The Power of Validation

I once had a client who resisted acknowledging his partner’s feelings for several minutes, until I asked him directly what the resistance was about. He said, “Well I don’t agree with what she is saying so I don’t know what else to say.” I said, “You don’t have to agree to anything she says to validate her feelings. They are her feelings, and she has a right to how she feels even if you see things differently.” To this, he responded, “How can I validate without agreeing – that is what validation is, isn’t it?”

This client is among many couples I work with who have misinformed notions about what validation is. Too often I notice a resistance among couples to simply sit with and acknowledge each other’s feelings. There is this mistaken belief that to validate means to agree. So instead of acknowledging how the other feels, I see partners become defensive, dismissive, or begin to offer solutions right out of the gate without even understanding what is causing the feeling (a common behavior I observe among male partners). My theory is that the defensive, dismissive, and solution focused behavior is due to an inherent misunderstanding that agreement would mean one partner has to assume blame for the way the other partner is feeling. And the best way to avoid blame is to defend yourself, minimize the other’s feelings as unsubstantiated or unimportant, or distract by throwing out a “quick fix”.

Unfortunately, without validation, the partner who is expressing the feeling feels unseen, unheard, misunderstood, or not cared about. This results in their feelings becoming intensified. They hold on to those feelings more strongly and express them louder. And after enough failed attempts at getting their partner to hear them and understand them, they begin to give up and stop expressing themselves – and that is a bigger problem to deal with than the first one. The feelings, whether they are frustration, resentment, sadness, or loneliness, grow silently as they sink their roots deeper over time and influence the way the partner behaves in the relationship going forward.

On the other hand, when a partner feels validated, they feel seen, heard, understood, and cared about. This can have a powerful impact in bringing a couple closer together and deepening their connection. So, you ask, what is validation?

Validation is simply saying:

I see you

I hear you

I believe you

When your partner shares how they feel about something, their feeling is their reality. And a person’s reality is always subjective. That’s why they say there are 3 sides to every story: his reality, her reality, and the objective reality. It is important, and more productive, to acknowledge your partner’s reality as being true for them. And just because it is true for them, does not mean it needs to be true for you. You can continue to have your own perspective while acknowledging your partner’s perspective. And the best way you can validate your partner’s feeling is by making a sincere attempt to understand the feeling better. Asking a question to understand conveys: I hear you, and I see this is important to you. Which makes it important for me to understand.

Validation is not about agreement, nor is it about who is right and who is wrong, nor is it about who is to hold blame. It is about acknowledging your partner’s reality as being true and important to them by sitting with their feeling without defending, dismissing, or offering solutions. Asking your partner questions from a place of compassion can result in increased understanding and connection. Ultimately, validation serves the purpose of bringing two people closer together instead of drifting apart.

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