Imagine you’re at a bar. You see someone that peaks your interest. What do you do? Usually, one will intentionally mirror behavior as an act of flirting with another person. We tend to observe how the person, or object of our affection, is standing and moving. Then naturally, we use the same movements and posture to show similarity, and thus establish a connection. This implies that you belong together. In the bare landscape of any relationship, we’re drawn to the feeling of being in sync or connected with another.
Simply put, mirroring matches our partner’s behavior, whether it’s their voice, words, or non-verbal cues (think gestures, movement, and body posture) (Greenberg and Johnson, 2010). Mirroring is generally a subconscious event that creates a feeling of being bonded, because we as people are designed to be attracted to other people like ourselves. When employed consciously, it plays an unforgiving role in getting to know someone and establishing a level of comfort with one another. This is a technique I apply in couples therapy to reestablish an intimate connection between partners (Greenberg and Johnson, 2010).
When mirroring is subconsciously “happening,” it’s the “thing” that sets apart a great love from an ehhh-kind-of-love. So, are you wondering how it is beneficial to your relationships? It all comes down to nonverbal communication. For most relationships, couples therapy is a realization that in a long-term relationship, mirroring isn’t so much an active practice as much as an outward reflection of your connection. For an established relationship, mirroring happens naturally. Imagine you and your partner are holding hands, walking down the street; most likely you will find you are both walking on the same foot and at the same speed. You’re in sync with one another and matching your partner’s movements—that’s mirroring. Mirroring causes a flood of what body language specialists call “love chemicals.” Those chemicals create warm and fuzzy feelings, making you and your partner feel closer to one another, ultimately strengthening the bond of a lasting relationship.
It is when couples notice their disconnection that they are in the best position to work together to reset their “love chemicals”! When working with couples to rebuild intimacy, I begin by encouraging the couple to sit in the same position and look into one another’s eyes for three whole minutes. This is the amount of time and exercise necessary to reboot mirroring. Sitting in a matching position and looking at one another simultaneously causes the brain chemistry to renew. This creates an unconscious feeling of rapport. Why does it work? Gazing at one another creates a vulnerability and bonding moment that few of us are willing to open up to. That vulnerability is the difference between wanting to and trying to rebuild the relationship, or giving it up.
According to the 2020 Research-Trusted Source and Relationship Experts like Gehart, Johnson, and Greenberg, emotional intimacy can contribute to overall satisfaction in your relationship and can be more important than sexual intimacy. Emotional intimacy is when you can reveal your true self to your partner. A feeling of trust and connection helps keep your relationship going. Think of having a “no-filter” kind of authenticity with your partner, where you are fully accepted for all of who you are. To start practicing or testing your relationship mirroring, you want to give the other person your complete attention. The first step is fronting the other person by squaring your body so that you directly face them. Fronting can be intense in a couple’s session, but it builds more of an intimately emotional experience than standing shoulder-to-shoulder. You and your partner need to make each other feel like the center of each other’s universe.
The next step is making eye contact with your partner. This is essential and there is no such thing as too much! Gaze into your partner’s eyes! Eye contact emotes your interest level in your partner through your undivided attention. According to Dr. Kerstin Uväs-Moberg, in her book The Oxytocin Factor (2003), making eye contact releases oxytocin. This hormone is critical to creating those warm feelings we feel when making a close connection. Lastly, try to vocally match the pace and volume of your partner’s speech. This is the time to ask your partner questions from a place of curiosity and vulnerability.
Mirroring increases a sense of trust and empathy when a relationship’s intimacy is healthy (Gehart, n.d.). During couples therapy at Counseling Works, we work together, creating emotionally intimate bonding moments by increasing a couple’s micro synchronicities which include dips and nods towards one another, turning towards each other, stretching lips, and finger stretches, which are all beautifully matched when a couple is in sync with one another. Call today and schedule an appointment to reestablish the connection with your partner, and start fresh.
– Kristin Kallas, AMFT