If you've heard of "mirroring" in relationships, but you're not sure what it is or how it works, you're not alone. It's an intriguing psychological theory that has made its rounds in the dating and relationships sphere. And it would seem that mirroring is a skill every man should master.
Mirroring can profoundly affect romantic relationships, and understanding it can be the key to having healthy, happy relationships. On that note, it's also possible to hurt a relationship and make it worse with the deliberate misuse of mirroring.
That's why it's important to understand and master how mirroring in relationships works. This article will take a closer look at the psychological phenomenon so that you can use it correctly and build a better, happier relationship with it.
What is Emotional Mirroring?
In dating and relationships, "mirroring" is short for emotional mirroring. And as its name implies, it's the mirroring of your partner's emotions and their resulting actions. This subtly makes your partner subconsciously form a stronger emotional bond with you.
But what's really going on? Let's take a look at the science.
The so-called emotional contagion
You might have experienced this before: you're at a party with friends, and everyone's having fun. Then, someone shows up with bad vibes, killing the whole mood and making the party much less fun.
Or the reverse is also true. You might feel down in the dumps, but after spending a few minutes with an upbeat, uplifting person, suddenly, you're feeling much better.
And sometimes, when you're watching a baseball game, and the batter gets hit by a beanball, you cringe at the pain—even though you didn't get hit.
What's going on? It's what we call the "emotional contagion." Since people are social beings, we automatically and subconsciously adopt the emotional state of someone physically close to us. And in most cases, the one with the stronger emotion influences the other.
It didn't take long for us to realize that this bit of human nature could be used to influence our relationships. As it is the most emotionally-charged area of our lives, having the ability to control our partners' emotional state is a potent life skill.
Now, in case you're wondering if all this is for real and not just pseudoscience, here's...
How mirroring was "discovered"
Mirroring—or, more specifically, the concept of "mirror neurons"—was first discovered by scientists in the 1990s. The discovery was based on their findings that when people observe another person performing an action, they tend to mimic it subconsciously.
The discovery of mirror neurons began with experiments conducted by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues at the University of Parma in Italy. They found that specific brain cells were activated both when a monkey performed an action and when it observed another individual taking similar actions.
The team concluded that these mirror neurons are responsible for subconsciously replicating behaviors seen in other individuals—such as facial expressions or body language—thus providing insight into why we often unconsciously imitate those around us.
In other words, our brains respond to actions as if we were performing them ourselves. This phenomenon has been observed across various species and cultures for centuries, but only recently have researchers begun to understand its biological underpinnings.
How mirroring is being used in society today
Mirroring is a technique used in counseling and psychotherapy to improve the relationship between a client and counselor. It is a subtle form of imitation that can communicate understanding and empathy, build trust, and create rapport. With it, counselors can help patients overcome their problems more quickly and easily.
Mirroring is also widespread in persuasion circles, a valuable skill for marketers, salespeople, politicians, leaders, and coaches. If your work involves persuading potential customers, you're more likely to get good results when they like you and trust you. And mirroring is a skill that can help you achieve that.
It's just recently that mirroring has been finding its way into the dating and relationships scene. We've since discovered that mirroring and other psychologically-sound methods help build rapport and emotional connection between two people playing the game of love.
How to use mirroring in dating and relationships
We can use mirroring to strengthen our bond with our partner by intentionally mirroring each other's emotions or actions. This can be done through the following:
- Body language (for example, mimicking another person's body posture)
- Facial expressions (smiling when your partner smiles)
- Verbal responses (echoing back words or phrases)
By intentionally mirroring our partners' body language, facial expressions, and verbal responses, we signal to their subconscious that we understand them and can relate to their feelings and experiences.
In dating, you can use this knowledge to see if a girl secretly likes you. If she seems to be unconsciously mirroring your words, actions, and emotions, that's a good sign. It means she likes you, even if she doesn't say it out loud—and if you like her, too, you should make a move on her.
In relationships, when one partner does something—let's say, expressing frustration—the other may end up feeling similarly frustrated, even though they're not actually experiencing the same thing. This is because the other partner's brain has fired off mirror neurons in response to their partner's behavior, letting them "feel their pain."
This kind of mirroring—intentional or otherwise—not only strengthens our connection with our partners but also reduces stress levels for both partners by reducing feelings of isolation and increasing empathy. It also encourages communication since both partners will be more likely to have essential conversations instead of avoiding them.
The Good and Bad Side of Mirroring in Relationships
All that said, mirroring emotions can be harmful in certain situations. Here are the good and bad sides of mirroring in relationships, with our tips on how to keep the good and minimize the bad:
Good: It's a fairly reliable way to tell if she likes you
As well-studied as mirroring is, it's not exactly common knowledge. And that means most people don't even know it exists, let alone know how to fake it to build false rapport with others.
And so, if you're with a girl and you notice her mirroring you, chances are it's all subconscious. And since she's mimicking you, it means she feels a connection with you—and so, her unconscious mirroring is a subtle sign she likes you.
If you like her too, you should likewise subtly move the relationship forward. Avoid mentioning the mirroring or any of the signs—instead, take things to the next level.
If you're just acquaintances, invite her to a friends' meetup; if you're already friends, invite her out to a date; and if you're already dating, invite her to your place. You get the idea.
Bad: The emotional contagion goes both ways
While mirroring someone exhibiting a good emotion can evoke that same positivity in you, you can also absorb negative emotions. It's impossible to completely protect yourself from that, although there are steps you can take to minimize them:
- Recognize your partner's negative emotions when you feel them
- Identify the causes of her stress and look at them objectively
- Practice self-care and relaxation techniques to manage stress levels
- Focus on finding solutions to problems instead of dwelling on the issue
- Spend quality time together doing activities you both enjoy
Good: It builds comfort, emotional availability, and desire
Mirroring does more for relationships than merely passing good feelings. This 2019 study found that somatic mirroring of each other's physical expressions:
- Creates comfort and emotional availability
- Contributes to identifying and labeling feelings
- Contributes to arousing intimacy and desire
What's more, avoiding somatic mirroring was found to indicate moments of conflict in a relationship. Therefore, it may be a good idea to consciously practice mirroring with your partner to keep your emotional connection strong.
That said, the fact that mirroring can be consciously done means it can be used for nefarious ends...
Bad: It can be used by manipulators
If you're an emotionally vulnerable guy, you can be a target of women who want something you have. And they do that by mirroring you on purpose—to make you feel loved, make you think they're your soul mate, and to get your guard down.
So if you're single and meeting new women, watch out for these signs of manipulators:
- The relationship seems too good to be true
- She goes very hot and cold with you
- She seems like a totally different person when you disappoint them
- She's "always right"
- She makes you feel like you're "crazy" and that you need her to get by
If you see these signs in a woman, you'll need to realize she's trying to get something of yours. It's best to stop seeing her or break up with her if you're already in a relationship. And don't worry if you need to break up with her several times before you're free of her for good—in an abusive relationship, that's sadly normal.
Mirroring may initially seem complicated, but knowing its neurological basis will help you understand why people feel that "spark" with certain people. Intentionally mirroring emotions in your relationship can improve communication, reduce stress levels, and strengthen your connection.
So next time you interact with your significant other, take some time to observe. See where you can use mirroring to your advantage—and hers. Good luck!