Initiator – Inquirer process: A Roadmap for Having More Intentional Conversations

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Couples Counseling Thornton, Westminster, and Spanish Fork

Do you ever feel that conversations with your partner tend to go the same way when you are trying to discuss something important? Maybe they consistently end in frustration, “agreeing to disagree,” or the silent treatment for hours or days. Couples usually engage in some type of pattern when communicating, whether they realize it or not. Think of this pattern as a sort of “dance” that you and your partner do to try to feel heard or get your point across. If you are starting to notice this dance and aren’t sure you like moves or how the dance ends, read on for a roadmap to making some changes to your dance moves.

The Initiator-Inquirer process was created by Dr. Ellyn Bader and the Couples Institute. This process outlines a breakdown in roles each partner can take when wanting to engage in an important conversation. The roles Dr. Bader created are the Initiator role (the person who is starting or initiating the conversation) and the Inquirer role (the person who is listening and learning more). In this blog post, we will be exploring the Initiator role.

The Initiator role includes four guidelines and two reminders to check your mindset throughout the conversation.

Guideline #1: “Focus on one issue only.” This guideline encourages the Initiator to stick with one topic at a time. Have you ever talked with someone and at the end of the conversation, had no idea what to take away from what was said because so much was covered? We want to avoid this in conversations with our partner because it can leave us feeling unheard and leave our partner feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Focusing on one issue will help you become clearer about what you want from the conversation. Finally, when initiating a conversation, check in with your partner to see if it is a good time to talk. Give yourself and your partner to avoid having an important conversation when you aren’t in the best headspace – try to set yourself up for success as much as possible.

Guideline #2: “Express your feelings and thoughts.” This one sounds pretty straightforward, but the focus for this guideline is to allow yourself to go deeper into your emotional expression. We humans can be extremely complex, and it is likely that you feel more than one emotion about whatever topic you are bringing to your partner. Take a risk and try your best to explain vulnerable and potentially contradicting emotions (ex. feeling excited and sad about moving to a new city) you may be experiencing. If you are angry, what other emotions might be under that anger – hurt, sadness, fear, etc.?

Guideline #3: “Avoid blaming, accusing, or name calling.” Blame, accusations/assumptions, and name calling will almost immediately shut your partner down- simple as that. If you want to feel heard in the conversation, you have a part to play in creating an environment that allows your partner to hear you. Additionally, blaming, accusing, and name calling create a sort of shield from having to look inward and learn more about yourself because our focus is on our partner. Practice being bold enough to refocus the conversation on your own experience.

Guideline #4: “Be open to self-discovery.” Going along with the previous guideline, embracing the Initiator role means opening your mind to the opportunity to learn something new about yourself. What past experiences might you have that are reminding you of the current situation? What values do you hold that may have felt violated? What makes those values important to you? These are just a few examples of how to intentionally focus more on your inner self and tune into how and why you respond, think, and feel the way you do.

Reminder #1: “This is my problem – it’s an expression of who I am – it’s about me revealing myself and being willing to express my own thoughts and feelings.”

Reminder #2: “This process is about my willingness to take a risk to speak or discover my truth and about my ability to tolerate the expression of our differences.”

These reminders can help you avoid blaming and accusing your partner throughout your conversation. Remember that your unique personality and history contribute to what makes this conversation important to you. This can also help remind you that your partner is their own unique person who likely has a different perspective and cannot read your mind. Expressing your true, inner experience gives your partner the opportunity to learn more about your authentic self.

If you would like to learn more about the Initiator-Inquirer process, be on the lookout for Part 2 of this blog post outlining the Inquirer role or reach out to The Marriage and Family Clinic to schedule an appointment with me!

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