If you’re in a relationship, how truly do you hear and respond to what your partner is telling you?
Do your end-of-day interactions go something like this…?
Partner A: “I’ve had such an exhausting day. Back-to-back meetings on Zoom have given me a headache. I’ve barely got the energy to cook dinner.”
Partner B: “Well, lucky you. That’s nothing compared to the day I’ve had. You’ve been sitting at home all day while I’ve been driving up and down the county to see clients. That’s really aggravated my bad back and put me in a bad mood.”
Partner A: “Oh, so you don’t feel up to doing dinner either? It’s just that I really wanted to talk to you about whether I can carry on like this. They call it ‘working from home’ but really it’s ‘living at work’.”
Partner B: “Are you starting this again? You go on and on and on about it. If it’s really that bad then why don’t you quit?”
Or are you more likely to communicate like this…?
Partner C: “I’ve had a crazy day at work and I’m feeling zapped. I can’t face sitting at my laptop to finish my emails after a day on Zoom.”
Partner D: “Sounds exhausting. Why not take a quick break and tell me about it.”
In scenario one, Partner B can’t or won’t hear what Partner A is saying or wanting: just to be heard, and to have a little empathy. In scenario, Partner D is tuning into the feelings behind the words and offers some support and validation. Yet, for some partners, this is extremely hard to do and they don’t realise why they would even need to acknowledge their partner’s feelings. This can be a danger sign that the relationship isn’t going well.
Validating someone else’s emotions is key to open, honest conversation in a healthy, balanced relationship. Emotional validation doesn’t mean agreeing with everything your partner says. But it does mean allowing space for those emotions to exist.
Here’s how a partner can invalidate your emotions…
- Having their answer running and waiting to talk over you.
- Telling you you’re wrong, or dimissing your feelings out of hand.
- Telling you how you should feel instead.
- Twisting what you say so you doubt yourself.
- Making decisions for you.
- Belittling your experiences, and insisting that their situation is way worse than yours.
- Telling you not to take things so personally.
- Saying they’re only joking and you shouldn’t be so over-sensitive or touchy.
- Mocking or smirking when you try to express yourself.
- Blanking you or ignoring you when you try to have a serious conversation with them.
- Trying to fix things by offering advice rather than understanding.
- Minimising things that are important to you.
Emotional invalidation can impact you and your mental health in several ways. You can start to doubt your perspective on things, which can affect your self-esteem and belief in yourself. You may start to withdraw and withhold your feelings, out of fear for how your partner will react. Often it’s the dismissal or the ignoring or mocking that can hurt the most. You may try to argue with them to prove your point, or plead with them to understand you, but you may end up escalating things to a place of anger or hysteria or upset.
How to validate someone’s emotions…
- Show that you understand what they’re saying – or at least that you’re seeking to understand what they’re saying.
- Offer your full attention when they speak.
- Tell them “I understand”, as a way of showing that you care and that you’re not judging them.
- Remember that you don’t have to agree with them. That’s not the point. The issue here is showing that you love and accept them.
- Don’t become defensive.
- Don’t offer advice.
Finally, consider this: Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy? Not every discussion needs to turn into an argument. The words “I hear you” or “that sounds difficult” can go a long way in building connection rather than eroding a relationship.
If poor communication has become an issue in your relationship then you may want to try some couples counselling. Our relationship therapists can help you work out ways to be more present and caring for your partner. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] to book your initial session.