When your partner comes to you about a frustration, do you find yourself trying to fix their problem? Does this result in them becoming frustrated with you? You were just trying to help, so why did you receive such a negative response? If this pattern feels familiar, your partner is likely looking for validation rather than a solution.
Attempts for validation can include wanting comfort after a stressful day at work or recognition of contributions around the house. When your partner has a negative emotional experience they might also seek validation. If you hear these attempts as your need to “fix” your partners problems, conflict can happen. Likewise, if you want to be validated for your own difficult experiences before validating your partner, an invalidating cycle starts.
When your partner seeks validation, they aren’t looking for solutions or to be calmed down. They also aren’t looking for someone to compete with. Your partner is looking for an empathic response that tells them that you understand they are having a difficult time. They want to know you are there for them. Your partner may become frustrated or withdrawn if their attempt fails because their needs were unmet or invalidated. Consequently, this either creates an argument and then withdrawal or immediate distancing and withdrawal. Neither of you wanted this result from the beginning, so how do we promote the result that everyone wants?
Instead of trying to “fix” your partners problems, try these tools:
• Ask your partner to gently remind you when they are looking for validation if they notice you starting to problem solve. This will be vital in the beginning because like any habit, it takes time and effort to break.
• Focus on the emotion behind what your partner is sharing to promote a stance of understanding and empathy. From this position it will be much easier to validate your partner.
Instead of competing for validation, try these tips:
• If you notice you have the urge to compete for validation when your partner initiates a validation-seeking conversation, notice this. Remind yourself that once you’re done validating your partner on their issue, you can seek validation on yours. Be sure to give your partner the respect and attention you would want when you seek validation.
• Practice turning toward one another when you have these validation-seeking conversations. This means that when your partner tells you they had a difficult day, they are attempting to de-stress with you. If you engage with them in a validating way, you are turning toward.
Worth clarifying is that validating your partner is not the same as agreeing. You can disagree with your partner and still validate their experience. An example of this is when your partner shares they had an argument with their boss that led to hurt feelings. Your automatic thought might be, ‘If you hadn’t done something wrong you wouldn’t have gotten in an argument.’ However, it is far more helpful to focus on the emotional experience than the content. This is because validation is not about the facts, it is about the experience. The emotion might be guilt and shame which is the part that validation is being sought for.
If you can validate your partners experience, you can improve your communication and overall relationship satisfaction. Changing communication habits isn’t easy, but it is well worth it when you can better meet one another’s needs.
About the Author
Kelsey Vincent is an intern at The Marriage and Family Clinic. She works with couples and individuals who struggle with emotional intimacy, as well as those who find themselves perpetuating destructive patterns. Kelsey enjoys all activities in the beautiful Colorado outdoors, including camping, mountain biking, snowboarding, and slalom water skiing.