Knowing your partner understands you is one of the best feelings in the world. When you disagree, you want your partner to hear your side and consider your point of view.
Unfortunately, couples sometimes get stuck in a pattern where one partner presents a problem and the other partner responds by becoming extremely rational and offering practical solutions to the problem. This is not a negative skill, but generally, the rational partner completely misses or fails to acknowledge the emotional content of the problem.
Offering solutions before expressing understanding may leave your partner feeling dismissed as if their feelings or experience do not matter. Instead of problem-solving immediately, learn to validate your partner first, as described in Dr. Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.
Admit what you have contributed to the problem. If your partner tells you they are annoyed you forgot to put gas in the car, do not simply resolve to put gas in the car next time or argue about whose job it is. Say to your partner, “I let you down. I didn’t realize you were counting on me. I want you to be able to depend on me. What can I do to make it up to you?”
Apologize or Offer Amends
You don’t always have to say “I’m sorry.” Say what you need in order to convey your partner’s complaint is valid and you made a mistake. Acknowledge your actions have caused your partner pain, and you regret causing the hurt.
Pretend You Have the Other Point of View
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagine what it might feel like to be them in this situation. Tell them their feelings make sense given their experience. You do not have to agree on every point, but recognizing your partner’s feelings or opinion as reasonable is a step in the right direction. Letting your partner know you are trying to listen and understand their point of view is a step toward the validation you both want to experience.
Validation is a skill you can develop through practice. Be patient with yourself and your partner while you work toward empathy and understanding. In a relationship, if one partner has been invalidated for a long time, this creates distance between partners not easily mended. If your relationship is currently filled with negativity and tension, it may take time before these skills have a positive effect. Keep trying. If you practice admitting when you are wrong and acknowledge your partner’s feelings, you might find your partner more receptive to you during difficult discussions.