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Acceptance
Chapter
4

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.


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Soothing the Open Wounds

Understanding a person does not
mean condoning; it only means that
one does not accuse him as if one
were God or a judge placed above him.
-Erich Fromm

BRIDGE-BUILDER’S TIP
Validate rather than discount who your partner is.

The second action step for creating acceptance is validating. Validating is the twin brother of empathy. Whereas empathy is understanding your partner by perceiving how your partner is affected by their life experiences, validating is communicating that understanding or perception to your partner.

The distinction is an important one, otherwise you may be confused by the similarities of empathy and validating. Empathy is nothing more than your willingness to see the world through the eyes of your partner rather than insisting that they see everything your way. Empathy is the process of stepping out of your viewpoint of the world and perceiving your partner’s viewpoint. Validating is communicating that perception to your partner.

There’s no greater gift to another person than to validate who they are as a thinking, feeling, caring human being. When I share this sentiment with people, I oftentimes get blank stares. Other times people argue the point with me. I am often asked how can I just sit there and agree with someone when I know they’re dead wrong. My response is that the very question that has been asked is the number one symptom of the problem.

If your goal is to create a strong foundation with your partner built upon acceptance and understanding, you’ll find that you need to make a major shift from seeing your partner as right or wrong. Listen carefully to what I’m about to say next. Get the marker out again. Underline this. Think it through carefully. Think about all the ways you may violate the spirit of what I’m about to share with you. Imagine how your relationship might be different if you embraced the spirit of the following:

There’s no one, let me repeat, no one on the face of this earth, who’s looking to be argued out of what they think or feel.

There’s no one who will look kindly on the energy you expend in attempting to prove them wrong. I can’t think of one human being who shares a part of themselves, who’s hoping that you will, piece by piece, pick apart what they’re sharing with you.

The only thing I know that will sustain the trust, love, and affection of another person is validating who they are and how they experience the way life affects them. That doesn’t mean rubber stamping everything they say. It means communicating to them how you understand that person and what they’re going through.

Let’s see if I can make the act of validation come to life for you. Take your time with the following scenario I have created and see how well you can relate to what Ronnie is going through with his mom.

“I don’t want to take dance lessons. I don’t want to have to embarrass myself in front of everybody else,” Ronnie said to his mother.

“Oh Ronnie, will you stop being so dramatic. You’re not going to embarrass yourself,” his mom shouted back at him.

“I will too. You don’t understand. I’m not going. I’m not going. You can’t make me.”

“Ronnie, I’m not going to keep having this discussion with you. You’re being unreasonable. I have better things to do than listen to you go on and on about this. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t make you go.”   

“I told you, I don’t want to embarrass myself,” Ronnie said.

“You’re overreacting. You’re not going to embarrass yourself. There’s absolutely no reason for you to think that way. Case closed. End of discussion.”

What do you think about Mom’s attempts to understand Ronnie? How much of Mom’s approach to understanding Ronnie lives and breathes in your relationships?

Have you ever thought about this before? Where do you invest the bulk of your energy when you communicate with your partner? Making yourself right and your partner wrong? Justifying your position or understanding your partner? Demonstrating how good your memory is and how faulty your partner’s interpretation of the past is? How about this one? Making your partner justify their feelings to you?

These are all the ways that we invalidate another person. These are all ways we communicate a lack of acceptance for somebody else.

Has your relationship become an Olympic sport--a never ending competition between you and your partner? Where did you learn that the point of communication was to win, to prove your partner wrong, to debate your differences rather than build bridges over the ground you share in common?

Let’s see if there’s anything you can learn about yourself by looking at the dance that Ronnie and his mom went through in the previous scenario. How do you think Ronnie felt at the end of his conversation with his mother?

 

What are the things that Mom said and did that made Ronnie feel that way?

What could mom have done differently in order to arrive at a different outcome?

Now let’s change the dialogue just a bit. Let’s see whether the outcome changes or stays the same.

“I don’t want to take dance lessons. I don’t want to have to embarrass myself in front of everybody else,” Ronnie said to his mother.

“Ronnie, what are you so afraid of?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know what I’m doing and everyone else does,” Ronnie said.

