“He never listens to me Cory! What is it going to take for him to listen to me and stop trying to fix me?”
“She always acts this way. She has never respected me!”
These are common words I hear from my married clients, as they sit on opposite ends of my couch, speaking to me as if their spouse is not in the room. This video clip is a great illustration of this point: It’s Not About the Nail.
Here are two tools you can use to validate your spouse.
Listening is a simple, yet very complex, principle to teach. It takes a great deal of effort and energy to really listen to another person and not just fix them. Listening is a source of intimacy where one shuts out the world around them and truly listens. (Refer to my previous blog Intimacy Crisis. Listening tells the other person, “I value you and what you are saying to me enough to pay attention to you and not the distractions around me or my own self-interest within me. You matter to me more than that. I am willing to be intimate and vulnerable with you in this moment.”
Communication is a “funny” thing; however, it is not funny when it fails. Nothing can be more frustrating than when you receive poor service or the wrong product from a business because of a simple misunderstanding. We have all had this experience from ordering a birthday cake to meeting a friend for lunch.
When a speaker is communicating a message, it may not be the same message in his mind that he is even speaking. Assuming the listener is not distracted by the noise around them, their own thinking about upcoming events or past regrets, they still are receiving a flawed message from the speaker through a wave of distractions. The listener then processes what they think they heard. However, they may speak back a message that may be different from what they think they are wanting to say in their mind. Yes, communication is simple but also very complex.
It reminds me of the children’s game we called “telephone” where kids would sit in a circle, and one child whispers to the child on their left a spoken message, such as “I like chocolate cake.” That child whispers the message to the child to their left and so on until the message comes full circle, and the last child speaks the message they received, “I like Charles the Great.”
Improving communication skills is usually one of the top three goals married couples have when they seek counseling along with issues regarding money and sex. Here are some basic principles to understand about communication.
- Communication is not competition of who can be louder, speak longer or have the largest language and biggest vocabulary.
- Communication has the word commune in it, which means to bring together, to experience intimacy. We also use the word community.
- Communication is about hearing and validating what the other person has said. It is about validating their reality, no matter if you disagree or how distorted you think it is. It is not about winning.
This last one is the most difficult; because when emotions are involved or in the “driver’s seat” and logic is thrown out the window, communication is no longer about validating the other person. Now, it’s personal and all about winning! It is not only about winning. It is also about winning BIG by humiliating the other person. By trying to get other people on your side, the ultimate goal is getting your spouse to agree they were wrong and you were right. Oh, yes, sweet victory! Nothing is quite like it!
But, wait! As with anything, there is a high price to pay for “winning”. The top can be a cold and lonely place all by yourself. You have won, but you may have lost the trust, closeness, and willingness of your spouse to be vulnerable with you again. This makes communication more difficult in the future, and silence will now become the new weapon. As I say, “silence in a marriage is violence.”
Listening is an art. Learning how to listen and validate your spouse can be very helpful. Again, validating is not about winning. Validating is about communicating to your spouse that you heard what they said and how they feel about what they said. That is it – even if you disagree with them.
Here are a couple tools you can use, not just with your spouse but with your children as well as professionally at the work place.
- Mirroring or Parroting – Mirroring, Parroting or what is also known as Speaker/Listener is a great tool. The rules of this tool are that the listener is not allowed to speak until they have successfully paraphrased what the speaker has said as well as how they feel back to the speaker. Once the listener has done so to the approval of the speaker, they can then comment or respond back. Same rules apply to the new listener, as they are not allowed to comment or respond back until the new speaker’s approval of the message has been repeated back correctly. If the listener is not able to paraphrase the message, the speaker may to have repeat or rephrase things several times. This is a very elementary exercise that can go on for minutes or hours. Both should feel heard and validated by the other – even if nothing was totally resolved. Again, it is not about winning. If done really well, you may feel physically tired at the completion of this exercise.
- Taking Responsibility – The next tool is about taking responsibility for things you have said or done to your spouse that has hurt them.
- By following the two sentences below. Think of one thing you said or did by owning it. Then list 10 feeling words that your spouse, as the listener, may have felt from that one event. It is also good to have a feelings words list in front of you.
- “When I did or do __________ .” or “You might or may have felt _________.”
- Once all 10 feeling words are shared, the listener can respond and indicate which feelings were an accurate representation of what they felt. They can also share feelings the speaker did not list. Once the couple has had time to process, the other spouse will now become the speaker and follow the same format.
- Once each has had time to share, the couple can move into the first tool of speaker/listener to process and validate each other further.
There really is a good reason God gave us two ears and one mouth. Begin to validate your spouse, and you will have victory… together… as a couple.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.