“Listen to me, indulge me, allow yourself to be immersed into our process and together we will come to understand the power of “we.” – Tamara Thompson
Ever feel like screaming “Validate me!!!!!!?”
It probably sounds more like, “You just don’t get it,” “you don’t understand me,” “I give up trying to make you understand.” “Can you just listen to what I am saying.”
How many times have you and your partner had the same argument? Many disagreements have occurred so often that individuals can predict their partner’s responses, as if the argument were scripted.
So many couples get stuck in what feels like Groundhog’s Day, that same old argument and it can be about the same or different topics, the issue is the process, not the content. In other words, it is not about what you are disagreeing about, it is about how you communicate with one another.
The same old same yields the same results, yet so many of us continue doing what we are accustomed to doing. There is one sure-fire way to change the conversation, one sure fire way to feel heard and understood, one sure fire way to feel like your partner finally gets it.
That sure fire way is validation!
It shows up in the therapy room quite frequently, at least 8 out of 10 couples are struggling to validate one another.
Top reasons why people find it difficult to validate their partner:
o They do not feel as though their partner understands their point and they are not going to validate them, until they are validated.
o They believe that they must agree with their partner to validate them and usually they do not agree. In fact, some people feel as though the other person is completely wrong and if so, can refuse to validate their feelings
o They do not believe their partner should be experiencing the feelings that are coming up for them and try to convince their partner how come they should feel differently
Usually when someone shares something that they are experiencing strong emotions around, they do not want advice, they do not want someone to come up with solutions, they do not want to feel judged/as if they did something wrong, and they do not want someone to tell them not to feel that way. If the person would like advice, they will usually ask. Providing unsolicited advice without validating first and empathizing can leave a person feeling misunderstood, dismissed, and/or invalidated. Most non-validating responses are said with noble intent, however, to the person on the receiving end, they can still feel frustrated and misunderstood.
Common Non-Validating Responses:
“Well, let me tell you about how bad my day was and then you’ll see that yours wasn’t so bad”
“How many of your friends wish they had a provider like me, so I missed our anniversary, I have a lot on my plate”
“Well you work hard for us, you’re supposed to work hard, you’re the provider”
“You’re too sensitive”
“You should have handled it differently, next time try to do it like this”
“Sleep on it, tomorrow is another day, let’s not talk about this now”
“I can’t believe you are that angry about something that doesn’t matter”
Some of the above are well intended attempts to “make” the person feel better, other responses sound dismissive, mean, and blaming. They are all equally non-validating. Have you said any of the above? Have people in your life responded to you this way? If so, how did that make you feel?
Then there are the attempts at validation such as:
“I get it, but…”
“I hear you, and….”
“I understand what you’re saying, so….”
The above ARE NOT validating statements, they come across as, “I hear you, and let me tell you why you shouldn’t feel that way.” Step one, slow down.
What Validation is and How to Validate Your Partner:
o For starters remember, you are validating feelings and EVERYONE’S FEELINGS ARE VALID. The reason why they feel the way they do is not as important as addressing the feelings that they are expressing to you. Once you are able to let go of the content (which you may not agree with) and focus on how they are feeling (which is always valid), you will be able to support them.
o Validation is the affirmation, recognition, and acceptance that another person’s internal experience aka FEELINGS are valid.
What can I do? What can I say?
1. Listen, listen, listen. Listen to understand how they are feeling, do not internalize and make it about you, do not get defensive, do not try to solve. Again, listen to understand and be there for them. Simply being present and patient. You will have to let your guards down to be able to listen unfiltered. It is a practice, practice listening to your partner. You will have your opportunity for them to validate you later.
2. Empathy goes a long way. Again you may not agree with the content, however, you can empathize with the emotions they are feeling.
“It can be difficult to focus on the children, when you are feeling so hurt by what I said”
“I understand that our arguments drain you, it really bothers me when we argue as well.”
3. Repeat what they share in their own words or rephrase their words to show them that you are paying attention and that you understand. Ask questions about their feelings, to show genuine interest and gain a better understanding.
“So when I told you I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, you felt as though I was bored of your company”
“I am so sorry that when I did not pick up my phone when you called it brought up feelings of anxiety for you”
“I did not realize that when I walk away when we are arguing it brings up feelings of abandonment and makes you feel angry, I can see why that would upset you and I am sorry those feelings come up for you”
4. Normalize their feelings by sharing that most people would feel the way that they do if they were in a similar situation. Share with them that their feelings are “normal” given the circumstances.
“Anyone would probably feel hurt if their partner forgot their anniversary”
“It makes sense that you feel lonely, anyone who has a partner that travels as much as I do would”
5. See it through their eyes. Try to see the situation from your partner’s perspective and think about other times similar feelings have come up for them, or other times they shared their feelings with you and you might have missed them.
“This reminds me of last year when I forgot our Anniversary and you felt as if I do not share your values, I am sorry for forgetting something that is important to you”
6. Touch them. Physical touch is one of the 5 love languages. Sometimes a simple, gentle gesture such as taking their hand, rubbing their back, stroking their hair, or giving them a hug can be all your partner needs. During conflict, this may not be the best time to get physical, however if you are discussing the situation calmly, it can be an opportunity to connect.
7. Use your Body Lean in, make facial expressions that match theirs (if they look down, you look down, if they shake their head, you shake yours). Do not stand with your arms crossed; do not look away when you do not agree. Stay open to your partner and they will be more inclined to stay open with you.
When couples do not see eye to eye, it can be challenging to validate. It is important to remember that both partners, regardless of their stance, deserve to have their feelings validated. It is a reciprocal process, which can turn that same old argument into a brand new effective way to communicate! Validation creates a feeling of safety and trust.
Validation allows defenses to go down. You both deserve to feel heard, loved, and understood. The tools above will support that process. Find a method or methods that you feel most comfortable with and feels authentic to you, and then put it/them to practice!