I saw an acquaintance the other day and congratulated him on his recent engagement. He bestowed on me a nugget of wisdom that has stuck with me for the last month:
“Tell the truth, even if it’s going to hurt the other person.”
It’s one of those things that you definitely agree with and endorse, but it’s easier said than done.
People want reassurance in their most intimate relationships. They want their opinions and experiences to be supported and validated.
But how are you going to do that when you only get one side of the story and there’s the possibility that your partner might have done something to contribute to their dilemma? After all, who knows them better than you?
Psychologists at the University of Maryland studied the effects of partners validating the negative emotions caused by someone else and found that the more caring and empathetic the confidant, the more likely they were to validate the negative emotions of the discloser.
This support led to more than half (56%) of the confidants who received this type of support avoiding the person they had the conflict with. Other the other hand, nineteen percent of confidants who did not receive this type of support admitted to avoiding the person they had conflict with.
Moreover, confidants who received strong validation for their feelings were approximately three times more likely to want their adversary to suffer and tried to live as though the adversary didn’t exist than those who didn’t receive the same level of validation.
The researchers rightly pointed out that one’s partner can actually make one’s conflicts worse, but I can’t help but question what would happen if the partners in the relationship have conflict with one another.
If your place of refuge turns into a place of refuse, your relationship is effectively over.
Due to a culture of unquestioned validation being fostered, it is likely that each partner would go in search of someone to validate their emotions because that is fundamentally what we often crave and we don’t want to be wrong for feeling the way we do.
But once this happens, the vulnerability each partner shows the other will be diminished the more conflicts go unresolved.
Now the same avoidance, nefarious wishes for the other to suffer and pretending as if the other person doesn’t exist that was reserved for outsiders will now wreak havoc in the relationship.
Lies, infidelity, you name it, this newly toxic relationship has got it.
The researchers suggest than an objective partner is what we need most. But I’ll take it a step further.
At the beginning of your relationship, when you are deciding the parameters of what’s okay and not okay, talk about validating each other’s opinions.
One reason people don’t want to challenge their partner is because they don’t want to lose their love. They don’t want their lack of blind support to be interpreted as them not caring.
But by talking about validating each other’s opinions from the start of the relationship, your partner will know why you are taking the stance you are taking.
If you want to hear both sides of the argument before giving your opinion, state it. If you are unwilling to simply agree with whatever your partner says, state it.
But also remind them that you care about them enough to not blindly go along with whatever they say. No one is always right and it isn’t fair for you to agree with your partner just because they’re your partner.
Remind them that whether they are right or wrong, you support them. Everyone is going to make mistakes. Everyone is going to have some version of the truth.
And while some cases about who was right or wrong are more clear-cut than others, we all know that conflict can still arise from the best intentions on both sides.
Remind them that you both have a job to keep each other accountable. If your partner is good with that, then you’re all set.
I can predict there will be days when you both wish you had unwavering, unchallenged support from each other. There will be times you just want validation from one of the persons that matters the most to you.
But if we take the more responsible route, we will be happier in the long run.