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How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?

Maybe it's HOW you fight that matters.

Can healthy couples fight too much? How much fighting is healthy? 

No two people agree on everything. That’s undoubtedly true in marriage. (If it’s not true in yours, then I’d really like to meet you. And really… why are you even reading this?) The result is often misunderstanding, a failure to see eye to eye, and a tug-of-war to get each other’s point across. Sometimes, a fight ensues. 

An important caveat right off the bat: Many people say they “fight” when they argue or disagree. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are experiencing “fighting” in marriage (if not, see the paragraph above). But for others, this word evokes memories of violence and abuse, which is never okay. For our purposes here, fighting is used to describe verbal disagreements. 

With that in mind, hear this loud and clear: Even happy, healthy couples fight. 

Congrats: You’re normal! 

A 2012 survey would even suggest that “highly happy couples” describe some of their arguments as “painful.” (Food for thought: The survey also indicates that these couples might be “highly happy” because they know, even during a fight, that they care about and want what’s best for each other. I’ll just leave that right here…) 

As a matter of fact, never fighting could indicate that the relationship is in a less-than-ideal place. Experts say that avoiding conflict and discussing differences can cause a buildup of frustration and resentment that leads to problems in the long run.1,2 

Truthfully, it’s not whether you fight or even necessarily how often you fight that matters. It’s how you fight that matters. 

Here are five warning signs that can tell you if your disagreements are unhealthy: 

1. The same, sore subject keeps coming up. Over. And Over. And Over…

Whether it’s how the dishes go on the rack, how one of you works too much, or the fact that your mother-in-law makes that annoying sound when she laughs… It always comes up and causes a ruckus. And it never gets resolved. 

2. Communication roadblocks emerge.

Researcher John Gottman identifies four negative communication patterns that cause trouble:

Criticism: Blaming, fault-finding, or attacking your spouse’s character

Contempt: Communicating with meanness, disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule, 

name-calling, 

and eye-rolling 

Defensiveness: Fishing for excuses, avoidance of accepting responsibility, or 

shifting 

blame back to your spouse

Stonewalling: Withdrawal from interaction, shutting down, or ceasing to respond 

to your spouse


YOU CAN BE HAPPILY MARRIED.

And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)


3. You feel like you understand each other less.

Disagreements and differences of opinion can be opportunities to better understand your spouse’s point of view. However, when your main goal is to get your point across or simply “win” the argument, you come out on the other side with less understanding of the person you love the most. 

4. You can’t reach a resolution.

No matter the subject of disagreement, it’s always left open-ended. No solution, compromise, or forgiveness. Not even an agreement to disagree. And because of that, there’s no sense of closure. 

5. You’re not okay to agree to disagree.

Often, couples use this phrase to simply avoid arguing. However, it can be healthy to recognize that you’re not going to see things eye to eye. One study indicates that only about a third of the couples’ conversations are resolvable issues. The rest are simply ongoing areas of disagreement.3 This doesn’t mean a couple can’t find workable compromises. It just means you’re not going to see things the same way on a particular subject. 

If you’re like me, you never experience any of these warning signs… amiright? The truth is, they pop up in every couple’s communication from time to time. Remember: Healthy couples fight. But when these signs become a regular pattern, beware: Trouble’s a-brewin’. 

The good news is that you can avoid all these things. Healthy communication and conflict skills can be learned and practiced. (Looky here and here and here). Outside help is sometimes a great idea, too. A trusted mediator can help determine compromises. And don’t be afraid to use a professional counselor to help get through more deep-seated issues. 

There are times when it’s good and healthy for couples to fight, but it really does matter how you fight. You’ve got this. 

Sources:

1Hackman, J.Richard., Collaborative intelligence: Using teams to solve hard problems, Oakland, CA: Berrit-Koeller, 2011. 

2Orbuch, Terri L., Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Austin, TX: River Grove Books, 2015. 

3Gottman, John M., The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2011.

