Don’t “Just Say, ‘No’”

Posted on June 11, 2014


Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love. Prayer of St. Francis


So your partner says some things that just make no sense to you.  You can’t even believe that he/she believes what he/she is saying.  You were there and the facts don’t even match up with what happened; much less so that conclusions.  Your partner thinks you don’t care when you are doing everything you can to demonstrate that you do.  How can he/she even say that?

When a couple first comes for therapy, it is “situation normal” for them to see the problem and the relationship very differently.  On the whole, I am not that interested in the facts of what happened as they are not as significant as how each partner is experiencing the relationship.  My operating assumption is that the way each person tells it is that way they experienced it.

So here’s the issue.  If your partner expresses a concern or brings a complaint to you and you say “that’s not how it is at all” (or “you really don’t feel that way”), it invalidates your partner’s experience.  The reason that this is a problem is that it leaves you both feeling misunderstood and disconnected.  One of the things we most need in an intimate relationship is to feel understood.  If our experience is rejected out of hand, it does not promote emotional safety, closeness, or vulnerability.

Does this mean I need to agree with whatever nonsense I hear from my partner?  First, let’s not call it “nonsense.”  That, in itself, is invalidating.  Second, of course not.  This is not about agreeing with your partner’s view, but about making your partner feel that his or her experience is understood.  After your partner feels understood, there is space for you to share how you experienced the incident.  Empathy is not about concession or acquiescence, it is about validation and connection.

So if your partner seems to not be making sense, seek to understand what the situation looked like through his or her eyes.  Empathy and understanding are powerful healers.