Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Nick Haynes MNCS (Acc) Relate CC Cert Couples Counselling
What is mirroring and why is it so important in a relationship?
Mirroring simply means having the ability to stand in someone else's shoes, to know what it feels like to be them and to be able to communicate in a way that is meaningful for them.
It is a fundamental experience for all human beings that allows us to feel acknowledged, understood and validated. As a result we feel close to another person.
All these qualities are missing when a relationship is undergoing problems.
Most of us lucky enough to have a normal childhood will usually experience our first and most profound experience of mirroring as a baby in the presence of our mother or father.
One of the most pleasurable experiences for a child is to look into it's mother's or father's eyes and see them hold it's gaze and smile and laugh in return, or comfort and make reassuring sounds and movements if the child is feeling uncomfortable or unhappy.
As a result it not only gives meaning to the child to feel that it's experience is shared with another but dissolves it'shuman experience of separateness and aloneness.
So what has this all got to do with our relationship when it goes wrong?
In short a great deal.
The drive and desire to have a relationship with an other when we are adults, apart from biological imperatives is because we recognize that it will give us the special closeness that we long for.
At least to begin with it does. This is what we call the honeymoon period.
In reality the honeymoon period recreates for many people at it's best the closest approximation to feeling merged with another human being and no longer separate and alone.
For most people that is why we want a relationship, the main purpose of it, although of course there are additional reasons too.
So at the start of a relationship that is going well both people often feel very closely connected and bonded. They experience their partner as the focal point of their life with both people displaying all the wonderful ingredients of mirroring- interest and focus on the other, understanding and empathy, and what feels for a while like unconditional acceptance.
These are the ingredients that allow us to feel close and are in fact the very ones that have gone missing when a relationship runs into problems.
When couples come for relationship counselling both people are often feeling variations on not being listened to, feeling criticised and misunderstood, that their partner is not very interested or perhaps no longer wants them and that experiences and thoughts are directly discounted and invalidated by their partner.
Furthermore their one time friend and closest confidante may feel more like an enemy.
Couples usually feel a combination of being confused, frustrated and angry, disappointed and sad as well as insecure and frightened.They will accuse and criticise. Interestingly,quite unconsciously, adults sometimes return to similar strategies that infants use when they are upset. They may shout, scream or alternatively they may become distant or aloof.
Whilst these ways of responding seem sometimes the only thing to do at the time and often are born out of desperation unfortunately they only make matters worse and are counterproductive to regaining closeness anfd intimacy.
It is vital to get rid of the misunderstanding and criticism and once again return to many of the qualities associated with the best of the honeymoon period but with a realistic awareness of how those qualities operate in everyday life to make our relationship more satisfying.
Most of us do not know how to.After all we are taught very little about relationships and communication when we are younger.
In coming to counselling to work on and explore what you want from your relationship learning how to mirror each other once again becomes a key ingredient in reclaiming your relationship.
Nick Haynes Oxford 2010