Validation of feelings, not parking, although parking could be important, too.
Let me tell you a story. Long, long ago there was a charming man and a stunning woman and they felt like they were meant for each other. There was chemistry, they had complimentary personalities, and everyone thought they were perfect together. They got married, and their wedding day was a dream come true. The Mass was beautiful, he wrote the song for their first dance, and their friends and family traveled from all over the country for a great celebration. It seemed like happily ever after.
Then, reality hit. He liked to sleep with a fan blowing on his face. She couldn’t sleep with a fan on and just wanted to be covered with layers and kept warm. He liked to unwind and do nothing, she wanted to be busy doing something all the time. They just felt like they were on different pages!
One day, they wondered if they should have even gotten married. He owned his own business, and would call his wife in the middle of the day to say that something went wrong, or got pushed back, and his schedule was ruined. She tried to fix it by making a plan to get his schedule back on track.
Then he would come home. She would complain about how messy the house was and how exhausting the kids were all day, and he would tell her to clean as she went and give the kids more quiet time. Neither of them felt heard, and eventually they stopped sharing how they felt. He kept his business worries inside, and she grew to resent him for his job outside the house and how he never seemed stressed or shared what was on his mind.
This is a true story about my husband and I. Neither of us knew how to validate each other’s feelings, and so we never felt heard. My husband just stopped calling to vent and gave up on sharing his feelings, because he didn’t want me to fix anything, he just needed to let off some steam. I, meanwhile, continued to complain every night when he got home because I just wanted to feel that he understood how hard it can be to take care of 3 small kids all day long. He would try to one-up me by explaining how tiring and physically demanding his job was. We were butting heads constantly.
When he came home without validating my feelings, he would start picking up, and then I felt like he was secretly holding it against me that I didn’t have time to clean before he came home. He was sticking it to me that he could clean up better than I could. Really, he was just trying to help me be less stressed, but I didn’t know his ulterior motives!
I didn’t get what validation was at first. I just seemed like you were a parrot, repeating what your spouse said. Why should I repeat what he just said, when I could ask how I could help instead? Doesn’t that seem more practical and loving? But what validation does is show 3 things:
1. Acceptance – it’s okay for you to have this problem, to feel the way you are feeling.
2. Understanding – I see where you are coming from, I understand how you feel.
3. Empathy – I am putting myself if your shoes, and I am feeling what you are feeling.
The fixing and the coming up with solutions can happen later. For my husband, he could often figure something out himself after he was able to share his feelings and then have time to think about it.
When he came home, all my husband needed to say was, “I heard the baby was up last night, you must be tired after taking care of the kids all day!” And then I could feel safe, and let him help me pick up without trying to pick a fight about it.
Then my husband could call at lunchtime saying, “This is the last straw. I’m going to look for a new job, because I can’t do this anymore.” In the past, I would say, “no, you can’t quit your job because your family is depending on you! All you need is to tell the customer this, go buy this new piece, rearrange your schedule to look like this, etc.” But now I know to just listen. “You feel like you want to quit your job, and nothing is working out for you today. That is so frustrating!” By the time he gets home for dinner, he has figured out a solution to his work dilemma and can keep on working. He had a safe place to share his feelings and time to work out a solution, and it doesn’t lead to an argument or bottled up feelings.
Through validation, we can share what’s on our heart and know we are being heard. Our relationship feels safe instead of feeling like a ticking time bomb. Rather than a breakdown of communication, validation is leading us to deeper communion on an emotional level. Our marriage will always require effort, but there still can be a happily ever after! Validation is an important way to make that happen.