough to make it conscious because he was busy reacting to or bracing against her complaint. And she feels relieved as a bodily-felt experience. The stuckness is gone because she's no longer having to use extra energy to maintain her story.
Time and time again, I've seen this level of truth-telling suspend egoic posturing, blaming, and defending and open people's hearts. Their compassion for the other wells up, not with effort or intention, but organically, as a natural response to getting the defended head-stuff out of the way and allowing their true natures to emerge. When we feel safe enough, when we're not having to defend ourselves, we can let down our guards, and allow our innate human potential for love, understanding, and compassion to come through.
I hope this post is to some degree helpful. I think I've tried to squeeze a pretty big topic into a fairly brief post. If you'd like more information you might want to visit: www.shellysmith.org/relationship-coaching. There's a video there and some links to other resources. And as always, feel free to contact me if you'd like to chat.