Have you ever shared something that weighed heavily on your heart and had your partner respond with, “You shouldn’t feel that way”? How frustrating! We all want to be understood and having someone tell us they think we are wrong for feeling the way we do does not make us feel understood. The skill I encourage in couples the most is validating one another. In my last email, I explained how important it was to listen to understand. Once you believe you understand how your partner feels, then it’s time to validate them.
Validation is an action completed by the listener with the goal of informing the speaker that he or she has been heard and understood. If your partner has communicated that they are frustrated with how you treated them last night at the dinner party, validation would sound like this: “I understand that you feel hurt by how I treated you last night.” After you say this you’ll need to wait a little bit. Don’t go into your side of the story. Goal #1 is for your partner to feel understood – now that has been achieved. Going into the facts or your defense will only undermine your goal. If you really want to explain what you were thinking or intending, you’ll have to wait until the dust has settled.
I often tell couples that after validating they need to wait until the concrete sets up. After concrete is poured you don’t go stomping around on it unless you want to mess it up. Let your validation setup before you go and present your side of the story. You might not even need to tell your side of the story. You could just say, “I am sorry I hurt you. I will make an effort to be more conscientious of how I treat you in that setting next time.” Don’t worry about the facts – be more concerned with resolution and moving forward.
Validating doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with or accept your partner’s point of view. When you validate them, you are simply letting the speaker know that what he or she has shared makes sense and that you understand them. It only has to be a few sentences (sometimes even less), but validation is a vital part of healthy communication.
Validating equals Understanding
Validating does not have to equal Agreement
Do you feel validated by your partner? If not, then lead by example.
When our partner does not validate us, we often feel misunderstood or rejected. Validation is the bridge that brings two people together. You might be tracking your partner’s message in your head, but if you don’t give them some indication that you understand him or her, they will most likely feel distant, invalidated or unimportant.
When two people are engaged in a heated conversation, validation can be a difficult skill to keep in mind. However, validation is one of the most important, if not the most important, skill to develop for healthy communication within your relationship.
I encourage you to listen to understand your partner today and then validate them by letting them know that you understand what they are saying and feeling. Connecting is as simple as that.
If you and your partner want more skills and want to make your marriage the best it can be I encourage you to invest in The Marriage Program.
You can do this!
Grace & Peace,
Joshua Emery (Former Shelterwood Therapist)
Program Director at Relationship Architecture