So often when a couple is working through a conflict there is a need on both sides for their experience and hurt to be acknowledged and validated. This is critical to the repair process. However, in the midst of giving validation, if there is a quick leap to our own needs, it can feel invalidating to our partners. We need to take time to let this sink in before getting to our needs.
I was aware of what she needed. So I said that I heard her and then I started talking about what was bothering me and she just shut down. Confusion was what I felt. “Yeah, I heard you, but I also need you to hear what happened for me” is what I said. This really pissed her off. I don’t get it. I heard her, and said I did, and then she acted like I hadn’t. It feels like I’m not getting my issues heard.
Client, Male 48 years old.
What is the “but…”
When a couple is attempting to repair a conflict there is this need for both sides to express their pain and hurt to their partner. One needs to take in the words, hear them and really listen to how they impacted the person they love. By doing this we move towards healing.
However, the partner who is in the position of listening to the other person’s pain is often still in pain themselves and is desperately wanting to be heard as well. The partner who is listening will attempt to repair their impact and then come in with a “but.” After the “but,” they will be asking for their own validation of the other person’s impact.
It sounds something like this:
“I get what you are saying about my tone of voice and how I said that in a really aggressive way. That makes sense to me. I want to treat you better than that.” (This is really good…letting the partner know what happened and then expressing an acknowledgment that their partner deserves to be treated in a better way).
“But…you also were being rude to me in the way you were talking.” (Uh ohhh…)
Is the but wrong?
What comes after the “but,” is not necessarily the issue. The issue is one of time. For most people there is a need to allow the kindness and care of a repair process to settle in. There can be a moment of connection that the healing happened. Shared eye contact or even physical affection can help indicate that the validation fully metabolized.
When a partner leaps to bringing in their issues too early it can feel invalidating to their partner. It was as if they were only saying those words so that they could get to their issues.
After the initial repair has been expressed and there is clearly a settling from the healing (energetically a person will feel more relaxed) it is okay to then ask permission for the roles to be switched. This gives the partner who was doing the validating to then get validated.
It is hard to say there is a prescriptive time frame. All couples are different. For some people it may take several minutes, for others it may be a few hours. The goal is to make sure that your partner is fully regulated and validated before switching roles.
Often in heated arguments the nervous system tends to get really speedy. This isn’t the case for everyone but it is true for many people. As we start to get dysregulated our heart beats faster and our words move faster as well.
When attempting to repair a hurt we need to first bring awareness to the speediness in our bodies so that we can slow down and really connect with our partner. This allows us to be attuned to how our words are landing and we can be certain what we are saying is helpful.
Slowing down also has the added advantage of allowing for more connection. It is nearly impossible to feel connected when we are dysregulated.
How this shows up in my life.
In my own relationship I have often jumped in much too quickly with my own concerns and issues before my wife has had a chance to really settle into my apology and validation. This tends to bring her into a dysregulated space again. As we have gone along she has continually brought me back to this point of saying, “but.” As I’ve paid attention to my own internal process I realize that there is a fear that I will not get my needs met so I rush forward. This comes out of an old childhood fear that my needs don’t matter.
I’m learning now that as I drop into awareness of myself I can take time to validate my wife’s experience. The next step is really asking permission to switch roles and express her impact on me. We are still learning how to do this gracefully. Luckily I picked someone who is fully committed to doing this better with me and is patient with me as I learn.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a relationship I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
About the Author
My name is Bryce Giron Mathern and I’m the owner of Brass Balls Tender Heart. I am a licensed therapist in the Denver Metro area. Being passionate and committed to helping my clients have amazing relationships with their partners, children and other family members is my thing.
I have spent a big chunk of my life learning the skills necessary to create healthy relationships. If you are struggling in a relationship I encourage you to reach out for help. I believe that through a process of healing old wounds and learning new skills people can build relationships that are nourishing and supportive.