Be the Mirror: Reflect Back What You Hear

A mirror is a reflecting device. Its function is to show what is there. It does not interpret what it “sees.” It simply gives back to the image before it exactly what is presented. In other words, when you look into a mirror, the mirror reflects back your image. That is all. You may look in the mirror and think, “Wow, I’m stunning!” or “Good grief, I’m fat!” but that is your interpretation, not the mirror’s point of view.

You may not be objective about what you see in the mirror. You can get mad at the mirror, but it is only showing you what is there physically. So what? What does this have to do with relationships?

One of the very powerful tools I teach my clients is called a “Mirroring Technique.” This tool helps clients who complain that their spouse doesn’t listen, they misunderstand each other, or they have other communication problems. It allows them to hear and deliberately repeat what the other says.

Sometimes a simple technique of repeating what you hear your spouse say can be a profound experience. The purpose of this exercise is to help each party to be heard and to be able to say, “Yes, you got it. That’s what I said.”

It’s a very simple tool, but often when my clients are first learning it, they make it more complicated. I explain the exercise to them, and then we give it a go, but it still takes some time to make it as simple as the exercise is supposed to be.

Here is an example. I’m the Relationship Coach (RC), so I guide them through the exercise:

Jane: I want us to go out more, like we used to when we were dating.
RC (to John): Would you repeat back to Jane what you just heard her say?
John: She’s bored and she wants us to go out like when we first together, but I work long hours, and we’re having some financial problems.
Jane: See? He doesn’t listen to me. That’s not what I said.

This is not mirroring. This is a great example of how this couple argues. John has interpreted the wife’s feelings, deciding that she is bored. He’s also gotten defensive and has begun to explain that he works long hours, adding some potential guilt about finances into the mix. Jane has reacted with frustration. This could easily degrade into a full-blown argument.

RC (to John): All right. Let’s back up a bit. What I want you to do is act like a mirror. All you are going to do is repeat, as best you can, exactly what you just heard Jane say. That’s all.
RC (to Jane): Would you say your sentence again, please?

Jane: I want to go out more with him, like we did when we were dating.
RC (to John): OK, your turn. Just tell her what you heard her say, as close as you can to her actual words.
John: You want to go out more with me, like we did when we were dating.

RC: Excellent! Now, John, ask Jane if you got it right.
John: Is that right?
Jane: Yes, he got it.
RC: John, next ask Jane if there is more.
John: Is there anything else?

And this goes on in a very structured way until both have been able to say what they need to say and to have their words mirrored back. This technique is powerful because everyone has his or her own unique brain. No two brains are alike. When you hear something, you automatically filter it through your own brain. Your experiences, your beliefs, your biases, and opinions all come together to create an interpretation of what you heard.

When you mirror back what you heard as close to verbatim as possible, you come closer to connecting to the other person. You refrain from interpreting and you open the communication so you can really listen.

My job is to help them slow down and back up when they begin to interpret what the other person means. Mind reading and interpreting are automatic responses, and this exercise makes you stop and think, and really open your ears to what is being said.

This is only one part of helping you improve their communication with the one you love. Once you can mirror each other easily, you can begin to ask for what you want and negotiate together, as you create your very own happily ever after. It can be awkward at first, but it is worth it!

If you want to learn more, check out my book, Creating Happily Ever After: A Marriage Manual for What to Do After the Honeymoon is Over.

Rekindle the passion!
Create your very own happily ever after! Learn dynamic ways to relate at the heart level, and rekindle a sense of passion, with the one you love.
Save My Marriage!
Marriage on the Rocks?
Learn the Seven Deadly Habits that destroy relationships AND Find out what you can do instead

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Michelle E. Vásquez, MS, LPC

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