“Why does my wife say You just don’t listen.’ I think I do. What am I doing wrong?” This is a question many spouses-husbands and wives-are asking. This is a question asked by many parents who think they’re listening to their children, but get a similar response, “You never listen to me!”
There are reasons why these loved ones feel like you’re not listening to them. The purpose of this article is to show you a way to listen with your heart. When this type of listening takes place your loved ones know they have been heard and understood by you. When that happens, everything changes.
So often when someone comes to us with a problem we think it is our duty to help them solve it. We naturally want to fix things for the people we love. In reality, the one thing these loved ones want more than anything is to be listened to. Not fixed. Not advised. Just listened to. If you understand that need it can lift a huge burden off your shoulders. Just say to yourself, “I don’t have to make everything all better. I just need to listen.”
Some have said, “Well, I did listen and it didn’t work. She/he still got mad at me.” Here’s the problem. Too many times we listen, but in our minds we’re thinking of ways to help them solve their problem, so a soon as they’re through talking we can jump in and tell them what to do. Stop it! It’s not your job. Your job is to listen, and you can do this more effectively if you use the four rules of validation.
What is Validation?
Before we give the four rules, you need to understand the meaning of “validation”. Everyone needs to feel validated by their family and friends. Validation in this context means: Walking emotionally beside another person without trying to change his or her direction.
To understand this concept, picture yourself walking beside your spouse. Then she starts to share a problem or concern with you. When you start giving your advice it’s like you have moved from walking beside her to jumping in front of her. The walking beside has ceased and now it’s a confrontation.
Keep in mind, you don’t have all the answers. If you think you know what the answer is, just bite your tongue and be quiet. Keep on listening. You can use the validating phrases, but not much more at this time. Later the validating questions will come into play. But for now, it’s time to validate and listen.
Now the four rules of validation, and then on to the validating phrases and questions.
Four Rules of Validation
Rule #1: LISTEN. Listen by giving your full attention. Look at the person, not a TV, iPhone, computer, newspaper, or anything else. Stop what you are doing and give yourself over to the one who needs your listening ear. Zip your lip and open your ears, and your heart. One woman who husband was continually telling her what to do when all she wanted to do was have him listen to her frustrations. She finally figured out that she needed to instruct him. She said, “Now I tell my husband, I need to talk. Don’t try to solve anything. I just need you to listen.'” It worked.
Rule #2: LISTEN. Listen to the feelings being expressed. Let them feel what they are feeling. You can’t talk them out of what their feeling. When someone says, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” it intensifies their frustration or anger. If you just listen and let them express how they’re feeling, it will do wonders in helping them be rid of those intense feelings. No one has the right to correct another person’s feelings.
Rule #3: LISTEN. Listen to the needs being expressed. If your mind is going into fix-it mode then your listening stops. You may never really hear what that person’s needs are. When people have a chance to express their needs, uninterrupted, then that gives their mind a chance to focus and even come up with their own solutions, especially if at this point you ask a validating question.
Rule #4: UNDERSTAND. That means to put yourself in their shoes the best you can. You aren’t that person and you can’t know what he’s going through unless you try to see from his perspective, not yours. Instead of saying, “I understand what you’re going through,” you might say, “I can’t possibly know what it feels like to go through what you’re going through, so please help me understand better.” You don’t have to agree, you just work at understanding. That’s listening with your heart.
The more you practice validating, the more rapidly the appropriate validating phrase will come to your mind during conversations. Remember this is all about walking beside another person emotionally. In order to be validating, your responses must be kind, gentle, and respectful, with the intent of understanding the other person. How we say them has everything to do with how they are received. Here are a few validating phrases that work well. You will think of others, so this is just a start.
I’ll bet that’s hard.
That would hurt.
I think I might have felt the same way.
I’m so sorry that happened to you.
I feel like crying, too.
What a difficult position to be in.
I’m so happy for you.
I’ll bet you miss him.
What a good idea.
Tell me more.
That’s got to be a real challenge.
Be a little creative in your validation as you follow the person’s lead, like when you’re being happy them, say, “Way to go, man!” or when something hard happened, “Ouch. That would hurt.” They need to know you are really with them. Allow yourself some mistakes and awkwardness as you get better and better at using validating phrases. Soon it will become automatic to you, and you will begin to feel the love coming back to you.
Asking the right question is vitally important in helping someone discover the solutions to their own problems. Without these questions they will fall back on “What should I do?” Remember, you don’t have to solve their problem. In fact, you don’t even have the power to solve it. You can help them, however, by listening and asking the kind of validating questions that will help them explore their own feelings and desires, and to come up with their own best solutions.
