You have been trying to be a good listener, you’ve tried to be sensitive, you thought you were helping, so why isn’t it working? You don’t mean to, it’s completely unintentional, but chances are you have been communicating to your spouse that her feelings are invalid, they’re wrong, they’re a waste of time and effort.
Just a few days ago, as we were sitting down to dinner, I made this same mistake. Even though I have been taught this lesson before, I have shared it with others, and I believe it to be valuable advice, I still catch myself saying this damaging phrase. My wife was telling me about her difficult day, and feeling stressed and a little upset, and as I sat down to the lovely meal she prepared for me I said, “Don’t feel that way.” My intention was to console her, but “Don’t feel that way” is not consolation when someone wants to talk about their problems. I quickly caught myself and changed my message by asking her to talk to me more about it, while I listened to why her day was so hard.
How many times have you said this? A lot. You didn’t even notice, but you said it. It may be said any number of ways:
- Don’t feel that way
- It isn’t that bad
- You shouldn’t worry about it
- It’s not that big of a deal
- Try to relax
- You need to get over it
All of these are saying the same thing: your feelings are wrong, a waste of time. My mother, who first taught me about this said, “it invalidates your spouse’s emotions when you tell them not to feel the way that they feel. Don’t tell them not to feel that way, they do feel that way!” For women, talking about their problems is one of the best ways for them to handle stress. Let them talk through it, they are upset, they are stressed. Once again, they do feel that way, so listen up and help them vocalize their frustrations.
If you will listen, and validate their feelings instead of communicating to them that their feelings are invalid, it will help alleviate their stress which is really what you meant to do in the first place. Men can just let it go a lot easier than women, or at least focus on something else, but women often only feel better after talking about it. Their problems are directly connected to their emotions and talking about it soothes the emotions connected to the problem. Instead of the above responses, try these sincere and sympathetic responses instead:
- I’m sorry you feel that way
- That sounds rough
- I can see why it worries you
- That would frustrate me too
- I understand
- I don’t blame you for feeling that way
A great response is anything that says you understand, you are listening, and they are welcome to tell you more if they need to. Keep the communication open. If they are glad that they shared with you about this, it will be easier for them to share with you again later. You don’t want to build walls that reduce the quality of communication between you and your spouse.
It’s a hard habit to break, but any time you can catch yourself and quickly change your message, do it! She will appreciate it, and it really doesn’t take any more effort on your part. If you would like to read more about this, Dr. John Gray talks about it in more depth in his amazing book “Why Mars and Venus Collide“.
Do you agree or disagree with this article? Let me know in the comments!