From Dr. Jane's Notebook
First Aid For Relationships
The emotional health of an interpersonal relationship is relatively easy to assess.
When two people are in a relationship, symptoms of the relationship illness can be
detected through communication patterns. Left untreated, a relationship begins to show
signs of illness, which affects both people. In relationships, both love and hate are
contagious emotions. In relationships, both parties must actively work to resolve their
problem. Below are some thoughts on symptoms and first-aid for relationships.
- Disagreements aren't the problem. When people disagree, they are often advised to
compromise and hopefully achieve a win-win solution. However, in my experience, people are
generally unwilling to compromise until their position is "validated". Webster
defined validation as the process of confirming that an idea is based upon sound and
logical principles, which means confirming that one's partner has a viable point of view.
In relationships, validation means accepting that even when we disagree, everyone is
entitled to his or her opinion.
- Everyone needs to feel validated. Validation does not mean that you necessarily
agree, but it is a way of showing respect for the other's point of view. When two people
respect that they have differing points of view, it is easier for each one to take a step
toward compromise without feeling that they have lost face, given in, or failed.
As an example, imagine announcing that you feel tired, hungry or sick. Next, imagine
that the person you care about says that you can't possibly feel tired, hungry, or sick.
The effect of that response would make most of us feel invalidated, disbelieved, or wrong.
Though there are no costs associated with validation (validation can be communicated as
simply as "oh?"), the cost of making another feel unimportant is very expensive
to the relationship. I think it is fair to say that most of us hate to feel wrong, we
don't like feeling foolish, and we don't like to feel embarrassed. Feeling foolish or
wrong leads to more unpleasant exchanges.
- Feeling wrong usually leads to feeling anger and resentment. When anger and
resentment develop, we are no longer communicating about feeling hungry or tired, but we
are battling for validation. As long as our statement about feeling hungry or tired is
disputed, we may feel insulted enough to fight for our principles out of self-respect, or
we may just choose to "win" by shutting down emotionally.
- Recovery from emotional shut-down requires first-aid. If, in the course of
conversation, communication is abruptly brought to a halt, several measures should be
taken. First, backtrack to the moment of shut-down and search for clues as to the location
of the insult. Second, don't be shy about asking if an insult has taken place. Third,
invite your partner to repeat their point of view so that you can listen with a more open
mind. Fourth, try to understand each others' views without being judgmental. Fianlly,
remember that steps toward compromise are more easily taken once both points of view are
I'm reminded of the story of two individuals describing diffrerent halves of the same
elephant. One could only see the head of the elephant, the other could only see the tail.
Together, they argued tirelessly about their different ways to describe an elephant,
refusing to acknowledge that both could be right. In relationships, from where we each
stand, we all feel quite certain of our views. As such, before compromise can be viable,
we must extend to each other, the courtesy of listening to each other with respect.
ęCopyright, 1997, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated February 27, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon,