The other night I was telling Scott about a frustrating situation I was in, and he looked me right in the eye and said "bummer."
I know, it sounds like nothing, but it's an old understanding we have. When we were engaged I was telling him something about a frustrating situation, and he tried to give me solutions, tried to solve it for me, and I said "Scott when I'm telling you my feelings, there are only three things you can say that will be helpful: 'hmm,' 'wow,' and 'bummer.'" I wanted to know he was hearing me, and that was all I needed. Not rescue, just... acknowledgement.
Last week when I was at the height of my laryngitis (does it get called that anymore? I had a cold and my voice was nearly gone, lots of croaking and squeaking instead), I visited a friend who said "it's really exhausting to talk like that, isn't it?" I felt weirdly affirmed- Yes! It is so exhausting! I was touched that she acknowledged that for me.
It reminds me of a homily I heard several years ago, in western MA when we were on a camping trip. The priest said "sometimes we spend all our energy justifying our existence." YES, so true. There is such power in acknowledging someone's feelings, their state, their existence. People want so badly to share their stories, to be heard. It's a large percentage of my job at the parish, just hearing people. At coffee and donuts, old men want to tell their war stories, their church stories. Married couples want to tell about their romances, kids want to talk about their days and ideas. Parents want to tell their fears and tough days and moments of hope. Everyone wants to be acknowledged.
On a tv show a while back we watched an older married couple use the tool they were given in marriage counseling. When one would say something to the other, their spouse would say "I hear you, and I see you." It was awkward and contrived, but it made the point, and now every once in a while we'll say it to each other, and weirdly, it works.