Strengthen your relationships with validation

Scenario: You call home from deployment. Your partner is struggling to carry the load.  Home front partner: “I can’t believe you signed up for this. I’m so stressed out!”  Invalidating response from deployed partner: “At least you get to be home. I’m not exactly on vacation!”  Validating response from deployed partner: “I know it’s tough to do everything. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time.”Many skills go into building strong relationships. One of those skills is the ability to validate others—to respond to the emotional experience of other people with acceptance and understanding even if you don’t share their views. What does “validation” look like? And how can you use it in different contexts and different relationships? Check out some of these examples to get an idea of what it really means to validate others—and why it’s important no matter who you’re talking to.

In couples

Validation is a way to increase intimacy and emotional closeness. Couples who communicate using validating language are more likely to have higher relationship satisfaction, feel more supported, and better manage their emotions. By showing you understand and are willing to accept your partner’s perspective, even in disagreements, you can build trust and a sense of emotional safety in your relationship. Even if you or your partner fall into an argument trap, you can use validation to defuse the tension and reduce the risk of a conflict getting worse.

Scenario: Your teenager is having trouble adjusting to the news of your PCS. Teen: “I’m not going. I’m not leaving my friends! You just don’t get it!” Invalidating response from adult: “You’re way out of line. You’ll make new friends. Don’t be so upset.” Validating response from adult: “I understand you’re sad to leave your friends. But I’ll support you along the way.”In families

The way you respond to your children teaches them how to respond to others. By setting the example of how to communicate effectively, you help give your kids a strong basis for building emotional health later in life. Specifically, responding to your teens in validating ways might not only improve your relationship with them, but it also might help them manage their emotions and display fewer behavioral problems. On the flip side, responding to your kids with criticism or dismissing their feelings can create a risk factor for relationship problems later in life, and it might even lead to aggression.

Scenario: Your boss has concerns about you deploying with the National Guard.  Supervisor: “How are we supposed to do all the work while you’re gone? Can’t you get out of it?” Invalidating response from Guard member: “I’m sure you’ll be fine. It’s just a few months. I don’t have a choice.” Validating response from Guard member: “I know it’s stressful to handle the workload while I’m gone. Let’s make a transition plan.”

At work or on duty

Good communication is important in all your relationships, including professional ones. Although you might not readily practice your validation skills outside of close relationships, they really can translate to almost any environment. When it comes to accomplishing a task or project, dismissive responses can increase feelings of stress, often feel threatening, and can make it harder to meet deadlines or accomplish goals. It’s important to avoid hostile and negative responses in a task- or mission-focused context. Meanwhile, receiving validating feedback reduces stress, which can help your professional performance.

Bottom line

Validation is a communication skill you can use in many contexts to build strong connections and optimize your relationships. Think about some other examples in your life where you could respond in a more validating way. Remember, accepting someone else’s feelings doesn’t mean you have to give up yours, it just means slowing down and understanding there’s more than one side to every scenario.

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Fruzzetti, A. E., & Worrall, J. M. (2010). Accurate expression and validating responses: A transactional model for understanding individual and relationship distress. In Support Processes in Intimate Relationships (pp. 121–150).

Greville-Harris, M., Hempel, R., Karl, A., Dieppe, P., & Lynch, T. R. (2016). The power of invalidating communication: Receiving invalidating feedback predicts threat-related emotional, physiological, and social responses. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 35(6), 471–493. doi:10.1521/jscp.2016.35.6.471

Herr, N. R., Jones, A. C., Cohn, D. M., & Weber, D. M. (2015). The impact of validation and invalidation on aggression in individuals with emotion regulation difficulties. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 6(4), 310–314. doi:10.1037/per0000129

Shenk, C. E., & Fruzzetti, A. E. (2011). The impact of validating and invalidating responses on emotional reactivity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30(2), 163–183. doi:10.1521/jscp.2011.30.2.163

Shenk, C. E., & Fruzzetti, A. E. (2013). Parental validating and invalidating responses and adolescent psychological functioning. The Family Journal, 22(1), 43–48. doi:10.1177/1066480713490900