A Simple Way to Make a Big Impact on Your Relationships

 

I want to share two very powerful communication skills with you.

They go hand in hand and using them together will deepen and strengthen your relationships. They’ll help your people feel accepted and understood. They can support someone in sadness and lift them in their joy.

These skills are acknowledging and validating.

Big words for concepts that are actually really simple. No fancy degree required.

But putting them into practice is not always easy. They’re skills not many of us have been taught or have even experienced much in our lives.

In fact, when you first start doing this it can feel a little awkward, but trust me, it’s so worth it

When you can acknowledge and validate the people in your lives, especially our partners and children, and even ourselves, it is magical in transforming our relationships.

Acknowledging: We All Want to Feel Heard

When we acknowledge what someone says it shows them that we are deeply listening, and that we care. We are paying attention. And to us humans, especially the little ones, attention is love.

It supports that deep, primal longing that we all have to feel heard and witnessed.

Doing this when things are going well can amplify the good feelings. But acknowledging someone in challenging times can be when it’s most powerful.

We all see the world through our own objective realities and when we pause to listen and acknowledge the experience of someone else it helps us to understand where they are coming from.

We don’t have to agree but we are communicating that we understand their point of view and experience.

Here’s how to do it…

As much as possible, release judgments and approach listening from a place of curiosity. Let go of your own agenda and ideas and truly listen. Then mirror back or paraphrase what was said.

Some approaches to acknowledging are:

  • “What you’re saying is…”
  • “What I’m hearing you say is…”
  • “In other words…”
  • “Let me repeat that so I make sure I got it.”

At the end, you can even ask, “Did I get that right?” so they can clarify if needed.

Validating: We All Want to Feel Accepted.

After acknowledging, the next step is to validate the emotion and experience. Validating normalizes emotions.

Often, we have a lot of judgment about emotions, especially difficult emotions like anger or sadness. We can get defensive when others have those feelings around us, we often want to “fix” them and move past them quickly because it makes us uncomfortable. We may even feel guilty for having those feelings ourselves.

The thing is the more we resist emotions the more they persist.

Instead, if we hold space for emotions and validate the truth of them, those emotions can be released and they lose power.

Here’s how to do it…

With sincerity and without judgment of right or wrong, agreeing or disagreeing, you let the other person know you can see things from their perspective and that their feelings are valid.

You can use phrases like…

  • “It is understandable that you feel that way because…”
  • “You have every right to feel [name the emotion] because…”
  • “It’s totally normal (or natural) to feel that way.”
  • “It makes sense that you would feel that way.”

One important piece is to keep “I” out of it. Try not to say, “I know how you feel,” or “I understand” because that shifts the energy from them to us and we really can’t truly know how others are feeling.

Understand to be Understood

Why is any of this important? Because people will not look at things differently unless they first feel heard.

As in the well known Stephen Covey adage, “Seek first to understand before being understood,” If you want others to see your point of view, then you need to be willing to see theirs.

Naming and normalizing emotions help us make sense of them and builds emotional intelligence, in ourselves and in our children. The healthy expression of our emotions has a positive impact on so many areas of our lives.

In the first episode of her new podcast, Understanding Us, Brene Brown and researcher Marc Brackett have a fascinating discussion about the importance of emotional intelligence and giving ourselves and our loved ones, “permission to feel.”

The Concepts in Action

With a Partner

Your Partner: “I feel like I’m losing my mind trying to juggle work with the kids at home bouncing off the walls!”

You: “There’s a lot of pressure on you to get work done and the kids are really distracting and making it difficult. Of course you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. That’s so normal in this situation.”

Acknowledging your partner’s emotion without hearing it as a criticism and getting defensive opens the door to problem-solving rather than blame.

With a Child

Your child is upset that they have to turn off their screens.

You (getting down to child’s eye level): “You love this show and wish you could watch it all night, it’s no wonder you feel mad when it’s time to turn it off.”

Taking a moment to let your child know their feelings are valid and you can hear them without taking them on for yourself and still keeping your boundaries, can ease the resistance around a transition.

With Yourself

You can even give yourself a little love and tenderness by putting a hand on your heart and acknowledging your emotions and experience without judgment or spinning a story.

“I feel really sad right now and that’s okay. It’s perfectly natural to feel this way because I’m worried about my family, my community, and the state of the world.”

Naming and acknowledging your feelings allows them to move through you and release so you can consciously respond, rather than unconsciously holding on to them and reacting.

It’s Your Turn

Acknowledging and validating takes some practice and might even feel a little awkward at first but it has the power to shift conflict to connection, hurt to healing.

It’s are a powerful way to create a culture of love and acceptance in our families and within ourselves. We all need more of that!

What questions do you have about acknowledging and validating? For the next week give it a try with your people and with yourself, and tell me about your experience. What shifted? Share in the comments.

xo, Allison


I’m excited to have this article featured in the Poppy Collective app. Poppy Collective is a digital and in-person, co-working community space for working parents. Learn more, growatpoppy.com.

