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“I want you to listen, really listen to me.”I want to be heard.

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”I want to be validated.

“You never support me in front of your friends”I want to be protected.

One of the most common messages we receive at I Do Part Two is the desire to feel validated. If you have ever felt this way, you are not alone. Validation is one of the most important tools of communication in marriage. It allows you to support your spouse, even when you disagree. 

A good example of validating your spouse’s feelings would be to put away your device when they’re talking—listen to understand what they are saying from their point-of-view.

A friend was sharing with her husband about a disagreement she had with a co-worker and he replied, “What did you do to set her off?” This would be an example of not validating your partner’s feelings.

Our feelings are like a personal alert system—they aren’t right or wrong. They reflect our thoughts, experiences, and perceptions. They help us to understand how we are feeling about a conversation or an interaction with our partner. The Gottman Institute, a highly regarded licensed counseling group, points out that when our partner ignores or dismisses our feelings, “it is a form of relational trauma which, over time, harms the brain and nervous system.”

Where does this lack of empathy come from? For many of us, it’s just not in our natural wiring. And it may go way back—possible before our earliest tangible memory. As children, we may have also learned to not “talk back” to our elders, not to make too much noise, or not to bother anyone while they’re reading, cooking, or working on a project. 

Maybe you watched as one parent berated the other parent or an older sibling, and the message formed loud and clear in your growing brain, “Don’t speak up, stay small, and by all means—don’t share your feelings.”

How would you know how to show empathy and validate others’ feelings if it was never modeled for you?

Awareness: Simply recognizing that this is an issue for you and acknowledging your willingness to work on it is the first step. Experts recommend individual and couples counseling, reading books on the topic, and working on listening to understand from your partner’s perspective. Also, I would add, let them know you love and care about them, and you do not want them to feel invalidated anymore.

The Gottman Institute recommends three steps toward healing: (but friends, this will take some time.)

  1. Atone: Apologizing and asking for forgiveness is crucial; it is a practice that heals ourselves and others—again and again.
  2. Attune: This means listening, perhaps for the very first time and seeing the situation “through their eyes.” When we are really listening for understanding, we’re able to share someone else’s story from their perspective. 
  3. Attachment: If your partner is there for you and has your back, you will feel secure in your attachment to them. The closeness creates a deeper bond where trust and commitment can flourish. 

The Gottman Institute (and I paraphrase), recommends committing to repeatedly working to Atone, Attune and Attach on an ongoing basis. In other words:

  • Apologize when you are in the wrong
  • Listen to your partner and understand from their point-of-view
  • Validate your partner’s concerns, they will feel more secure.

If this story resonated with you, it’s either because you have felt “unheard” or realize you have some work to do. Friends, it’s never too late to work on your relationship skills and say you are sorry. Learning how to empathize and validate another’s feelings is probably one of the most powerful relationship skills most of us were never taught. By Lisa Reinhart-Speers

*Please note: Where a licensed expert is not credited, I share from my own experience gained from 28 years of marriage, reading loads of marriage articles and books, and working with numerous licensed marriage counselors myself over the years—much of which was sought pro-actively with my husband, so we could learn new skills as we hit road bumps or new phases in life, like empty-nesting. It is a never-ending process but well worth it—By Lisa Reinhart-Speers @I Do Part Two

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