“Yada yada yada!” Every heard that before—beside on a Seinfeld episode? That is a frustrating statement to hear because it sends a message: “My concerns are not important or valid.” Couples researcher Dr. John Gottman found a big problem in communication observing couples. A cycle where each person keeps saying something over and over trying to get the other to hear them. (A Couples Guide to Communication.) One person makes a statement and the other responds in a way that sends a message that they did not hear/understand what they said. One person is trying to state a thought, concern or feeling to the other; and the response back is—yada yada yada. In other words, your statements are not valid! “Yada”= Your statements do not make sense to me, they “shouldn’t” be that, they are wrong!” (invalid) What does invalidated person do? They continue to restate or summarize their concern over and over in different ways to try to get their concern validated. When two people are both doing this communication becomes frustrating and often results in an argument. How can couples stop this syndrome from happening?
What is validation? In a word, validation is seeing things from the standpoint of the other person. It is living out the old adage “walk a mile in their shoes.” It is saying that for THIS PERSON, given their set of circumstances, it is reasonable and true that they are feeling the way they are (or are concerned about whatever they are concerned about). Validating IS NOT agreeing with the person. I don’t have to agree, like it, or even understand it. It IS saying that it is possible that the other person’s viewpoint or feeling is real FOR THEM. Validation can end the cycle of each person restating their point—then defending it—over and over.
How can I validate my partner? One way to think about validating in a conversation is to think of changing roles. In conversations people usually have the same role. Both are speaker/listeners. To facilitate validation the couple each take a different role. One is teacher and the other student (don’t worry you can switch off later). For validation to happen one person (or both) has to STOP restating his/her point (or feelings) and become the student. The student wants to learn from the teacher.
A little aside: I realize that these roles may seem degrading. Couples don’t want to think of your spouse as a teacher scolding or correcting you. From a Christian worldview these roles can be positive instead of negative. Christians are called to serve one another. Jesus was called “teacher” or “master” by his disciples. In John’s gospel we find Jesus—the teacher—washing his student’s—disciples–feet. After he cleaned their muddy feet he said,
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17 NIV84)
Many times in conversation with my spouse I want to be right or I want to convince my spouse that they I am right and they are wrong. I want to come out a winner! It is humbling to put aside my agenda and take on the role of a student. Yet Jesus said if we do these things we will be “blessed.” The blessing of validation is experiencing communication and love at a greater level.
Ok, back to the nuts and bolts of validating. The teacher—the other person—tells the student what they are trying to say—or how they feel. The student’s job is to listen intently because he/she wants to pass the test! The student wants to get it right. The student feeds back what they learned from the teacher. The teacher then can affirm or correct the student. The student then makes corrections and asks if the correction is right. This process continues until what the teacher is saying matches what the student is hearing. This usually ends with some form of “yes! That is exactly how I feel” or “That is exactly what I am saying.” I love it when I see couples who had been caught in the cycle of restatement practice validation for the first time. The whole atmosphere changes! The folded arms drop and the angry postures start to melt. When you have been screaming for days, months or years in your marriage for your spouse to “hear” you (meaning validate you) and they finally do – it is incredibly healing.
Validation is not the solution to all communication problems or problems in general. Sometimes couples will practice validation and love the “blessing” they get from it, but then realize they still have unresolved issues. Validation is NOT problem solving—that is a different skill for another blog. Validation can facilitate the environment needed for problem solving to happen. My “yada” IS valid and so is yours. I may not like your “yada”, I may not understand it, and certainly may not agree with it, but it is, after all, YOUR “yada.”
– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP