A closer look at why mirroring is vital for the success of a relationship.


What is mirroring and why is it so important in a relationship?

Put simply, mirroring 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’s fundamental experience for all human beings that allows us to feel acknowledged, understood and validated and express empathy. As a result, we feel close to another person.

When a relationship is experiencing problems, these mirroring abilities tend to be lacking. Most of us lucky enough to have a happy, fulfilling and loving 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 its mother's or father's eyes and see them hold its gaze and smile; a parent returning a laugh or making reassuring sounds or movements to an unhappy or uncomfortable child is a form of mirroring. As a result, it not only gives meaning to the child to feel that its experience is shared with another, but dissolves it's human experience of separateness and aloneness.

Mirroring when a relationship goes wrong

The drive and desire to have a relationship with another 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, which is often referred to as the honeymoon period. In reality, the honeymoon period recreates 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.

At the start of a relationship, both people often feel very closely connected and bonded. They experience their partner as the focal point of their life, with both partner displaying all the wonderful ingredients of mirroring; interest and focus on the other, understanding and empathy, and 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 of being ignored, feeling criticised and misunderstood, that their partner is not very interested or perhaps no longer wants them. They feel that these thoughts are directly discounted and invalidated by their partner. Their one time friend and closest confidante may feel more like an enemy.

Couples usually feel a combination of being confusion, frustration and anger, disappointment and sadness as well as insecurity and fear. 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 are often born out of desperation, unfortunately they only make matters worse. They are counterproductive to regaining closeness and intimacy.

It is vital to resolve the misunderstanding and criticism and once again return to many of the qualities of the honeymoon period. It’s important to maintain a realistic awareness of how those qualities operate in everyday life to make our relationship more satisfying.

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.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Oxford, Oxon, OX2
Written by Nick Haynes, Couples Counsellor Relate CC Cert MBACP MNCS (Acc)
Oxford, Oxon, OX2

I am an experienced couples, relationship and marriage guidance counsellor and I focus and specialize exclusively on couplework. For the last 14 years I have been in private practice as well as working for Relate Oxford between 2005- 2015. As of July 1st 2023 all my sessions for Oxford and Oxfordshi...


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