Validation can be the difference between happy and unhappy relationships but is sometimes one of the toughest things for families to show and communicate to each other. One of the most common things I hear as a counselor is “they don’t hear me!” Couples come in and describe wanting to be heard by their partner, teens come in and tell me their parents don’t understand, and families come in telling me that no one is listening. Clearly, there is something missing in many of these relationships and it has nothing to do with our ability to hear. When we get down to it, many people are seeking validation in their relationships, and are feeling unheard and misunderstood when validation isn’t happening. So while their family members can hear what they’re saying, they still aren’t feeling heard. This missing link between being heard and feeling heard can be validation.
So what exactly is validation?
Validation, as an official definition, is “to recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of”. So when we validate each other in relationships we are not only listening but also saying and showing each other “I hear you and this is important”. Validation communicates that we not only hear our loved ones thoughts and feelings but we also acknowledge them and accept them. This can be the key to changing our relationships.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind about validation:
1. Validation is not problem solving.
Have you ever heard someone complain that they just want their partner to listen rather than jump in and try to solve the problem? With validation, we can communicate acceptance of our loved one and acknowledge that what that person is sharing with you really matters. But instead of rushing to create a plan to fix that problem that our partner has, maybe we can step back and recognize their frustration or anger and acknowledge that this must be really hard for them. Perhaps problem solving is part of the communication that will happen but in that moment, validation is not problem solving.
2. Validation is not agreement.
Parents and partners will sometimes balk when we start talking about what it would be like to validate what their loved one is saying. And sometimes this is because they do not necessarily agree with what that person is sharing and do not ever want to agree with them. But you can validate your loved one without agreeing with them. By validating, you can communicate that what your loved one is saying is important even if you disagree with what they’ve shared. Showing them that you hear them and recognize something as an important topic or feeling can be even more important than communicating that you agree with them.
3. Validation is not part of multi-tasking.
We all have busy lives and finding time to solely focus on each other without distractions can be difficult. But validation is impossible if we are focused on too many things at once. The very nature of validation requires us to focus on our loved one and show them that we are listening and believe that what they are saying really matters.
Validation might look different for everyone and will look different in every relationship. Validation is so important that some research has outlined multiple levels and ways of validatingeach other in relationships. Try some ideas this week and see what works for you. Be intentional about communicating validation to your loved ones and see how it changes your relationships.
Amanda Regalia, M.A. is a marriage and family counselor and clinician for The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. Amanda specializes in working with families and children ages 5 and up. She is passionate about helping people to create practical solutions that support them in achieving their goals and improving their relationships and life.