About five and a half years ago, my husband and I participated in a weekend, marriage retreat. It gave us a greater appreciation for one another and made our union stronger than ever. Everything about the retreat (or Love Reboot as it is called) was impactful and insightful but there was one important lesson we both learned that we still carry with us: The Mirror Exercise.
The concept was originated by Jon Anderson, M.MFT, who facilitates the Love Reboot workshops with his wife. According to Anderson, this is the crux of the Mirror Exercise:
“The reality is that you are empowered only inasmuch as you focus on who you can change – in fact, the only one you can change – you. Imagine that you’re holding a mirror in your hand. If you can see anyone other than yourself in the mirror, you defeat its purpose.”
This, in my mind, is a solid way of examining the role you play in each of your relationships. You are reflecting on your own reflection and no one else’s. While the Mirror Exercise started as a practice my husband and I used in strengthening ourselves individually to ultimately benefit our marriage, I realized it can be extended and used in so many other interactions in our life.
So many times in life, we encounter toxic, manipulative, or selfish people. I am talking about family members, co-workers, friends – our lives are filled with people we may have a strained or conflicting relationships with. Oftentimes, the instinct is to retreat. Sometimes, retreating is the best option but there are instances when we (there has to be mutual agreement from both parties, naturally) want to repair a fractured relationships. That is when the Mirror Exercise can be used.
Trying to change the people around you is near impossible. You should be working each day to be your best so you simply cannot fix yourself and others around you simultaneously. The flight attendants say it every time they review the safety procedures before the plane takes off: “Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” The Mirror Exercise works in the same way. We cannot help or better our connections with those around us if we are not first working to make ourselves whole.
Anderson goes on to describe the Mirror Exercise as “liberating” because “it liberates you, because focusing on others is an exercise in futility. It also liberates others – especially your mate – to experience genuine and lasting growth on their own terms.”
Ultimately, genuine growth is the goal of any relationship – romantic, familial, platonic or otherwise. We want the people we care for, work with, love and support to GROW in a healthy and productive way. The Mirror Exercise pushes us to shift our focus in the hopes of both making ourselves better but ultimately, allowing the people in our lives to become better as well.