It is painful to see a partner in distress. Most of us want that pain to stop because we love them. Out of the desire to shift our partner’s state we come up with solutions for their problems, AKA "fixing."
This tool, "fixing" is heavily relied on because it gives us a sense of control and that we are helping our partner. The results? Well, they are mixed. Sometimes it feels supportive and sometimes it doesn’t. You can know it isn’t working when your partner doesn’t seem relaxed and soothed receiving it. In these instances another tool is needed. Your partner needs to know that someone really gets their struggle and doesn’t judge them. They need connection. So often when working with couples that rely on advice I notice they do not have an alternative way of responding. Here is the most effective tool to help your partner feel heard.
#1 Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person's thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable
The key? Let go of whether or not you would have the same response. When you validate, you are concentrated on understanding the other person’s experience and individual perception and letting them know you get it by reflecting it back to them.The glory of validation is that you don’t have to agree or disagree. In fact it requires this kind of neutrality. It is 100% about your partner and how they feel and think.
“You are saying that when I walked away from the table you felt like I didn’t value you or see you as an equal partner?” (This may sound crazy to you because you love and value her and show her in a million different ways.) You may feel the urge to apologize and tell her how much you love her.
But wait! Ideally you will first reflect what you have heard and follow with non-defensive curiosity. “I hear that you felt like I didn’t value you.” (Pause for their response…..) Follow with; “What was it like when that happened?” It may be helpful to reflect a few times before asking permission to share what your true intention was.
How to Be a Rock star Validator
- Don't be a Parrot. Use some of the same key words they hear and avoid parroting back exact sentences. If they say their stomach crunched, its “your stomach crunched” not “you felt a pit in your stomach.”
- Get into Their Experience. Another rock star move is to empathize with the emotional experience. Gosh that must have been difficult, exciting, frustrating, sad, distressing; or i"t sounds like you felt (fill in the blank).
- Watch your partner to see if you are getting it right. Does your partner respond to what you are saying with frustration, resistance or they keep repeating the same point? Signs you are getting it: You partner relaxes, continues the story without being stuck on one point (exceptions apply) comes up with own solutions, experiences catharsis (emotional release and recovery).
Blockers to effective validation
- Tone. If you sound bored or fed up with the conversation when you reflect what your partner says this will fail. If you feel these emotions: take a deep breath, feel your feet on the ground and conjure the part of yourself that is curious and compassionate. (If you don’t naturally have this part channel someone you know with these qualities.)
- "Shoulding." Don’t “should” all over your good efforts. If this rolls off your tongue check in to see if you are hoping that she will do something that YOU want her to do. Not to worry, pause and get back on track by reflecting the last thing she said.
- Dismissing. You may think what the other person is saying is some kind of nonsense. If this is the case you will have to muster everything you have to take it seriously. It is serious to them and treating it otherwise will only result in rupture in your connection.
- Switching to a normal back and forth conversation too soon. Validation requires concentrated attention on one person for an extended period of time. Ideally they will be the center of focus until they feel heard. The better you get at validating, the faster this will happen.
- Defending. It is super difficult to resist defending yourself when your partner perceives you have done something to hurt them. (We know it wasn’t intentional. You were just trying to get your own needs met.) It is in your best interest to get to know your own defense system so you don’t have to blindly obey it. When that old fear that you will never be good enough pops up you can tell it to take a hike because you are busy learning what you can do better.
- Rationalizing or trying to make sense of what the person is saying. Yes, you experience things in a much different way. “I don’t get it” is a cop out. Your new go to: “I don’t experience things like this, help me understand.”
- Extrapolating. If you can describe what your partner is experiencing “better” than they can you have strayed from the goal of helping them feel understood. Have patience for their process. Stay close with their experience.
Watch the effect you have on your partner! When you get it right your partner will relax or move forward in the story. Yes and… They will likely come up with their own solutions. They may even look at you with dreamy eyes because you really get it. Who knows some attraction may start to brew.
Since you are looking at them to track the impact your words are having you can also see cues that will let you know when you are off track. So you didn’t “get it” don’t be deterred try to stay closer to her narrative, to reflect more or ask questions to get on the same page.