Other blogs:

10 Ways To Know If Your Marriage Is Toxic (And What To Do About It)

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

How to Be More Compassionate to Your Spouse – First Things First

6 Ways to Keep a Conversation From Getting Derailed

Deepen your relationships by how you handle conversations.

Holidays are supposed to be a time of love and joy when you gather and celebrate family, friends, and traditions. Those celebrations can easily be derailed when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or controversial conversation. 

There’s no shortage of hot topics to navigate around if you want to have a peaceful gathering with friends and family. But try as you may, you just might find yourself discussing a divisive issue. You know you and a loved one aren’t on the same page about this topic, and you’re ok with that, but you probably don’t want a conversation to hurt the relationship. So, how do you stop the conversation before it goes too far?

Kathleen Kelley Reardon, a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, notes that “conversations are building blocks of relationships.” They have the power to build up or tear down relationships. 

Here are six of Reardon’s strategies to help you get a negative conversation back on track (just in time for the holidays):

1. Shine a different light on what’s being said.

If the other person says, “I don’t want to fight about this,” you can reply with, “I don’t want to fight either. Let’s have a discussion.” A discussion is seen as more civil. A conversation that evolves into an argument causes both people to put their guard up. A discussion, on the other hand, invites more listening. 

2. Rephrase what’s being said.

Instead of calling someone stubborn, call them persistent or determined. If they say, “You’ve got a lot to say,” you might respond, “I’m passionate about this subject and want to make sure every side is heard.” If offensive words are used, rephrase them positively.

3. Reflect on a positive past experience. 

Relationships are full of positive and negative interactions. A present negative doesn’t have to tear down a mostly positive past. If you need to pump the brakes, you might say, “We’ve had such a good relationship, but something has us out of sync. I know we can work this out in a positive way.”

This shows the other person that you value and want to protect what you have with them.

4. Clarify what you heard by restating what the other person said.

We’re all guilty of speaking faster than our brain can work. I know I’ve said plenty of hurtful things that I wish I could take back. If you think they have mistakenly said something painful, ask them, “Did you mean what I think I heard?” Give them the benefit of reconsidering and rephrasing what they said.

5. Ask a question.

Maybe your friend or family member didn’t mean to intentionally hurt or insult you. Perhaps they chose words too quickly. Ask, “Would you clarify what you just said?” Try not to assume they are determined to cause you harm. Give the relationship the benefit of the doubt.

6. Revisit the conversation at a later time.

There’s nothing wrong with bluntly saying, “I don’t think either of us is at our best right now. Can we pause this conversation and revisit it another day? I don’t want this to hurt our relationship.” Your consideration for the person is more valuable than who wins the discussion. Choose to protect the relationship.

Remember, conversations are building blocks to help us get to know each other better. They are how we deepen and develop relationships. Do what you can to keep one heated exchange from destroying a lifelong relationship. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be correct, but do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? You can’t always have both.

Other blogs:

What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics

What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love

How to Have a Disagreement with a Friend without Ending Your Friendship

Sources:

www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com

7 Things to Say When a Conversation Turns Negative

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What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

These steps can help you manage the tension.

Ever had the same old fight over and over? Do you wonder why, or what in the world you can do about it? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, disagreeing with your spouse is normal. The bad news? According to Dr. John Gottman’s research, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual or unsolvable. Couples will return to these issues over and over again in their relationship. These are often grounded in fundamental differences between two people: differences in personalities, needs, or expectations. 

So, what do we do if all our problems can’t be solved like the fairy tales taught us? Gottman suggests creating a dialogue around them instead of attempting to solve them.

Sometimes, disagreements can bring a couple closer together. The key is how you and your spouse handle it when you disagree. Successful couples learn and grow together through difficult times. 

Here are some steps to take when you disagree with your spouse:

1. Don’t avoid the issue.

Disagreements are best handled when you acknowledge they exist. If you’ve been married more than a minute, you’ve probably run into a disagreement or two. Let’s be honest: Planning a wedding is full of disagreements, so why would we expect marriage to be different? If the best way to navigate disagreements is to create a dialogue, it’s best not to avoid them.

