Good communication in any relationship is important. But here’s the reality; there will be times of conflict when communication breaks down and an opportunity arises to really hurt your relationship by acting, reacting and communicating like a douche. So, unless you want to create some hurts that will be hard to come back from, you need to learn how to improve your relationship through emotional validation.
This important social skill (that anyone can learn) is all about helping yourself and others to feel more respected and accepted, even in times of conflict.
It’s also a skill you can use to enhance any relationship you might have with others.
Let’s look at the basics of emotional validation today and what you can do to develop this social skill yourself.
What is Emotional Validation?
According to Verywellmind.com,
Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding, and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, in which another person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.
It’s important, however, to understand that this is distinct from saying you agree with them or condoning their behaviour.
Emotional validation and agreeing are not the same things.
For example, you can talk to your child about how feeling afraid led them to lie about the broken glass without suggesting that was the right thing to do.
You can still communicate the fact that you disapprove, but with empathy (understanding how they feel) and respect.
When people’s feelings are acknowledged, i.e. emotionally validated, they don’t feel attacked, disrespected, and worthless.
This lays the basis for moving forward from the initial issue.
Offer emotional validation to yourself
Developing the social skill of emotional validation involves learning to validate yourself as well as others.
Similar techniques work in both cases.
In order to recognise and validate the feelings of someone else, with the goal to improve your relationship with them, you must learn to recognise what you feel inside yourself also.
Many people avoid what they feel, as these feelings typically scare or surprise them.
But in order to develop the ability to emotionally validate others, you must be able to do it in yourself first.
This will increase your ability to empathise as well as communicate effectively.
Learn to monitor your nonverbal expressions
Validation is not just about verbal expression, i.e. what you say or how you say it.
Body language – like posture, eye-contact, smiling – is about 80% of the process.
For example, if you feel patient and attentive, you’re most likely to look relaxed and open to what is being said.
Conversely, rolling your eyes at a person can feel just as dismissive as any verbal ridicule.
It’s important to start paying attention to the non-verbal cues you use in your communication, especially during times of conflict, to understand what you need to address to improve your relationship.
We’ve all developed subtle, and perhaps even unconscious, non-verbal cues that speak volumes.
In fact, far more than our words.
Examples of these non-verbal cues include rolling of eyes, smirking, grinning, shaking of the head, clenching of the jaw, tongue on the cheek, tapping fingers, dismissive facial expressions, etc.
If you want to know what yours are, discuss this with your partner during one of your date nights.
Tell him/her that you would like to improve your communication and validate them more, and this is part of your growth.
Let them be open and honest, and take it like a man (or woman).
Take advantage of daily opportunities to improve your relationship with people
Repetition is the mother of all learning.
It’s easier to master a skill when you use it frequently.
Start seeing every social interaction as a potential training opportunity, whether you’re talking with your mother or the cashier at Countdown (store in New Zealand).
I always say to my coaching clients that the best time to train any social skill you want to develop is during times of low stress with very little or no consequences.
The worst times to try using a new social skill is during times of high stress with huge consequences.
Therefore, if you want to improve or learn how to validate someone else, do it during times of “meaningless” interaction.
So, these were the basics of validation, but now let’s turn our attention to the benefits of validation before we look at how to validate others.
It’s important to add some context, before setting out doing it.
When we understand why we do something, we are more inclined to do it.
The following benefits of validation are all powerful and will go a long way in improving any of your relationships, especially your marriage (or partnership).
Benefits of Emotional Validation
Validation helps people to feel like they belong.
You need to understand that the need to fit in is fundamental to human nature.
Therefore, validating each other’s feelings helps us all to feel more respected, accepted and appreciated.
It makes us feel like we belong.
We’re reminded that we all have value just for being who we are.
The opposite is equally true, however.
When you fail to emotionally validate someone, especially a loved one during a time of conflict, you are effectively conveying to them the value they have in your eyes.
This is a powerful thing to understand!
Failing to validate your loved one, not only fails to communicate respect and appreciation but actually intensifies the fear that they are not good enough.
And all humans fear “not being good enough” perhaps most of all.
Emotional validation reduces conflicts.
When you let people know that you care about them and that their feelings matter, i.e. they matter to you in spite of disagreements, fewer disagreements arise because people trust each other and demonstrate good will in return.
Validation effectively creates reciprocation. Do you follow that?
When you treat others the way you want to be treated, more often than not, they return the favour, and that can improve your relationship with them.
This is called, The Law of Reciprocation.
Validation improves communication.
In the absence of judging or casting blame, many people will be eager to open up immediately.
Conversely, however, when people do feel judged or blamed, they typically shut down.
They might lash out to protect themselves, but make no mistake, they have emotionally shut down at that moment.
Nothing you say will get through at that time.
Validation bypasses this, however.
When people feel validated, even when there is disagreement, they remain open enough to receive what is being said.
This makes for progress and reaching the outcome both partners want.
Again, it’s important to understand that criticism, is just another way to convey to someone their lack of worth to you.
It taps right into that fear of not being good enough.
If you desire open and honest communication, you really want to stay away from validating someone’s fear that they not good enough in your eyes.
Emotional validation empowers others.
Authenticating someone’s feelings strengthens their capacity to resolve their own dilemmas.
They may get insights into underlying motivations and recurring patterns of behaviour that will help them adopt more constructive approaches and become more confident.
