Your spouse: “I can’t believe you got lunch with Tim and Stacey without me. You know I would have liked to come, but instead, I was home alone with the kids. I wish you had told me.”
You: “It was just a last-minute thing. I’m sure we’ll see them again soon. You’re overreacting.”
Time out! Let’s press pause on this conversation. You know where this is going. Let’s be honest: We’ve all been there. We’ve probably all been on both sides of this conversation. I’ll be the first to step up; my emotions have been downplayed, and I’ve been the husband who downplayed my wife’s emotions.
Remember, the key to healthy communication is listening. Often, our spouse just needs someone to listen and validate their feelings.
Wait a second – my spouse wants me to validate their feelings? What do you mean by validating my spouse?
I’m so glad you asked. Let’s dive into what validation means.
Validation is the act of helping someone feel heard and understood. When your spouse comes to you to share their feelings, it’s genuinely listening and experiencing the moment with them. It’s showing interest in what they have to say and valuing their emotions, words, and thoughts. Often when we share our feelings, we aren’t seeking advice; we’re seeking validation. We want to know that what we feel is valid and our thoughts have worth. Researchers have found that validation is critical to our relational, physical, and emotional health.
Here are some thoughts on how to validate your spouse’s feelings:
Remember, you’re validating feelings and everyone’s feelings are valid. Why they feel the way they do isn’t as important as addressing the emotions they are expressing.
“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,” advises Tamara Thompson, licensed marriage and family therapist.
What can you do to validate your spouse?
Thompson offers some steps to show validation:
1. Listen, listen, listen.
Listen to understand the other person’s feelings. This isn’t about you. Don’t try to fix or solve the issue.
2. Empathy goes a long way.
You may disagree with the issue, but you can empathize with their emotions.
3. Repeat what they share.
Show you are paying attention and understand. Ask questions.
4. Normalize their feelings.
Many people would probably feel the way they feel in that situation. Say that!
5. See it through their eyes.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” It’s so true. Try to see the experience through your spouse’s eyes.
6. Touch them.
(Ask if they want to be touched first). Hold their hand, rub their back, or offer a hug. Physical touch is powerful. For some, this is their primary love language and it shows you are connecting with them.
Side note: If things are heated, it may not be the best time to make contact.
7. Use your body.
Make facial expressions, shake your head, lean in, make eye contact. Don’t stand there with your arms crossed or staring off in the distance. Be engaged.
Let’s rewind back to you and your spouse.
Instead of saying, “You’re overreacting,” try saying, “I understand why you’re frustrated,” or “You’re right, you have every right to be upset.” Look for replies that validate the feelings your spouse has expressed. You may disagree with them (and that’s ok), but their feelings have value. If you don’t think you do this well, now’s the time to start validating your spouse.