The more you practice managing your disagreements, the better you can stay connected and engaged as you navigate them.

2. Listen.

Becoming a good listener is essential if you want to maintain a healthy relationship. Far too often, people listen to respond, but the key is to listen to understand. Listen to your spouse’s viewpoint. Ask questions, don’t interrupt, and seek clarity. Good listening skills will help you recognize those perpetual issues. (READ The Art of Communication for more great info!)

3. Practice empathy.

According to U.C. Berkeley researchers Levenson and Ruef, empathy is the ability to accurately detect the emotional information being transmitted by another person. But empathy isn’t just understanding how they feel; it goes a step further. Empathy is an action. It’s feeling what your spouse feels. Don’t worry too much if you struggle with empathy, because it’s a skill you can learn.

4. Be respectful.

A common theme in our house is that everyone deserves to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect – not because of anything they have done but just because of who they are. This starts with our marriage. When you disagree, attack the problem, not the person.

We’re all individuals with our own opinions. Be careful not to belittle your spouse just because they don’t see eye to eye with you. Remember, we grow through our differences.

5. Seek a resolution.

People often say, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” That can be a great thing in marriage. Suppose your disagreement is due to a perpetual issue. In that case, you won’t find a resolution, but you may be able to compromise. You can agree that it’s okay to disagree and seek a compromise you both can live with.

Brush up on those negotiation skills and meet each other in the middle.

The goal of managing a disagreement isn’t to win. It’s to understand each other and find a mutually beneficial solution. Marriage is a partnership of two imperfect people choosing to build a life together and move toward each other throughout the journey. You’re going to disagree with your spouse, but you can use those disagreements to grow closer together.

Sources:

How to Improve Your Relationships With Effective Communication Skills

How Successful Couples Resolve Conflicts

Managing Conflict: Solvable vs. Perpetual Problems

5 Tools for Healthy Communication in Marriage

These skills can take your talk to the next level.

It’s not exactly news that healthy communication is the foundation of a happy and satisfying marriage. But let’s be honest: As you interact with the one you love the most, it’s easy to let healthy communication habits slip. 

Marital communication is a skill. And like any other skill, you can learn and constantly improve upon it. Fortunately, it’s not super complex. Using a few good tools can keep communication heading in a healthy direction. 

Here are a few communication tools you can try today: 

1. Precision Timing 

You probably know the frustration of trying to talk when one of you is in the middle of something (like a chore, or the game, or a nap). 

Asking, Is this a good time (to ask a question or to tell you about such-and-such), cuts down on a ton of frustration and gives attention to your communication. 

And if the time is not right, a better time needs to be scheduled. Let me finish this one thing, and then I’m all ears. Or, Can we wait until halftime, and then I’d love to hear about such-and-such? These are words that show respect and foster good communication. 

One caveat: If your spouse urgently needs your attention, do what you can to drop what you’re doing and listen. They obviously have a need that takes priority over what you may be doing.

2. Laser Focus

Whether you’re speaking or listening to your spouse, eliminate distractions. Cut out the static as you tune in to them. Turn off the phone or the game. Send the kids to their rooms. Face your spouse and make eye contact. Listen as if they’re the only thing that matters at that moment. (Because, really, they are!)

3. Crystal Clarity

A stellar rule of thumb: Clarify, ask for clarification, and re-clarify. So what I’m hearing you say is… That must make you feel like… Am I understanding you correctly when I hear you say you need… 

Make your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs as clear as possible. This is what I need right now… I’m feeling very strongly about… I’m thinking this, but I’m not sure I have it all thought out…  

Be patient with your spouse as they try to understand; they aren’t you. It might take a fair amount of re-clarifying before you feel understood. That’s ok; the value of communication is in this process. 

4. Controlled Tone

We often communicate much more through our vocal tone than actual words. Confusion happens when our words don’t match our tone. 

It’s Fine. I’m Fine. Everything is just FINE! 

This often indicates that our tone is truer to our feelings than the words coming out of our mouths. 

Awareness is key. 