10 Ways Busy Parents Can Reconnect, Right Now

“Many people think the secret to reconnecting with their partner is a candlelit dinner or a by-the-sea vacation. The real secret is to turn toward each other in little ways every day.” — Dr. John Gottman

I once heard a marriage counselor being interviewed and he talked about walking in the door after work, seeing his family and thinking, “You’re the reason I come home.”

I LOVE that perspective and totally admit it’s a bit idealized.

I mean, c’mon — in the midst of the most difficult days of having a newborn (and sometimes beyond that!) home can be the last place that feels welcoming.

Melting-down baby.
So-over-it mom.
Why-is-everyone-yelling-at-me-I-just-got-home? partner.

On a particularly hairy evening during my first maternity leave, my husband actually told me sometimes he wished he could just stay at work. Ouch! That did not go over well.

After I was over being angry, I saw his point of view. Where was the connection? Where was the joy?

A sweet lingering kiss.
A long hug.
An uninterrupted conversation. Heck, a “hello, glad you’re home” would do.

It’s these small things that you do on the regular that bring you back to each other. That reminds you why you like each other. That says to your partner “you matter to me.” That you take for granted before kids.

For new parents, even the simplest moments of reconnection can seem daunting.

Which is why I’ve pulled together some of my favorite ways to connect that don’t take a ton of effort but make you look forward to coming home.

1. Prepare them

A check-in text helps your partner know what they are coming home to — good or bad — so they can prepare themselves instead of feeling blindsided. They may even get a moment of self-care in during their commute — deep breathing, good music, small snack — to help them shift from work mode to family time.

Emojis or gifs are a great way to do this, they get the point across with a touch of humor and lightness.

2. Hug it out

Get eye to eye, heart to heart, belly to belly and hug long enough for your breathing to sync up and for you to melt into each other. Feel the tension release from your body as you lean into your partner.

While hugging, you’re actually reducing your stress hormones (cortisol) and increasing your love hormone (oxytocin).

What about the baby? Put him in a safe place, a mat on the floor, a bouncy chair, the crib. Give that good hug and tune out the world for a moment. You’re coming back to your team, to your special someone.

After your deep hug, you can always do a big group hug with the family!

3. Walk and talk

Put baby in a stroller and go for an evening walk after dinner. It’s a new parent date night! And the perfect time for a daily stress-reducing conversation or you could hold hands and just enjoy the quiet together.

4. Set boundaries and expectations

My husband usually comes home around 6 and that’s right at the peak point in dinner prep when all the pots are boiling and everyone’s hangry. It was right at that moment that he’d come in for a hug. I’d try to avoid it by ignoring him or mean mommy would flare up. Either way, I’d feel so guilty.

When I realized the dynamic that was going on, I changed it by being clear: that moment is not a good time to connect with me. I’m too frazzled.

He got it. So now when he comes home he doesn’t take it personally that I’m busy and instead plays with the kids or starts setting the table. When things are settled in the kitchen, I can be the one to turn to him and say, “I’m ready for my hug now.” (See tip #2.) That way we both get what we need.

5. Start a conversation

Get the free Gottman Card Decks app and give the Love Maps or Open-Ended Questions a try when you’re having dinner and your sleep-deprived brain can’t think of anything to talk about or when you’re on a date and want to talk about something other than baby.

6. Kiss like you mean it

Six seconds, twice a day, is all it takes! Do it in the morning when you say your good-byes and in the evening when you return to each other.

Dr. Gottman calls a six-second kiss “a kiss with promise.” It’s long enough to feel romantic but not too long to make the kids late for soccer practice.

7. Put on some mood music

Play your favorite feel-good music and dance around the house while you go about your evening. A little shimmy with your sweetie makes loading the dishwasher go a lot faster.

If you need to tone it down for baby’s bedtime routine, some slow jams can help quiet things down and maybe set the mood for later. *wink wink*

8. Unplug together

Feeling disconnected? Reach for your husband or wife instead of reaching for your phone. If you have a difficult time unplugging, agree to phone-free times or spaces, like certain evenings or not during dinner or not in bed.

9. Try a virtual connection

Let your partner know you’re thinking of them with a text. If you’re at home with the baby and they’re at work, send a video or picture of a new or funny or everyday thing baby is doing to help them feel part of the action.

10. Play together

Spend some time (it doesn’t have to be long) playing with baby together. On busy weeknights, you can make it part of the evening routine — play during bath time, sit together with baby and read a bedtime book, or sing lullabies together. It can be really special to share that time with your partner and the kids LOVE having both of you there!

Gottman’s research has shown that happy couples play cooperatively with baby instead of competing for baby’s attention. Here’s a video of actual research footage from the Gottman Institute.

The ways you connect with each other may look a little different after having a baby. But these small gestures and meaningful moments can make a big difference to your relationship and how you feel about each other.

Even in the messiness of day-to-day life as new parents, your partner and your family will be the reason you are happy to be home.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear ways you’ve figured out to regularly connect with your partner as busy parents. Please share them in the comments. We all could use a little inspiration in this area!


Want to amp up your connection even more? Sign up for a Bringing Baby Home workshop. This weekend workshop is like a mini-retreat where you will explore ways to create a relationship and family life you love. Join me!