Are You Being Empathetic or Emotionally Invalidating?

Listening to Say Something by A Great Big World

Many of us are raised to be nurturers. As women, we’re supposed to be sweet, accommodating, and a soft place to land for the one we love. That often involves constantly looking for the bright side of difficult situations, de-escalating emotionally intense situations, establishing common ground, and uncovering shared experiences in an effort to better relate with our partner.

When your boo is stressing, you’re stressing. So you may seek to resolve his pain in an effort to make him feel better and to make yourself more comfortable in your relationship. Even if you don’t intend to dismiss your partner’s feelings, experience, or opinion, you might very well be doing so without knowing. This often looks like trying to address, fix, or resolve an issue that you shouldn’t be, making excuses for their failures or setbacks, or dismissing their concerns altogether.

For example, what if your love confided in you that he’s made a huge mistake at work and his boss really blew down on him about it? He tells you he feels terrible and believes he may be in the wrong. What would you do?

Offering a canned response after hearing him out may be an attempt to dismiss his concerns. By telling him that everyone makes mistakes, assuring him that he’s a high performer, his company is lucky to have him, and he can easily find another employer who appreciates what he brings to the table, you’re building him up, right? Not exactly. And don’t be surprised if his response is to offer a numb nod, drop it, and never bring the issue up to you again. This is what being emotionally triggered looks like.

In this scenario, you may have been so uncomfortable seeing your partner in this vulnerable state that you felt compelled to rush to his rescue. Uplifting and defending him was your solution rather than just listening to his valid points.

–   He’s worried. He’s really concerned that his mistake may end up costing him the trust of his boss or maybe even his job.

–   He’s looking for support from you in an entirely different way. He doesn’t need a ride-or-die chick. He wants empathy and to be heard by someone he trusts enough to set aside his pride and open up to.

–   This is really weighing on him. If he’s bringing this up to you, he’s obviously been thinking about it for a while and wants to hear your authentic reaction, not what you think he wants to hear.

Here’s a better approach.

Your supportive reaction sounds like this, “Yes, it sounds like you made a mistake and you’re right to be concerned about it, but that doesn’t eradicate everything you’ve worked hard to accomplish so far. You can get past this. Have you given any thought to what your next steps should be?”

In this scenario, you’re showing that you care about your partner’s feelings while assuring him that it’s not the end of the world and he still has an opportunity to correct things. You’re also giving him an outlet to work through things at his own pace while feeling your support.

Validating the feelings, experiences, and opinions of your partner on an ongoing basis looks like:

–   Seeking to gain total self-awareness so you can show up without projecting your own biases, baggage, and opinions onto your partner

–   Resisting the urge to jump in and fix the issue right away

–   Acknowledging their concerns through active listening and no judgment

–   Seeking to understand why they feel that way

If your goal is to be a supportive, compassionate sounding board and a safe place for your partner, the key is to consistently seek to understand what motivates them and how you can contribute to their mental and emotional well-being. As long as you keep this at the forefront of your intentions, your odds of leading with empathy will be in your favor.

Good luck, lovely.




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