3 Ways You Can Validate Your Partner’s Feelings

Validating one’s partner is an artful skill that is essential to creating and maintaining intimacy in committed relationships. When I discuss how partners can validate one another in my office, however, I have found that much of the time couples aren’t sure what it is or how to do it. Today, I’d like to take a break from exploring protective patterns in couple relationships and consider how couples can validate each other’s feelings.

 

So what is validation, anyway? When you validate your partner, you are essentially saying, “I see how you are feeling. Your feelings are important to me, and it’s okay that you feel that way.” Everyone has a different subjective experience, and partners in distress experience painful emotions for all sorts of reasons. What’s hurtful to one partner may not be to another. Although you may not feel hurt, your partner’s pain is very real to him. Validation is all about recognizing your partner’s feelings and valuing them as a part of his subjective experience.

 

“But I don’t agree with her. How can I validate her feelings?” Validating your partner is not the same as agreeing with her. Your partner’s perspective and emotions regarding the issue at hand will differ from yours, and that’s a good thing. If you can listen to each other with curiosity and openness, you may learn something new about each other and come closer to resolving your concern.

 

Couples (and families, for that matter) get into trouble when they invalidate each other’s feelings. Often, partners don’t mean to do it, but when arguments turn into conflicts, it’s common to hear statements like these:

 

  • “We haven’t spent much time together? How can you say that? We had date night last week and we went out for lunch over the weekend.”
  • “Come on, don’t cry. You’re always crying.”
  • “You’re overreacting. Why are you getting so angry about something so small?”
  • “How can you be angry that I’m late? I’ve been home on time every other night this week.”
  • “Why can’t you let this go?”

 

As you can see, there are many ways to invalidate your partner’s feelings. So what steps can you take toward validating your partner?


1) Recognize your partner’s feelings.
When your partner says, for instance, “I wish we spent more time together,” or, “I’m concerned about our finances,” he’s really saying, “I feel alone in this relationship,” and, “I’m scared.” Look behind the complaint for the feelings. Your partner needs to know that you see his pain and that it matters to you. Instead of reacting defensively, which will probably invalidate your partner, try acknowledging his emotions. “I can see you miss me. It’s hard when we’re apart, isn’t it?”

 

2) Be empathically curious about your partner’s feelings. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and ask questions. The goal here is to try to understand your partner’s emotional experience and why she is feeling that way. When you show genuine interest in your partner’s feelings, you show her that you truly value her and are present with her, which will go miles toward defusing conflict.

 

3) Normalize your partner’s feelings based on his history. Knowing that someone else would probably feel similarly in the same situation will likely ease your partner’s painful feelings. “I know you’re anxious that I was late and didn’t call. I think I would be anxious too.”

 

Don’t stop there, though. Find out why it makes sense that your partner feels the way he does based on his life experience, especially his relationships with his parents as a child. “Oh, I think I understand now. When I didn’t call, you felt alone and abandoned, just like you did when your Mom used to work such long hours when you were young? Is that it?”

 

Sound far-fetched? Trust me, it’s not. Couples are drawn to one another because they unconsciously want to resolve important emotional issues from childhood, and couple relationships have a way of evoking very familiar and very painful feelings.

Jeremy Mast
jmast@awakeningsrelationalcounseling.com
5 Comments
  • Jane
    Reply

    Bookmarking this post now. I sooo need to practice this and SOOOO wish my partner would too.

    August 29, 2016 at 1:20 pm
  • Glenn Luke
    Reply

    How do you validate your spouse’s feelings when you have never experienced the problem she is experiencing. She is harassed terribly by the owner (her ringleader boss) and his brother, son, etc. at work.

    September 27, 2016 at 3:29 pm
  • Anja
    Reply

    I am a person that has a lot of feeling, and sometimes I can get a bit hyper-sensitive about things. Sometimes, when my boyfriend doesn’t understand me, I panic. Most times I feel it’s because my feelings haven’t been validated by him, and that otherwise he wouldn’t find it so hard to understand me. My boyfriend is usually a very caring and respectful partner, except when he does not sympathise with me – if he does not sympathise, therefore does not understand, he will spare no effort in validating my feelings. Sometimes he will even express his disagreement, which can come across very discomforting when one had already been put in a vulnerable state in the first place. Then I honestly wonder if he hates me, as I ask myself why it is so easy for my partner to share such an abundance of feelings with me on most days, as we live together, but then finds it so hard to empathise with me on other aspects which I happen to react very strongly to, despite the fact that he witnesses me and my character on a daily basis. ‘Other aspects’ can range between tragedies, such as the death of a friend, or even something as quotidian as that the plans I had made and payed for in advance, but which I happened to have been terribly excited about, fell through. I honestly feel as though a lot of the anxiety I get from this lack in empathy could be prevented if only he validated my feelings. I don’t expect him to agree with me, or even make too much of a compromise for me… The only compromise would be the validation… The mental support… The value heart-felt emotions of any kind of depth deserve, especially from the one person you share your deepest emotions with.

    November 2, 2016 at 8:22 am

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