The Single Most Important Communication Skill For Couples
Recently, I worked with a couple [we’ll them call Brandon and Jessica] who were having some communication issues.
At one of our sessions, they learned a tool that came in handy during one of their arguments. Here’s the story they told me at our next session of how it went down.
One day, they were walking around their neighborhood, discussing the type of lifestyles that they envisioned themselves having years down the road.
Now, at a point in the conversation where Brandon was giving his perspective on the difference between how he saw their future and how he thought she saw their future, he apparently hit a nerve because Jessica got really upset with him.
She told him he was wrong and and that he offended her.
And because he didn’t see it that way, he just continued to explain what he already said, hoping she would get it and understand that he wasn’t trying to offend her.
In his head, he kept asking himself, “Why can’t she seem to understand the real meaning behind what I said? Why does she keep twisting my words?"
Now, this went on for a while and started ruining their nice little afternoon walk.
So they sat down on a bench by the park and continued to discuss the issue, but they still weren’t getting anywhere.
The Light Bulb Moment
After taking a moment to think the situation through, he realized there was something VERY simple he wasn’t giving her that would help end this back and forth quickly.
That thing is validation.
And this was the tool they learned about in their session.
So, that moment when he was asking himself why she kept twisting his words? He realized she wasn’t intentionally twisting them.
She was simply trying to explain to him that the way he described how she saw their future made her seem to be a superficial and selfish person.
And while it wasn’t his intent to describe her in such a shallow way, that’s how it came off to her. And it bothered her. Also, his defensiveness about it didn’t help either.
Not only did she feel like he described her in a negative light, but now she felt like he wasn’t even acknowledging that how she felt was warranted.
He realized what she needed in that moment was for him to validate her point of view. And what did that look like?
What Validation Sounds Like
Once he realized what she needed, he gave her a simple response, “Hey, I can see how what I said was hurtful to you, so you feeling upset about it is totally understandable."
His response had two important parts. It acknowledged her perspective and let her know he understood where she was coming from.
He also could’ve said something like, "it seems you feel like I intentionally hurt you, so it makes total sense you’d feel upset and maybe even disappointed right now."
Only after taking that step to validate her was he able to further explain where he was really coming from and give her the opportunity to validate his own perspective as well.
Now, it’s important to remember that validating how your partner feels doesn’t mean you agree with them.
All it means is that you’re willing to consider and acknowledge that your partner is actually having the experience they say they’re having.
The purpose of Brandon giving Jessica that validation was to show her that both their understanding of the situation was equally important, even though they’re different.
Why Validation Is So Important
Now, how can something so simple as a validation be so powerful and necessary in our relationships?
Well, Harville Hendrix, Ph. D describes the reason why very well in his book, “Getting The Love You Want”.
He connects our need for validation with our fear of loss of self. He talks about how it seems that if I see it my partner's way, I will have to surrender my way of seeing it. Because I feel as if there’s only one center of my universe and that center is me.
But when I can muster up the courage to suspend my own point of view, just for a moment, and manage to see a fraction of my partner's reality, we create a connection. And they feel safer opening up to me.
Because when I’m no longer challenging their world-view, they can start to lower their defenses. And when I can abandon my own centrist position, they’re more likely to let go of theirs too and understand where I’m coming from.
I love that explanation.
This simple and easy tool has helped me and so many of the couples that I’ve worked with move past the bickering and create a stronger connection and a deeper level of trust with each other.
So, what are your thoughts? What’s your experience been like with validating your partners point of view? How did it change your relationship?
Let me know in the comment section below.
Also, please share this video with folks you know could benefit from better communication in their relationship.