Annie Lange LMSW
How many of us have been taught to operate under the guideline, “If you don’t talk about it, it is not a problem”? The proverbial belief, that if we sweep it under the rug, we won’t see it or feel it. However, eventually the mounds of debris under the rug become a hazard. Yet, often even in the best of relationships, we do not have the tools or strategies to safely work through our differences.
Differences and separate realities are a natural part of healthy and connected relationships. As separate beings, wearing different lens based on varying experiences and temperaments we can encounter the same event or interaction as if we are in separate worlds, and indeed we are. For example, one partner might love the bells and cheering at a sporting event, while the other would rather put pins in her eyeballs, than be in the cacophony of noise and chaos.
In couple-ship, we often have a false belief that intimacy and connection is predicated on sameness. Additionally, we often believe that one perspective is “right”, while the other is “wrong”. The “both/and” paradigm is much more helpful. This means that both realities are true.
As a clinical social worker for over twenty years, I have been in the business of “listening”. Yet, this “old dog” had a profoundly deepening experience related to listening and reflecting with my beloved in our first Couples Enrichment weekend retreat. To be in safe witnessed space, and have the structure to speak, listen and reflect for the sole purpose of understanding was sacred.
Merry Stanford and Peter Wood have developed their own five-finger model inspired by the model used in Mastering the Mysteries of Love/ Relationship Enhancement®.
The five- finger model tool begins with the thumb moving outward to the pinky finger. The five components are:
- The issue to be discussed
- The story I make up about the issue
- The feelings I have related to my story
- My concerns I have regarding the issue
- My desired outcome related to the issue
Essential to the dialogue process are the roles of speaker and listener. The speaker’s task is to speak completely from an “I” place. There is no inventory taking or speaking for the other. The listener’s role is to “Get It”. This means to listen fully for understanding of the speaker’s message and reflect it back. It does not mean agreement, nor at this point does it mean forming a response or a rebuttal. The listener eventually gets her turn to be the speaker.
In the interpersonal neurobiology world there is a phrase coined by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson, “Name it to Tame It”. The five-finger dialogue model process facilitates this principle in a powerful way. The reduction in the fight/flee stress response is palpable when one has voice and feels heard and understood. Agreement is not an essential component.
My personal experience with the use of the five-finger dialogue model in my partnership is stunning. When my partner and I participate in this kind of conversation, our sense of connection and intimacy grows exponentially.
Recently, a dear friend of mine and I hit a very tender, scary, and angry place in our friendship. We dared to dialogue in the presence of our trusted circle. The healing result was nothing but a miracle. The five-finger dialogue model, when practiced with integrity provides an amazingly safe framework to navigate the sometimes very painful separate realities that occur in relationship.
Lastly, I have found this model to be incredibly helpful when working with couples and families in my clinical practice. When I coach couples in the five-finger dialogue model, and they effectively get to be listened to and have their truth reflected back, the energy shift in the room and within the couple is stunning. There is an amazing heart opening, which can be witnessed, in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms.
This is a process worth sharing !!!