“We all feel afraid when we try something new,” Mom agreed.

“Yea, but it’s going to be just awful. I know I’m already awful at this. I’ve tried dancing in my room. I just can’t get it right.”

“I know how hard it is for you to try something new. Is there anything else that is frightening you about these dance lessons?”

“Well, yea. When we’re at school, I know what to do. I play with the guys and all that, but I won’t know how to act at dance school.”

Mom gave Ronnie a big hug as she said, “I know just what you mean. I’m not so old that I can’t remember how terrified I was when I had to take my first dance lesson. I thought I was never going to be able to live through it.”

"I bet you just didn’t go, huh Mom?” Ronnie asked with the great hope that this might be his way out, as well.

“Well no, not exactly, sweetheart. My mother asked me what she could do to make things easier for me and we wound up striking a deal.”

“A deal?” Ronnie asked, somewhat suspiciously.

“Yea, we made a deal that if I went to the first three lessons and I still didn’t like it, that I wouldn’t have to go back again.”

“Oh, how did that work out?” Ronnie asked, his curiosity   aroused.

“The first two weeks were horrible, I’m not going to lie to you. But by the third week, I felt a little more comfortable so I decided to keep going. Two years later, I met Daddy at a dance and the rest, as they say, is history.”

“Mom, do you think you and I can make the same kind of deal?”

“Only if you want to, Ronnie,” mom said as she leaned over to give him a hug and kiss.

Quite a different outcome, wouldn’t you say? Why do you think that happened? Was Mom being sneaky, manipulative, or was something else at play here? Was Mom more effective in the second story or the first story? If so, what made her more effective?

What lessons might there be from these two stories? What shifts can you start making in your words and actions towards your partner that may wind up with them feeling less argued with and more validated by you?

 

Let’s make the action step of validation as concrete as possible. Here’s a five step process to follow. I have inserted in italics the dialogue from Ronnie and his mother that exemplifies what each specific step looks like in the previous anecdote.

Step 1 Listen to your partner in order that you may understand them rather than prepare to argue them out of their feelings.

“I don’t want to take dance lessons. I don’t want to have to embarrass myself in front of everybody else,” Ronnie said to his mother.

“Ronnie, what are you so afraid of?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know what I’m doing and everyone else does,” Ronnie said.

“We all feel afraid when we try something new,” Mom agreed.

 

Step 2 Encourage your partner to talk about what they want to express, rather than cut them off in order to have them listen to your agenda.

“Yea, but it’s going to be just awful. I know I’m already awful at this. I’ve practiced dancing up in my room. I just can’t get it right.”

“I know how hard it is for you to try something new. Is there anything else that is frightening you about these dance lessons?”

“Well, yea. When we’re at school, I know what to do. I play with the guys and all that, but I won’t know how to act at dance school.”

 Step 3 Normalize the feelings being expressed rather than  minimize them.

“I know how hard it is for you to try something new. Is there anything else that is frightening you about these dance lessons?”

“Well, yea. When we’re at school I know what to do. I play with the guys and all that, but I won’t know how to act at dance school.”

Mom gave Ronnie a big hug as she said, “I know just what you mean. I’m not so old that I can’t remember how terrified I was when I had to take my first dance lesson. I thought I was never going to be able to live through it.”

Step 4 Express to your partner what it is that you understand about the feelings they’re sharing.

“Ronnie, what are you so afraid of?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know what I’m doing and everyone else does,” Ronnie said.

“We all feel afraid when we try something new,” Mom agreed.

 Step 5   Express your willingness to support them.

"Mom, do you think you and I can make the same kind of deal?”

“Only if you want to, Ronnie,” Mom said as she leaned over to give him a hug and a kiss.

I hope you take the time to think about the action steps of acceptance. There’s much to be gained from making the shifts I’ve suggested to you. So many of the wounds that exist between you and your partner can be healed by simply taking the time to understand each other’s point of view. But more than healing the wounds that presently exist, these action steps will do much to enrich the bond of emotional intimacy. After all, what greater gift can you give to yourself and your partner?


G.B.U.

Steve



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.

 


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