Today, Joanne Miller hits on a topic near and dear to my heart. I am by my nature a problem solver. That was only exacerbated when I chose a career as a lawyer. So after a lifetime of being a problem solver, I focused an entire undergraduate and graduate education learning how to think and act in a way to solve problems. To say that it’s my go-to reaction is an understatement.
So when my wife just needs me to listen and give her a hug – to let her just vent about something – it’s tough. It has taken years for me to realize that “the issue” is actually not always “the issue.” “The issue” that I can “solve” is just the latest manifestation of a symptom or trigger for an emotional reaction where she feels that support or understanding might be lacking.
I’m so excited for the men and women reading this post today and hope you share it with people who might need to hear this, like the spouses who might be more emotional, or the spouses who are Mr. or Ms. Fix-it by nature. We really can help control situations Joanne describes. But wow is it tough!
A few years ago, while in the throes of some serious introspection I latched onto a word I felt important to me on many levels. Validation. Definition: to prove to be valid or sound. It only took me six decades to discover I had a problem in this area. Not in administering it but in receiving it. Could have been worse. I might never have learned how important this is in a relationship. Discovering this has been a big boost to my self-confidence as a woman, wife, mother and friend.
Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.
Jill Bolte Taylor, author, brain scientist
Here’s how lack of validation plays out. Are you a husband who, when your spouse is edgy, weepy, angry, or anxious has said (unwittingly), “Don’t cry.” or “You must be crazy!” or “Are you PMS-ing?” In other words, are you one who doesn’t like to be confronted with feelings and emotions? Just sweep them under the carpet, ignore them and hope they go away…..quickly! Well let me tell you that eventually this avoidance will come to bite you in the behind. Because, like it our not, emotions and feelings are part and parcel of being human. And it is especially so with women.
Dan: “I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. I might either set you off crying or in an angry snit. I feel like I am walking on eggshells around you.” (Now, I know you can relate to this.)
Joanne: (angry and ready for confrontation) “Get used to it! I’m a girl. G-I-R-L! Girls are emotional! Girls have feelings. I have learned to stuff them all my life and I am tired of it. Big girls DO cry! They DO get angry! They get sad and depressed. They need to be able to express those emotions. If not, they bring on resentment and even anger. One day they explode in a volcanic eruption just from a tiny altercation!”
Dan: “So what do you want me to do? What do you need from me?” (Ah-HAH! The magic sentence……What do you need from me?)
Joanne: “This may come as a surprise to you (Ok, that was a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure) I don’t always know. (now I’m being vulnerable) But whether I know or don’t, it would be wonderful if you could just validate that I have feelings. Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘How can I help’ or just simply holding me and comforting me is all it takes to make me feel like you are by my side and not challenging me or putting me on the defensive. Most of the time, that’s all it takes. Just allowing me to have feelings and not making me feel silly, stupid, crazy or any other label. I sometimes don’t even understand myself. I need to know you sympathize with my confusion and are there for me when (if) I am ready to talk.”
That conversation really did happen. And I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally be vulnerable enough to express that I don’t always immediately know why I feel emotional but I need to know Dan is there for me. I sometimes just need to be comforted…. We went on to talk more about this and we discussed how difficult it can be just to say a simple, “I’m sorry.” (meaningfully!)
Here is where the confusion lies. The natural tendency for a man is to love his wife well and to provide a solution when she is hurting or upset. Just holding her feels inadequate. Being the results-oriented man Dan is, he wants to fix me. Wants me to get over it and move on. I understand that and I know he means well. It is a tightrope of what to do and what not to do, how to react and how to not react. (I can hear eyeball rolling here!) But here is the crux of the confusion. Learn to validate the emotion. Finding a solution or fixing it may come later but first just validate the feelings. It’s ok to cry, to be angry, to grieve, to be anxious. Feelings are a part of who we are….male or female.
My friend, Irene and I talked about this recently. She and I went through the same book and the same deep introspection at the same time. She says now her husband will often ask her, “What do you need from me?” after his many failed attempts to fix her when all she needed was to have him hold her and tell her he is there for her if she needs him. That simple response is sometimes all that is necessary to empower a girl to move forward. Validate the emotion. It’s as simple as that.
It’s alright to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
It’s alright to cry
It might make you feel better
Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better
It’s alright to feel things
Though the feelings may be strange
Feelings are such real things
And they change and change and change.
Bell Records, excerpt from Free To Be…You and Me album 1972
Music and lyrics by Carol Hall
Performed by Rosey Grier
Joanne Miller has been happily married for over four decades to career coach and author Dan Miller (48 Days To the Work You Love). She has authored four children’s books and has a new book for grown ups co-authored with artist Dorsey McHugh called Be Your Finest Art. She and Dan have three grown children and twelve grandchildren and lots of years living the entrepreneurial roller-coaster life of adventure!