Archive for July, 2013

Tennis Balls and Gifts

July 11, 2013

This post is by Tony Victor, Imago Faculty, and re-posted here with permission.


Here is an Imago Dialogue Riddle:  What is the difference between a tennis ball and a gift?  Well, when a tennis ball is served up to you, you are expected to put your own spin on the ball and send it right back over the net.  In fact your tennis partner expects you to try to return in such a way as to make it very difficult for her to receive it. However, if you partner does receive it be fully ready to have him put a new spin on it and send it back to you even more tenaciously than the first time he served it up to you.

A gift is just the opposite:  When a gift is served up to you, you are expected to receive it with gratitude and amazement, to admire the beautiful wrapping and the bow so delicately tied.  To, with wonder and awe, graciously unwrap it.  Just receive it — No putting your own spin on it — No sending it back.  Just receive it.

In part, Imago Dialogue is about receiving what your partner has to offer you.  The words your partner speaks are a precious gift–an opening into his heart.  When your partner speaks treat her words as precious gifts to be held, taken in, and cherished.

Even if those words are a bit painful.  Resist the urge to treat them like a tennis ball being served up to you — putting your own spin on them, and sending them right back.  Treating even painful words as a gift is the surest way to sooth the hurt for you and your partner.

This is especially important when the words are an affirmation.  Recently a couple who were making wonderful progress from their initial session began their session with her smiling, looking intently at him and saying “I love you.”  Immediately he responded “I love you too.”  This was an amazing moment of transformation for this couple.  Just a few weeks earlier they were ready to divorce and started counseling as a last ditch effort to avoid the lawyers.

I celebrated the moment with them.  Then I asked permission to try something a little different.  They agreed, I asked her to start again she looked at him and said “I love you.”  Before he had a chance to respond, I quickly asked him to just breath in the gift of her words.  Just take it in as you breath in.  Then mirror back, he said, “You love me.”  As he did his eyes welled up with tears and I knew that he was letting his defenses down.  This time he was accepting the gift not just returning the serve.  I used the above  riddle to help both partners understand this concept and how Imago dialogue is about gift giving rather than a tennis match.

While the rapid fire back and forth “I love you’s” was a wonderful step in a good direction, the pattern of communication more resembled a tennis match than a gift exchange.  As Imago therapists, I believe our role is to coach our couples to see their partners as serving up gifts not tennis balls to each other.

Tony Victor, D.Min., Imago Faculty Candidate, Certified Imago Consultant, and Certified Imago Workshop Presenter is available for Consultation either in person or via Skype or Facetime.  Dr. Victor has been in private practice for over 25 years.  He currently is the Owner and Director of a thriving group practice, The Midwest Relationship Center, LLC, located in Swansea, IL, just outside of St. Louis, MO.  If you would like to comment on this article or inquire about consultation, you can contact Dr. Victor by email drtony@themidwestrelationshipcenter.com or by calling 618-516-3338.

Dare y’a:

At the soonest possible moment, tell your partner you want to give her/him a gift and that s/he shouldn’t do anything except breathe it in for a few seconds….and then say “I love you” while gazing into their eyes.

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