Be clear in communicating your needs, and temper your tone to express those needs in a healthy way. 

Sometimes, you get a more-desired response from your spouse using a calmer tone of voice rather than “letting it fly” just to be sure they know exactly how you feel. Perhaps emotions tend to get the best of you in a heated conversation. If so, it might be best to drop back and process your emotions first before you approach your spouse. 

5. The Magic Question. 

You probably know listening is critical. But understanding why your spouse wants you to listen is the golden ticket to excellent communication. 

The Magic Question can help you understand exactly what your spouse wants from you. Here it is: 

Is this something you’d like me to help you find a solution for, or would you like me to simply listen and understand? 

It’s amazing what using a few good communication tools can do for your marriage. And you can easily implement any of these tools today. Give one or two of these a try this week. It’ll make a difference!  

Source:

Vazhappilly, J. J., & Reyes, M. E. S. (2018). Efficacy of Emotion-Focused Couples Communication Program for Enhancing Couples’ Communication and Marital Satisfaction 

Other blogs:

How to Validate Your Spouse’s Feelings

The Art of Communication

The #1 Thing That Can Secretly Ruin Your Marriage

Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable?

Disagreements provide opportunities to problem-solve together.

Some things in marriage are inevitable, like conflict. 

But wait. Isn’t the point of marriage to avoid conflict? To live in marital bliss and peace, happily ever after? 

It’s commonly thought the less you fight, the healthier your marriage. As a matter of fact, both researchers and counselors seem to agree some conflict is not only inevitable, it’s normal. And it could even be good for your marriage.

That word: conflict; it’s tricky. Some might be tempted to picture marital conflict as a knock-down, drag-out, throwdown of debate and insults in the effort to “win.” 

But if we’re to thrive in our marriage, it’s necessary to reframe how we think about marital conflict. 

Conflict is simply disagreement. It’s a temporary inability to see eye-to-eye. Sometimes it involves strong feelings. But in no way is conflict some kind of omen for dysfunction. It’s just gonna happen, even in the healthiest of marriages. It’s, well, inevitable. 

Side note here: There’s something to be said about the frequency of conflict in your marriage. If you find yourselves constantly at odds with each other, this could spell trouble. And it’s a possible sign that either: A. You aren’t handling conflict in a healthy way, or  B. Other dynamics are eating away at your marriage. If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider seeking help from a professional marriage counselor. 

So when it does come around (and it will), every married couple is tasked with handling conflict in healthy ways. 

But how do you get there? Keep these ideas in mind: 

  • You and your spouse wear the same jersey. You’re on the same team. Even teammates have different ideas of how to get the ball down the field. But at the end of the day, you both share the same goal: Resolve the issue at hand and keep your marriage strong. 
  • Attack the problem instead of each other. In other words, keep the goal the goal. Nothing gets accomplished when you go after each other’s character. Avoid those four nasty responses to conflict described by researcher John Gottman: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.1 They kill communication and suck the life out of your marriage. 
  • Be aware of how you speak in a conflict. Avoid using harsh start-ups, launching into a tirade with your emotions driving the boat. Don’t start sentences with “You…” Instead, use “I” statements to own your feelings and opinions. 
  • This is going to require some listening on both your parts. Listening is key to working toward a resolution.2 Since you share the goal, you share in the solution. Listen to seek to understand the other person’s view, even if it doesn’t align with your own thinking. 
  • Know when to forgive, and perhaps more importantly, when to ask for forgiveness. It deters the lingering effects of a conflict, even when a solution is found.3 Forgive and leave the offense there.  

If you and your spouse experience conflict in your marriage, don’t fret.

It doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It’s just a part of life and a part of the marriage journey. And evidence even suggests that conflict can be positive for your marriage.4 

Although conflict is inevitable, it provides an opportunity for making change where it needs to be made. And working through an issue to find a solution creates a stronger sense of connection and intimacy between couples. 

Don’t let conflict throw your marriage off track. Maximize it to find solutions and strengthen your marriage. 

