Uninterested Spouse, Step 4
What If My Spouse isn’t Interested
Creating a Happy Marriage with an Unwilling Partner
In the last installment of our e-course What If My Spouse isn’t Interested- 6 Things You Can Do to Create a Happy Marriage with an Unwilling Partner, you learned the importance of taking responsibility for your role in your relationship. In this installment of 6 Things You Can to to Create a Happy Marriage with an Unwilling Partner, we will discuss the 4th thing you can do to create a happy marriage with an unwilling partner- mirroring.
Step 4 Mirroring
An Essential Tool for a Happy Marriage
As we mentioned in the second installment of this course- 6 Things you can do to Create a Happy Marriage even with an Unwilling Spouse, lack of relational tools is one of the two biggest precursors to marital failure. Now you are about to learn one of the simplest, yet most powerful, tools that I use with my couples. It is called mirroring and it can be done even with an unwilling partner. Mirroring can prevent you from getting hurt by your spouse and it will also help them feel safer and, as a result, be less hurtful. When you’re feeling less hurt in your marriage, the negativity is removed, making it possible to have a happy marriage.
Here’s how Mirroring works:
Mirroring is when you repeat back to your spouse what they said, without interpreting or interjecting. You allow the other to continue sharing as you listen and reflect back what he is saying. Mirroring protects you because it forces you to respond in an intentional way, as opposed to a knee-jerk reactive way.
Examples of Mirroring
A couple of examples with and without mirroring:
Husband: I’m quitting my job. I just can’t stand working for those people.
Wife 1: (understandably anxious, she responds) But how will you support the family?
You are overreacting. Is it really that bad to throw away all of those years with the company? How will you get hired elsewhere at a comparable salary?
Wife 2: (also anxious, but puts the anxiety aside to mirror): So you want to quit your job.
You can’t stand those people you work with. It sounds like you had a hard day.
Do you want to tell me more about it?
While the husband’s statement could surely be anxiety provoking, see how the mirroring shifted the flow of the conversation. The first version could have easily ended with frustration, even more anxiety, and possibly a fight. The second version, where the wife mirrored, would have resulted in stronger connection and a stronger connection makes way for a happy marriage. Perhaps the husband would have cooled down and realized that after expressing his frustration, he really did not intend to quit. Maybe the wife would have understood why he should quit.
Another example of a direct attack:
Wife: I can’t believe you are home late again. Every single night you are at the office and you don’t even bother calling.
Husband 1: (feeling attacked, respond) The last thing I need to hear after a hard day’s work is your constant complaining. I told you I had a lot of work this week. Could you just give me a break!
Husband 2: (feeling attacked but decides to mirror) You’re upset that I am late and that I am at the office late every night and I don’t call you to tell you when I am coming home. Is that right?
Defusing the Conflict-how mirroring makes for a happy marriage
Instead of turning into a shouting match, the husband who mirrors holds on to his reactivity and defuses the conflict by giving his wife a voice.
While it requires a lot of discipline not to respond, it is worth the effort because it will bring you that much closer towards a happy marriage. It allows you to remain calm and not slip into reactivity. It gets you to feel safe enough to hear what the other is saying without taking it as a personal attack. Instead of every interchange penetrating your heart like a dagger, chipping away at your sense of well-being, you are holding up a mirror to reflect and deflect.
Mirroring is also beneficial for the one being mirrored. Whenever there is conflict, reactivity, or resistance in a relationship, it is a sign that somebody is feeling unsafe. Mirroring defuses the emotional charge from the other side and allows one to feel safe. Your spouse no longer needs to prove his point or protect himself by being reactive. He feels that you heard him.
So when do you mirror?
Of course, you will want to mirror when your spouse is emotionally triggered or when there is a difficult subject being discussed that might trigger you. You may also want to mirror anything your spouse tells you, even an appreciation she shares. In a tense relationship full of conflict, even the most benign comment can trigger a reaction. Mirroring helps avoid any potential misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
The general rule is: when in doubt, mirror. Regardless of the situation, you can’t go wrong mirroring (Of course it needs to sound natural otherwise the other will think you are mimicking).
A Real Life Example
The other day, after a hard day of work and helping around the house, I needed to unwind. The kids were in bed and I needed to prepare for a singles group that would be arriving in 15 minutes. I walked into the kitchen and my wife starts asking me to help her do this or that. She asks me for a frying pan. I think to myself: “Please stop asking me to do things.” “Can’t you see that I need to get ready?” “Plus, I just spent the last hour getting dinner together, doing all the dishes, and putting the kids to bed.” Instead of reacting out of frustration, I heard a voice in my head saying: “just mirror that back.” That is what I did: “So you want me to get out that frying pan?” I wound up taking out the frying pan, and I did it in a way that helped me not resent it and not be reactive. Mirroring such a trivial thing helped prevent us from a needless blow-up. So again, you can’t go wrong if you mirror.
The final thing to remember is that this is not a “trick” to use on your unknowing spouse. This is a way of being in relationship, of allowing another to be heard and to train your brain to respond from a place of safety, not reactivity.
Your relationship will be much more enjoyable, a happier marriage, and the walls of resistance erected by you and your spouse will come crumbling down!
Summary of what you learned in Lesson 4
- Mirroring can prevent you from getting hurt by your spouse and it will also help them feel safer
- Mirroring defuses conflict and reactivity and allows you to really listen
- When in doubt or when you feel triggered- mirror