When you see your partner is upset with you or with something else, your first instinct may be to jump into problem-solving mode.

You may want to find a solution to the issue when you see your partner struggling. Your partner is hurting and you want to make it better. What if I told you the best way to do so is to let them know that you understand what they’re feeling and not to seek out immediate solutions? Couples in my office often say they do not feel heard by their partner or that they feel alone in what they’re experiencing. These feelings of being unheard or alone lead to disconnection in the relationship. I find that your good intentions of wanting to eliminate your partner’s distress can unintentionally leave the other person feeling dismissed or even blamed for having an issue. This signals a missed opportunity to provide validation to your partner so they feel heard and less alone in their struggle. So, what is validation and why is it important?  

Validation is giving an affirmation that a person’s feelings, experiences, or opinions make sense.

Great validation does not include your opinions or judgments of how they feel about or should handle the situation. You can validate your partner by honoring that their struggle is real and true for them. By doing so, your partner is more likely to feel seen and heard by you. If your partner is feeling seen and heard, they will naturally feel more connected to you. When partners are feeling connected, trust can be built. The more trust there is in a relationship, the more resilient the couple can become, and the more equipped they are to manage future stressors together.

Let me share with you an example of how this has played out in my relationship. My partner came home from work recently and saw me melting down. I had a challenging day and he recognized that by noticing me crying. He sat with me and asked me questions to understand the situation that left me feeling upset. He told me that he got why I was upset and that he would feel the same way if he were me. He then asked if there was anything he could do to help. I said, “talking with me is already helping, but I could use a hug.” It is so incredibly powerful, when my partner, one of the most important people in my life, responds in this way. I felt heard, seen, and cared for. I am that much more likely to turn to him again because I know he will try to give me the validation I’m needing. He has taught me that it is worth taking the risk of being vulnerable with him because he responds in a way that shows me that I matter to him. I have longed for this kind of understanding my entire life! I know my partner has my back even when I’m at my worst. 

 

 

My partner, however, is not perfect. He has at times responded too quickly by giving me ideas of how to resolve my upset or how to deter becoming upset again in the future. I didn’t feel seen or heard when he did this. I instead felt like I did something wrong by getting upset to begin with. Then, I felt bad for feeling bad which, of course, made me feel even worse. My guard went up. I was left questioning whether it is emotionally safe to tell him when I’m upset. We had to work hard to repair from such a rupture in the safety of our relationship. This meant, trying again. I told him that it seemed like he just wanted to fix the problem instead of letting me know that I am important and that my feelings are valid. He apologized for trying to fix the problem when that wasn’t what I needed. He tried again and let me know he understood why I was upset and that I have a right to feel that way.

Receiving validation helps partners feel safe. It can disarm your need to protect yourself.

One can argue that validation, therefore, is an essential component to our survival, let alone relationship satisfaction. The following video shows a humorous example of what happens when we are not receiving validation and how to better provide it once we realize we’re off track. This video also provides a snapshot of how hard it can be not to jump to solutions, especially when the problem is so seemingly obvious.

 

 

 

Why then is it so hard to give validation? Perhaps, you don’t have experience witnessing what giving validation looks like, so you may not know how. When you don’t know how to do something, you may choose to do or say nothing. Or you may tend to fall back on what you are familiar with. In this case, oftentimes, that can look like jumping to solutions.

You may want to help others by identifying a problem and fixing it. You may have been praised if you’re offering solutions to others’ problems. Why wouldn’t that be your go-to strategy then? It would totally make sense if problem-solving is your knee-jerk reaction. 

Another reason validation can be so hard is because you may feel helpless and uncomfortable with your partner’s distress. Maybe you don’t know how to tolerate that discomfort, so you do what comes naturally to you- and offer ways to fix the problem that caused the distress. Responding differently requires awareness of what you’re doing as ineffective and practicing doing something else. Responding differently can be very uncomfortable. And it takes time to sit with that discomfort and to keep trying to do something new.

The best ways to offer validation:

1. Be present and give your partner your undivided attention.

Allow your partner the space to share their story from their point of view without interruption. Make sure to set your phone down, turn off the tv, and minimize other distractions. 

2. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings.

“You look upset. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?” Repeat back to your partner, in your own words or theirs, what you heard them say. “This made you feel scared and alone. Is that right?”

3. Empathize without judgment or advice giving.

Even if you wouldn’t feel the same way your partner does, can you see why they feel this way? Let them know their feelings make sense. Remember, your partner needs you to listen, not problem solve.

4. Check in.

Ask your partner about what it’s like for them to share this experience with you. “Is there anything more I can do right now to let you know I’m with you?” Perhaps, a soothing touch or a hug can bring comfort.

5. Express gratitude and offer encouragement.

Thank your partner for trusting you enough to be vulnerable with you. This helps encourage them to keep doing it!

 

In closing, validation is important in relationships because it can help build connection and trust.

When partners are feeling connected and trusting with each other, they are more equipped to manage stressors together as a team. Giving validation, however, can be challenging especially if you don’t have much experience or knowledge of how to do so successfully. Speaking with a therapist about your difficulties giving validation can help.

Start Couples Counseling in Ballard

Do you find yourself stuck in a cycle of conflict and miscommunication with your partner? At Thrive for the People, our licensed therapists can help you re-establish a strong, secure, loving bond in your relationship. Our therapists use Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy as their main approach to working with couples. Together they can help you and your partner create lasting change. If you’re feeling lost, and looking for additional support, schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with us today.

 

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