Other blogs:

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage

4 Tips for Becoming a Team in Marriage

Sources:

1Gottman, J., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting Marital Happiness and Stability from Newlywed Interactions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(1), 5–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/353438

2Lachica, N., Stockwell, A., & Gamba, J. (2021). What did I just say? An individualized behavior skills training for listening behaviors of adult participants in romantic relationships. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2021.1922664

3Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., & Davila, J. (2004). Forgiveness and Conflict Resolution in Marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(1), 72–81. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3200.18.1.72

4Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P. T. (2000). The handbook of conflict resolution : theory and practice  (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Grandparents usually mean well. Like you, they want your child to become a great adult, but their way of showing this can cause problems. Sometimes they may seem controlling, undermining, manipulative, overbearing, or critical. They can make you feel insecure, incompetent, or small. (Imagine my thumb and pointer finger getting closer and closer to each other.) You both have desires and expectations. Sometimes, they clash and the grandparents overstep boundaries they may not even know they’ve crossed.

It can be anything: food choices, entertainment, clothing, the holidays, discipline, etc. Things they don’t think are a big deal may be huge for you. You want a good relationship with your parents and in-laws. You also want your kids to have good relationships with their grandparents. In your mind, the boundaries are designed to protect that relationship. 

So what do you do when the grandparents overstep boundaries?

1. Start by resolving in your mind the reason for the boundary.

This helps you clarify why it’s important to you. How does the boundary help the child and/or family? 

2. Is there a bigger issue?

Are they overstepping because of fear? Do they fear their grandchildren won’t like them as much if they don’t give them more sweets or grander holiday gifts? Maybe they’re afraid their grandkids won’t know them well if they don’t see them “enough.” They may just think the boundary is unnecessary. It’s also possible they’re trying to make up for lost time.

You don’t have to know all the answers, but talking through them with your spouse and the grandparents with an open mind can help you address bigger issues.

1. Get on one page with your spouse.

Understand 1) the boundary, 2) how it was crossed, and 3) the reason for the boundary. It’s common for the boundary to be “more important” to one spouse than the other. But sticking to the boundaries (whether you agree on the level of importance or not) is essential.

2. Talk to the grandparent.

It’s generally better for the biological child to talk to their own parent privately, away from the kids or others, though both spouses being present is a good thing. You may start the conversation with, “I was bothered when you __________,” or “I was disappointed when I heard _______________,” or “I felt disrespected as their parent when you __________.” Notice the use of “’I” statements. You’re not calling them a bad grandparent or accusing them of being something negative. You’re addressing how you felt when a particular event happened.

3. Ask why?

Tone matters. Body language matters even more than words. This part of the conversation may help you understand if there are bigger issues.

4. Stay on-topic.

Focus on the main issue, not about whether you’re a good parent or how they felt at the last holiday dinner. 

5. If grandparents keep overstepping, then adjust.

However, be specific about the reasons why. Perhaps you skip a few holidays or don’t let the kids stay the night with their grandparents for a while. Be clear. This isn’t about the grandparent feeling the same way about your boundaries or trying to be someone they aren’t. It’s about raising your family and creating the family culture how you see fit.

6. Search for areas of compromise.

(I don’t mean compromising the expectation to respect boundaries.) As parents and kids grow, boundaries may change. What kids can watch on TV may change. For instance, if what grandparents feed your children is an issue, a compromise may be that the child and grandparent can prepare food to eat together once a month. 

7. Separate the act from the character.

The grandparent may be manipulative, controlling, or judgmental. Pointing out their actions and crossed boundaries is more concrete and tangible than calling them manipulative. Instead of saying, “You’re manipulative. You give them gifts you know we don’t approve of,” you could say, “When you gave them that gift for Christmas that we didn’t approve of, I felt like you were manipulating to get them to like you.” Remember, the goal is to help the grandparent have good relationships with your family. 

8. Forgive.

If the grandparent expresses an understanding and a realization that they overstepped a boundary, then forgive them. Don’t hold the grudge forever. If it becomes a pattern, you can still forgive as you adjust. (See number 6.)

