Validation Do’s and Don’ts for Couples: An Essential Component to Finally Feeling Understood!

interracial couple hetero

“Listen to me, indulge me, allow yourself to be immersed into our process and together we will come to understand the power of “we.” TF

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:

  • They do not feel as though their partner understands their point and they are not going to validate them, until they are validated.
  • 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
  • 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:

  • 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.
  • 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!

Wishing you the best in creating the relationship you deserve and desire!

 

Connect with Yourself, Grow Together!

twin flowers

“Connected, side by side, you and I, as we are “we” yet, you and me, existing simultaneously independently” – TF

Couples usually enter into the therapeutic process hoping to:

  1. Communicate more effectively (in other words, argue less, talk openly, stop blaming, learn to reach a resolution)
  2. Get their partner to understand their perspective, or at least show up differently (around various issues from finances, to family planning, to parenting, shared time, etc.)
  3. Increase intimacy (which means different things to different people, i.e. sex,  hand holding, deep conversations, enjoyable one on one time, activities, etc)

When two people enter into couples therapy, there is often an expectation around what that will look like and a hope that the process will improve (sometimes “save”) the relationship. Couples therapy can be extremely helpful, it is crucial that couples understand that the power already exists between the two of them and that therapy is a support to their process. A process which requires growth.

What about growth? How do couples grow together? How do they evolve, transform, and adjust when life changes? Do they morph into one another and become one? and if so, does that mean that they sacrifice themselves or completely lose their autonomy?

In this age of transformation, the journey to true self, meditative practices, understanding and recognizing purpose, many are turning inward and evolving. While that is positive because it brings with it a deepened level of self-awareness, it is having an impact on relationships. What that impact is looks different depending on the couple. How this is impacting couples is showing up, “In the Room.”

In the Room:

Trust – In order for a couple to grow, openness and vulnerability must exist within their relationship. The trust that your partner does not want to hurt you, the trust that you and your partner are equally invested, the trust that you will be okay regardless of what lurks around the corner. Practicing trust is just that, a practice. Trust of self is primary, trust of self is necessary. If a person is struggling to trust themselves, they may be struggling to connect with themselves, and if they are unable to connect with themselves, it will be challenging, if not impossible for them to be able to connect with their partner.

In order to grow together, it is imperative that the individuals within the couple are able to communicate around their personal journey’s, goals, and around their connection with self. If one partner partakes on a journey to discover their true self without engaging their counterpart in the process, a feeling of disconnection can arise. It is inevitable that people change over time, and when doing any transformative work, the process of change is accelerated. For the individual, this can be extremely positive as they feel more connected to self, and life, they may be responding to things differently,becoming reflective, decreasing reactivity, recognizing and eliminating co-dependent behaviors, practicing appreciation, which are all very meaningful and powerful changes. However, the impact on the couple relationship can be vastly different.

For the couple when one is on this journey to discover and understand true self, and the other is not, they can experience their partner as selfish, they can become insecure, they no longer know their “role” in the relationship, they are struggling to recognize their partner, often making comments such as, “you’ve changed” and “I don’t know you anymore.”While one partner is recognizing their triggers and unhealthy thought patterns, the other partner may still be seeking to engage in the old dynamic and are no longer getting what they needed (or thought they needed) from the relationship, especially if it was a co-dependent relationship.

Steps to Connect with Yourself and Grow with your Partner:

  1. Have a conversation with your partner around their relationship with themselves. What are you currently doing in life that brings you happiness? when do you feel most yourself? What do you feel connected to? What are you each doing around self-care? How are you taking ownership around what is presently happening in your life? What are some things you would like to change? What do you feel your strengths are? Where are the opportunities for growth?
  2. Share your discoveries with one another, each of you practicing awareness around your thoughts and actions and then sharing them with one another.     What have you learned about yourself this week? What positive changes have you made? When did you recognize you were triggered? and what did you do?
  3. Share your observations of your partner, with your partner. Let your partner know how you are experiencing them in a positive and strength focused way. Perhaps they reacted to something differently, they joined a new class, they did something around self-care, they did something you appreciated. Share what you notice, appreciate, recognize, in a validating way. Being able to link what you observed to what they have previously shared was a possible area/opportunity for growth.
  4. Recap around how the changes you are each making are impacting your couple relationship. This can look like a decrease in frequency around conflict, increased intimacy, an increase in satisfaction in the couple relationship, more shared time, feeling understood, less tension, and can be as simple as just enjoying one another’s company more.

Loving yourself, identifying your true self, and living authentically does not have to drive a wedge between you and your partner. When supported by your partner, and when given air and space to grow, you are able to grow simultaneously and create a connectedness centered around self-love and trust, which extends outward and shows up in a positive way in your relationship with others, primarily your relationship with your partner. It is possible to create the relationship you desire at any time, as long as both partners are committed to growing, taking accountability, validating their partners experiences, and practicing trust. Trust in self, trust in your partner, and trust in the process.

May you continue to connect with yourself, grow with your partner, connect with your partner, and create the relationship you desire!