Couples have come into my office (20+ years of them) because they’re arguing too much, and the arguments are getting them nowhere.
Arguing with someone’s feelings …
Most arguments are rooted in a self-sabotaging need people have to argue with other people’s emotions. Here’s the problem: Emotions aren’t always logical. Guess what? They don’t have to be. They are part of what we are.
The secret to stopping the argument is to stop arguing with someone’s emotions.
When couples fight, it is often because one (or both) of the partners is unknowingly telling the other partner that how he or she feels is wrong. The argument escalates when you say something like, “That isn’t true. I did NOT say that you were being a jerk. You’re always doing …”
Arguing with how someone feels doesn’t work.
Emotions generate a powerful energy that wants to be recognized. Consider what can happen when we allow emotions to be recognized.
Think of validating someone’s emotions as slowly letting air out of the red balloon.
So, if Angela says, “The joke you made at the party about me was embarrassing. Why would you say something like that in front of our friends?”, don’t say in response: “What? That was just a joke. Lighten up. There is no reason to get so emotional about it, for goodness sake!” (and make matters worse with eye rolling.)
Try to find the emotions behind the reaction.
Depending on the situation and the setting of course, try something like: “I am glad you told me that you were hurt by that. It wasn’t my intention but I can see that it must have felt bad for you. I can see how upset you are, and I hate that you are feeling so bad. That sucks.”
On validating emotions …
The simple act of acknowledging someone else’s feelings and giving them permission to feel them takes the big red balloon in the room (the argument) and releases its energy and air. Ignoring or fighting with someone’s feelings only adds air, and that balloon gets bigger and bigger until you know what happens. The balloon pops.
Validating someone’s emotions doesn’t mean you are agreeing with them.
When you are in disagreement, it’s natural to want the other person to see your point. You might feel they won’t get your point if you agree with them. On the other hand, if you validate their emotions, you might find they are more likely to agree with you because they aren’t so blinded by all that emotional energy.
I can’t tell you how many communication conflicts I’ve defused simply by explaining this fact to the person trying to rationalize their partner’s feelings away. I point out to that person (and let’s be clear: it’s not always a man) that you can validate someone’s emotions without endorsing them as rational.
Just agree that how the person feels is how they feel, and you get it. You can do this with bosses, people you manage at work (just tone down the emotions speak), as well as with your teenagers or upset customers. “I can see that you are mad about this ….”
What if your partner refuses to validate/respect your emotions?
If you are in a relationship where your partner has no interest in validating your emotions, hopefully, this post will show you why you get so outraged at this person when you argue. Try to validate your own emotions and realize that your energy is escalating for a reason, and it is okay. You are normal.
In my 20+ plus years of counseling and social work experience, I’ve seen hundreds of women (men too) learn to set boundaries and break the codependency that kept them tied to unsatisfying relationships and circumstances. Learn more in my book, Stop Giving It Away.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, which is on sale now at Barnes & Noble.
Join the conversation and get tools and tips for how to stop being a Giveaway Girl on my other blog at www.stopgivingitaway.com.