You’ve probably heard the relationship advice, “You can be right, or you can be together.” Often when we get into conflict with our partners, we hold on with every ounce of our being to the conviction that we are right…and surrendering that assumption may feel like capitulation in the heat of an argument.
One of the things I most love about Imago Relationship counseling is that it offers couples practical tools in the art of non-defensive communication. To stay in connection with our partner during conflict or disagreement, we have to relinquish the self-centered idea that “I am right” and “you are wrong.” We call this process validation — acknowledging that there is more than one way to view the world. Validation is the skill of communicating to another that you can understand a situation from their point of view. You can see the sense that their perspective makes, understand their logic, and accept its validity. But here’s the twist — validation does not mean that you agree and share the same perspective. When I validate my partner, I am not necessarily agreeing with him, but accepting that his perspective is as valid as my own.
This process may sound simple, but it involves a humbling process of checking my self-centered “ego” at the door. I am giving up the conviction that there is a right way (my way, of course!) and a wrong way (your way!) to see things. I’m letting go of being “right” and making you “wrong” if your perspective differs from my own. In essence, this process involves transcending the self and visiting the world of someone else. It may help to think of this as a gift you are giving to your partner, for the good of your relationship.
The next time you find yourself in the heat of an argument, take a deep breath, step back, and make an effort to understand what your partner is saying. One way to do this is to “mirror” or repeat back what they’ve said to make sure you’ve heard it accurately. Then go a step further. Validate their perspective by saying, “You make sense, and what makes sense is….” You may be surprised to see how quickly this can turn the situation around from conflict into connection.