You are fighting with your partner, and they say something you completely disagree with. Well, you can be right, or you can be in a relationship.
Does that mean you have to agree with your partner, for the sake of peace? No! There’s another way, and it’s called validation.
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Validation is so powerful it sits at the heart of Imago Relationship Therapy. Instead of fighting, the Imago dialogue structure slows a conflict down. Instead of reacting immediately to what your partner just said, you would mirror it back, and ask to learn more.
If that isn’t tough enough for you, the next step is to “Validate”. No – this isn’t about stamping their parking ticket. Validation is simply saying “You make sense, and the reason you make sense is…”
It’s very easy to overlook the power of validation. Many people are uncomfortable with it because they can’t quite see the difference between saying “You make sense” and saying “You are right”.
Validation goes along with Dr. Harville Hendrix’s astonishing statement, usually delivered at high volume “Your partner is not you! Got it!” Er, well yes, thanks Harville, she’s much prettier than me for a start. But what he is pointing out is that I quite often find myself saying things like “I can’t believe she said/did that - she must be nuts.”
The easiest way to dismiss someone entirely is to say that they are “nuts”. Then you can just dismiss everything they say as being deluded. Or you can decide that they are somehow tricking you in order to get you to do what they want.
Imagine I am with my partner, and she’s upset because I have done something that she thinks is terribly inconsiderate. She seems to be getting really upset about it, and of course I would say “Don’t be silly, you know I love you, that’s just a silly little thing that happened that doesn’t mean anything.”
Funny thing though. That approach doesn’t often seem to work.
What validation is about is recognizing that our partner really is quite different from us. What may seem insignificant to me might be incredibly important for my partner.
When we don’t recognize that people are different, it often means that we aren’t seeing them as a real person who is different from us. And if we don’t see them as themselves, how can we really connect on a deep level. Validation is like saying “I see who you really are”. How you do that is with something like “I hear what you say, and it makes sense to me, because I understand how it is that you see things that way.”
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It leaves your partner feeling appreciated, and valued. Try it when you can. Next time you find your partner says something you really don’t understand, don’t react or counter what they say. Try instead the Imago approach, of mirroring it back and asking if you got it. Then ask “Is there more?” to find out what it is about this that is significant to your partner.
When you’ve got the whole story, and taken it in, then you can say “You make sense to me” and see how it changes the whole way your partner is responding to you. It could be rather nice!