What this means in a marriage set up (for example), is that by validating your partner you can, unbeknownst to you, actually give them a sense of confidence and resolve to overcome something they are struggling with.
Doing that can play a huge role to directly improve your relationship with each other.
Oftentimes when validating your partner when they are upset with you, they can turn around and self-disclose, i.e. admit their wrongdoing or contribution to the current conflict.
This is much more powerful than you pointing it out for them, as that conveys criticism and you should know by now what happens when people feel criticised.
Now that we’ve looked at four powerful benefits of validation, let’s also look at ways how to validate.
Maybe you’re already sold on the idea of validating your partner, and you just want to know how to do it.
If that’s the case, great!
Let me give you six ideas you can implement straight away.
And remember, go and practice them in low-stress low consequence situations first.
6 Examples of Emotional Validation
Start by giving the other person your full attention.
Remove all distractions like cell phones and televisions and listen carefully with an open mind.
Let them continue talking until they finish their story and provide all the facts.
Avoid interruption. Bite your tongue.
Just listen openly and respectfully.
Remember that most of what you’re hearing, has most likely been building up over time (that day), is emotionally loaded, and is how the feeling in that moment. It’s not necessarily rational; in fact, it’s probably not rational at all
But that’s not the point. Just listen.
By listening, you are conveying respect and the most important message: they matter to you enough that you’re willing to listen.
Summarise what you hear.
Reflect to the person what you think they said. That way they can clarify whether you understood the message correctly.
Here’s a simple example of what you can say: “I hear that you’re saying X – is that what you mean?”
Here’s another example: “I hear that you’re saying Y – can you tell me what you mean by that exactly, or give me some examples?”
Then, you listen. Try and understand. Try and feel where they are coming from.
This will earn you more points than anything you can say!
Label the emotions.
Help the other person to sort out what they’re feeling.
If emotions have been suppressed for a long time, it can be difficult to make sense of them.
You may discover your partner is still distressed by an incident that took place many years ago. And that’s OK.
Make them realise, it is OK to feel what they feeling.
You are there for them. Even when YOU are on the receiving end of something that happened a long time ago.
People want to know that you are on their side, they are valuable to you, and they belong. Y
ou won’t reject or leave them, just because they have baggage.
Many emotions we feel, are not rational.
They are just that, emotional.
But it doesn’t make them any less real. Your partner needs to know that they can be real with you.
Allow them to be real with you.
Consider the person’s history.
Different individuals react differently to the same situations depending on their personality, life history and other factors.
A child who grows up in poverty may view money differently from one who had a wealthier background.
Understand that we all have different values, and these values impact our Model of the World – our blueprint for how the world works.
This blueprint plays a huge role in what we bring into any relationship.
A lot of the stuff that comes out, especially when we disagree, as a result of that blueprint.
It’s not always rational, it just is.
Be wise and appreciate the impact of your partner’s history in the relationship.
It’s not an excuse or justification, simply the context.
In order to be happy in any marriage, you have to pick your battles.
You cannot win against someone’s model of the world (mental blueprint).
So don’t fight it when you realise you’re up against it.
Rather make it a point of discussion at a future time when you’re both calm and in a much better state to do so.
Mental blueprints can be changed, but when arguing, is not that time!
Recognise the valid aspects of any experience.
Ultimately, we all try to avoid suffering and make ourselves happy.
Even if you think a particular action shows poor judgment, you can probably find some aspect of the situation that you can relate to if you keep an open mind.
Something that helps me look at all human behaviour from a completely different point of view, is the idea that behind every emotion or action there is a positive intention.
Sometimes, depending on our own experiences and mental blueprint, discovering that positive intention is almost impossible.
Oftentimes someone else’s understanding of the world is so vastly different from ours, that we simply cannot conceive their desired needs, wants, and therefore intentions.
But it doesn’t make it any less present or true.
People do things because on some level or another they benefit from it.
Now, someone else’s benefit isn’t necessarily ours, and that’s what makes it hard to understand at times.
As long as you recognise that your partner’s behaviour (verbal and non-verbal) is always an attempt to either stay safe and get some form of benefit (emotional, physical, or spiritual), it will go a long way in helping you stay composed and in control during times of conflict.
What this means is, it is not necessarily about you, even when it feels like it is.
Remember, they’re operating from their own psychology, and that sometimes clashes with what you want.
Let the other person know that you acknowledge their feelings on the deepest level that is genuine for you.
In short, be loving, respectful, and real.
Try and see things from the point of view; even when it’s hard.
Even if they’re disappointed by something that seems odd to you, you can still be sensitive to their pain.
Again, by showing empathy, you are “saying” much more non-verbally than you could verbally.
People want to be heard, acknowledged, and validated. And sometimes, all that takes is being there for them, genuinely and openly.
So, there you have it.
Six simple ideas that you can put into practice to validate your partner in your relationship.
It goes without saying that these same strategies obviously also work for all people.
You can apply them anywhere because people are essentially universally similar.
We feel, fear, and enjoy basically the same things.
My challenge to you this week is to improve your most important relationships by getting better at providing genuine emotional validation.
By doing so you’ll learn to manage your emotions better and help those around you to feel more connected and loved.
And like I said earlier, people tend to reciprocate what they receive.
Live and love fully!