Have you ever heard the adage that the longer people are together, the more they begin to resemble each other? This can sometimes be a result of mirroring. When you mirror behavior within a romantic relationship, the intent, in general, is to strengthen the bond between you and your partner. So, what is mirroring behavior in relationships, and how does it work?
How mirroring works
When one person unintentionally imitates the body language, mannerisms, or demeanor of another, that is referred to as mirroring. This can cause a release of love chemicals and stronger feelings of love and make you feel closer to the other person.
Mirroring can happen naturally over time, and it can be practiced by one or both partners. Creating and maintaining a connection is often the goal and a positive side effect of this phenomenon, as well as building and increasing intimacy. However, sometimes it can be used as an emotional weapon.
Types of emotional mirroring
There are three types of emotional mirroring to be aware of, and the great news is, they are also things that you can begin to practice on your own if you choose to do so.
Conscious mirroring refers to when a person intentionally does things to replicate the behaviors or thoughts of another person.
Unconscious mirroring refers to a more natural element of mirroring. Often once the honeymoon phase has ended and two people in a relationship have a strong foundation, their thoughts and actions organically mirror each other.
Arguably more difficult to do independently, social mirroring occurs in the presence of outsiders and within settings outside the home. The influences of what others think about a person play a significant role here.
Benefits of mirroring behavior
As you can imagine, when any intentional action is rooted in love, there are many benefits to experience. Here are a few positive benefits that you can expect when two people mirror each other.
- Increase in intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual
- Approachability increases
- Satisfaction levels elevate
- Better teamwork and problem solving
- Stronger bond and defense against conflict
While it is still always important to think and act on your own, the relationship really benefits when two people take strides to do team-focused things.
Another positive side effect is that, in some cases, mirroring allows you to teach your partner how to treat you. For example, you can use your own body language to alert your partner to moments where you crave more physical touch by showing them physical affection. Over time the hope is that they will begin to unconsciously mimic these behaviors they learned from your action and suggestion.
When mirroring can take a turn for the worse
Unfortunately, some use this strategy of mirroring with bad intentions instead of good. As a weapon of emotional warfare, a person might mirror their partner to give off the impression that they are ideally suited for one another because they are so similar. However, they are only giving off the impression that they are well suited when that is not the case in reality. This can be a challenging red flag to pick up on, but thankfully there are signs to be aware of.
1. Affection is used as reward or punishment
In some scenarios, it is normal for one, or both partners, to have an aversion to giving and receiving affection during the conflict. Still, there is a fine line between that and when someone intentionally withholds it from another person.
Have you ever noticed that the same person can have many different patterns of affection? This can often be a sign of using mirroring as a strategy. For example, maybe you made a choice to have dinner with friends instead of spending time with your significant other, and when you return from dinner, they are cold to you, barely speaking, and acting like a different person. This likely invokes feelings within you that you must tend to them right away and, in some cases, beg for their attention, which is all part of the pattern.
2. Everything feels perfect, mostly
When you are in the initial stages of getting to know someone and discovering how much you two have in common, it can be thrilling and even relieving. After all, it is not every day that we find a person who shares all of our same viewpoints and opinions, but is this truly a desirable situation? If there is a tiny voice or gut feeling nagging at you, suggesting that maybe this is no coincidence and instead perhaps it is too good to be true, do not ignore that feeling.
Find the balance between allowing yourself to feel the giddiness that comes from getting to know someone and not seeing everything through rose-colored glasses.
Additionally, pay attention to see if these beliefs, values, attitudes, etc., remain consistent over time. Did this perfect person display body language early on that matched exactly what you said you needed, and now they can barely make eye contact with you when you talk? Perhaps this is a one-off situation, or maybe the mask is starting to lift.
3. You notice signs of narcissism
Narcissism stems from a disorder where an individual has an overinflated sense of importance. Sometimes this is detectable through what they say; other times, by how they act. Either way, it can be incredibly toxic and emotionally damaging to the people they interact with.
One potentially dangerous thing about being in a relationship with someone of this nature is that their narcissistic tendencies may not be present all the time, which is something they are likely controlling.
Consider the following warning signs before you label a person as a full-blown narcissist.
- They are chronically dissatisfied, bored, or constantly moving the finish line
- Lack of empathy
- Impulsive decision making that affects other people
- Codependent relationship patterns
- Strong sense of entitlement
- Requires constant ego-stroking and admiration
- Preoccupied with status, success, brilliance, and how they are perceived
This list indicates some obvious signs to look for, but there are more traits to be aware of when considering if someone is a narcissist, which you can read about here. Much of this can be detected by your own feelings as well. Do you find that your emotions are in constant turmoil because they are hinged on how your partner treats you, speaks to you, and respects you on any given day? That level of ebb and flow is a-typical.
4. You struggle to break past the surface
For a relationship to flourish, you have to go beyond the surface. If you feel that you and your partner are struggling to do this, it might be because one, or both people, are not being authentic. When another person chooses to mirror you as a strategy to get you to like them, you will never get to know the real them because they are preventing it.
There are things to consider here, like the length of time, and stage of life, also past traumas, but even considering all of those things, you should still have moments of discovery that extend beyond what someone’s favorite movie is. Someone’s facial expressions can also tell you a lot about how they are handling any conversations or inquires that make them uncomfortable. Consider people like your close friends. Do they tighten up when you ask them about themselves? Probably not, because there is comfort, respect, and a genuine relationship built between you two. If a partner straight up refuses to answer similar questions, that is a concern worth considering.
What to do when mirroring behavior in relationships becomes toxic
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people involved in narcissistic relationships to feel too afraid to make a move. If this applies to you, here are a few things you can do to safely remove yourself from the situation.
Make a plan
Sometimes people have to leave cold turkey, but sometimes that is not the best choice or even an option. In some toxic relationships, you may run the risk of violence and relapse if you were to do this. If you hit rock bottom and run away, you may be leaving yourself too vulnerable and open to being manipulated by someone else. Instead, create a plan of actionable steps that you can either execute on a timeline or all at once. This way, you can feel safe and secure enough in what you are doing to see it through.
Keep your eyes and ears open
They don’t say love is blind for no reason. Sometimes, it can be almost impossible to see and hear things clearly in the midst of all the fairytales and butterflies, but you must try. It is perfectly acceptable to let romance sweep you off your feet, just do not ignore things because of it. Roses and dates do not mean much if every time you forget to text them back straight away, they ghost you for days on end as punishment.
Reach out to your network
Confide in the people that you trust about what is going on, and allow yourself to rely on them for help. The people in your life who love and care about you want to be there for you in good times and in bad, so let them. Once you have made your plan, it will be clear to you the areas in which you will need support from your network. Put the pieces in place and trust that they will lift you up when your emotions are fleeting, and you need their support the most.
It is important to remember that if you find yourself in a dangerous or toxic situation, reaching out to authorities may be the best way to ensure that you are able to leave the relationship safely.
Mirroring can create such a variety of feelings, and it is crucial to understand the full spectrum of this behavioral pattern. Think about your goals as a couple and as an individual within a partnership and ways in which mirroring can help you reach those goals. This is an excellent opportunity to open the lines of communication and practice strategies that will strengthen your bond.
A literal mirror will reflect your own self back to you, and that can also happen here. You have the potential to use mirroring to see both the best and not-so-great parts of yourself and identify what you can do with that information. This will also encourage teamwork, a major component of all healthy relationships.