Communication Tips for Validating & Respecting Needs

Have you ever felt stuck in a conversation with your partner when you feel you cannot understand what they are going through? “You just don’t understand”, “I just need you to understand”, “Why can’t you just understand??” are common phrases most of us have heard before. We commonly believe that just because we have not lived through another’s experience, we cannot help them or vice versa. Is this belief entirely accurate? I would argue that it might not be.

After all, we are all unique human beings with our own set of genetics and experiences. Even if two people experienced the exact same situation, it will impact them differently because we are all unique. So how can we possibly fully understand what someone else is going through? We can empathize and try to put ourselves in another’s shows, but we might never fully understand their unique experience.

Sometimes it can be helpful to move past the “understanding” phase and move forward to communicating and understanding each other’s needs. Even if I don’t understand your exact experience, I can always choose to respect your needs. One example might be if my partner was of a different ethnicity from me and was experiencing discrimination. I might have experienced a similar situation, but because I am not their ethnicity, I have not lived through their exact experience. However, I can still choose to ask my partner how I can best support them through this experience. However, I can still choose to ask my partner how I can best support them through this experience and respect their needs.

Mindfulness is key here. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and accepting without judgement. It takes a mindful choice of accepting without judgement, someone else’s experience as well as respecting their needs. Many times we react mindlessly to these situations, reacting defensively or trying to assume what our partner needs. It can be more helpful to practice mindfulness in these instances so we can support our partner in the way that is best for them. 

Most of us are not familiar with the language that is useful for practicing this concept. 

Here are some helpful phrases to use:

“I hear you saying                 . That must be so challenging for you. How can I help?”

“It sounds like you’re feeling               . That sounds really               .”

“I haven’t been through that, so it’s hard for me to understand, but what you are feeling is important to me. How can I support you through this?”

“I’m here for you; what do you need in this moment?”

Key tips to remember: 

  • It’s okay if you don’t understand 
  • Focus on validating their experience
  • Try to mindfully approach the situation, accepting their situation and trying to respect their needs without judgement

If you would like to learn more, or practice these tips with our clinicians, please reach out, we’d love to help.