Your child’s grandparents may have strong opinions about boundaries, and it’s tough for some to respect their child as a parent. If you’re willing to stand with your spouse and have some tough conversations, you can help everyone transition to this new phase in everyone’s relationship. 

Other blogs:

So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

What To Do When Grandparents Undermine Your Parenting

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5 Tips for Distancing From Your In-Laws

Getting along may take time, effort, and patience.

As a newlywed, establishing and navigating relationships with in-laws can be filled with tension and pitfalls. I recall the first significant conversation with my in-laws when I felt disrespected and disconnected. The conversation went something like this: “Hey, you never call. You never come by. Do you not like us?” I remember trying to gather my thoughts. My first reaction was, “OMG! I want nothing to do with them!” From there, I had to stop and consider what they were asking for, not what I was hearing. They wanted to be part of our lives but were pushing too hard to make that happen.

You may be saying, “There is nothing to consider! They said something I don’t like, and there is nothing to think about and nothing we need to talk about, ever.” I get it. I really do. 

And please hear me say this: If your in-laws are verbally or physically abusive*, this blog is not for you!

Nevertheless, for me, there were things to consider, like:

  1. Relationship with my sisters-in-law (They had nothing to do with that conversation.)
  2. My husband loves his parents and wants to continue to have interactions with them.
  3. How will our future children be impacted by this distant relationship?
  4. What about other family gatherings? 

So before I chose to destroy (sever) the relationship, I sought to find healthy boundaries* and create appropriate distance between my in-laws and me. 

Here are some things to keep in mind if you need some distance from your in-laws, too. 

1. Understand that their family dynamics or interactions are different from yours.

I struggled with needing distance because my in-laws expected the same thing from me that they expected from their children. They expected me to call every morning and have dinner with them on Sundays. It took me a while to recognize that they didn’t have unrealistic expectations; their expectations were just different from the ones my parents had. Once I set a boundary of once a week calls and dinners once per month, things calmed down.

2. Be willing to create a relationship with the in-laws.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just getting to know them or if you had a long-term relationship before your marriage. Now that you’re married, you are establishing a new and different relationship. As such, you’re still getting to know each other. Be open to a fresh start. 

3. Their behavior probably comes from a place of care.

Usually, in-laws desire to feel close and connected. To you, it may feel like they’re smothering you and your relationship. Try to see the good in their actions. 

4. Living away from them can provide natural boundaries.

I remember watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The main characters, Deborah and Ray, lived directly across the street from Ray’s parents, Marie and Frank. Deborah and Marie had issues. One of the main ones was proximity. Marie and Frank constantly barged into Deborah and Ray’s house without advance notice or invitation. I would tell my husband, “Couldn’t be me.” Gratefully, it wasn’t. Within six months of our marriage, my husband and I moved 12 hours away from our families. Truthfully, it was easier to deal with or even ignore behaviors because I would only be around them for short periods.

5. You and your spouse are a FAMILY.

It may be hard for one or both of you to set boundaries with family. Remember this, though: Once you’re married, your spouse becomes your primary family member. In my case, I do respect my mother-in-law as his mother. Yet, I know my PLACE as his WIFE. I am confident and don’t feel the need to compete with my mother-in-law. Your primary allegiance is to the family you created with your spouse. Standing up for them with your family or supporting them as they stand up to their family for you is crucial. 

When you and your spouse said, “I do,” you united your families as well. Learning the rules of engagement for each family requires time, effort, and patience. You may have heard the old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” That saying also applies to families. When you have healthy boundaries, it can prevent in-laws from being outlaws.

*If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.*

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Don’t Really Like Your In-Laws

So, You Need to Talk to Your In-Laws About Boundaries

What to Do When You Aren’t Crazy About Your Future In-Laws

How to Validate Your Spouse’s Feelings

You can show them you value their emotions with these tips.

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. 

Other blogs: 

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

7 Ways to Increase Trust in Marriage

The Art of Communication

Sources:

The Impact of Validating and Invalidating Responses on Emotional Reactivity

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