Probably the biggest reason to be in a relationship is to feel connected. This is especially apparent in times of need — in times when you want to be understood, to be heard. And, when your partner is not able to do this, it’s quite disappointing and frustrating, not to mention isolating. So, for the next three posts, I’d like to offer some insights and suggestions to assist you in helping to connect with each other.
In today’s blog, there’s a tool I teach my couples called validation. Though at first it seems a bit difficult to grasp, using it really makes quite a difference.
Let’s start out with the obvious. Everyone sees the world differently. Pretend you and your partner were outside and there was an accident. The police come and ask each of you to explain what happened. It’s most likely that you’ll each give a different version of the very same incident. Is one of you lying? Was one of you wearing a blindfold? Of course not! It’s merely a case of two different people each having their own version, their own perception.
I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar to this in your lives. You’re telling friends about something that happened and as your mate is listening to you, he or she swears you weren’t in the same place!
When I illustrate this idea to my classes, I hold up a book and we all agree which is the front of the book and which is the back of the book. Then, I ask them, “As I hold the book up, which side of the book do you all see?” (They’re seeing the front side.) I continue and ask, “Which side of the book am I seeing?” They respond that, “I’m looking at the back side.”
My students knowing that I’m seeing the back side of the book while they’re seeing the front side of it is similar to the idea of validation.
When you’re with your partner who’s talking about a situation, you don’t have to see it the same way; you don’t even have to agree with the manner in which your partner has interpreted it. But … if you want your mate to feel validated, you have to let him or her know you understand how he or she is interpreting it that way. It’s like putting yourself in their shoes. It’s this very act that allows a sense of connection.
Now, you may be squawking that your partner is being absurd in his or her interpretation and overreacting. That may very well be true! Emotions always win out over clear thinking. So unless the emotions are responded to first, they will continue to be made active.
However, if you validate the feelings, the emotions calm down and then you can speak to the other person about some other possible interpretations or even ways to handle the situation.
Consistently when my couples report some hassle between them that got nowhere, I ask if they remembered to use the tool of validation. The answer is always, “No.” It’s a simple tool that goes a very long way.
In the next two weeks I’ll discuss how emotions are contagious and how to increase empathy.