Keep in mind that your intention is to show that you genuinely care about them; therefore, your validating questions will be asked in a kind, gentle, and respectful manner.
Here are a few effective questions to get you started.
How did you feel about that?
What did you do?
And then what did you do?
What would you like to do?
When do you think it could be done?
What do you think might work?
Are there other options?
How did it happen?
How could you stand that?
And then what did you say?
What do you think caused the problem?
What does that mean?
What would you like me to do?
Is there anything I can do to help you?
Would it help if I (name something you can do)?
Validating questions are designed to learn more about the person or the situation. When you ask, “What do you think can be done?” you leave the responsibility where it belongs, and encourages the person to come up with a personal solution that will work for him or her.
People seem to become much smarter in handling their situations if the responsibility is left with them. When they rely on others for solutions to their problems they become dependant on them for help and never become capable of handing problems they face, and this applies to children as well as adults.
The key to validating phrases and questions is that they do not contain any answers. If you supply an answer within the phrase or question, you cease to validate because all you want is to have the other person confirm what you are thinking. An example of supplying an answer within a question is, “Don’t you think you ought to call your boss and tell him why you were late?”
Validating questions are designed to learn more about the person or the situation. When you ask, “What do you think can be done?” you leave the responsibility where it belongs, and encourage the person to come up with a personal solution that will work for him or her.
A Few Examples
Here’s a real situation that a couple experienced, reported to us in the wife’s own words. See if you can see the validating phrase and question in their conversation.
I’m a writer and was expecting to receive a choice assignment. I told my husband all about it and how much this writing opportunity would mean to me. He was hopeful with me as I anxiously awaited the confirmation. The call came and to my great disappointment, the assignment was given to another. I could not hold back the tears and was crying when my husband came home. He said, “What happened?” When I told him he said, “Oh, no! I know how much that meant to you. I’m so sorry.” He then put his arms around me and held me close. We sat on the couch and he just let me cry and tell all about my disappointment.
I’m so glad my husband didn’t say, “Cheer up, honey. You’re a good writer and I’m sure you’ll get many other opportunities.” Instead he just held me as I cried and talked about my lost opportunity. After a few minutes I stopped crying, and looked up at him and said, “It’s okay. I’m sure I’ll get other opportunities.” Then he enthusiastically said, You bet you will. You’ve a darn good writer.” Though I was still disappointed, I didn’t feel near the sorrow after that. I felt ready to move on to something else.
On the other hand, consider the following situation of a woman having some health concerns. She happened to mention to her husband that she wanted to lose some weight, thinking that might help. Her husband, a fit-as-a-fiddle guy, said, “Well, I’ve been trying to get you get into an exercise program, but you never do it. So I’m telling you again, join the gym with me. You’ll feel so much better.”
Sound harmless enough, but not so. Once again she felt put down. He needed to validate her concerns with, “I’m sorry you’re having these problems. What would you like to do?” And then, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” Let her come up with her own solutions. Given the chance, and the respect, she’ll be more likely to come up with what will work for her. Then he needs to support her in her solution.
What about the husband who comes home with the news that he lost his job. For a wife to respond with, “Oh, no! What are we going to do?” does not help. He doesn’t need his wife to go into panic mode at this time. He needs some understanding, like, “I’m so sorry, honey. You’ve worked so hard on this job. What happened?” Then listen. Don’t give him any solutions. Just let him pour out his frustration and anger. If he’s not ready to talk then patiently wait until he is. He needs love and time to consider his options. Later you can sit down and discuss the job situation, in a loving supportive way, by asking what he thinks might work out. Give him time.
When it comes to your children, young or old, it’s the same. For example, if a child failed a test, don’t rub his nose in it. He already feels bad enough. Validate his feelings by saying, “That’s hard. I know, because I’ve failed a test before, too, and it stinks.” He will adore you for that level of understanding. Don’t hurt him worse by saying, “Don’t you think you’d have done better if you would have studied more instead of playing video games?” That’s a question with an answer in it. Kids hate them as much as adults. They do not lead to good solutions. Instead kindly ask the simple question, “What do you think you could do next time?” Adults and kids are more likely to think through a problem and come up with their own good solutions if they’re given trust and respect.
The apostle James has wise counsel for all of us. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” (James 1:19)
If we follow this counsel and listen with our hearts many problems will be avoided and feelings of love will abound. That’s what creates happy marriages and happy homes.
[Much more about these concepts and their application in all relationships can be found in the Lundbergs’ book “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better”.
Available at, https://www.garyjoylundberg.com/. FREE SHIPPING.]