Validation is the acknowledgement of your own or someone else’s inner experience (feelings, thoughts, urges) and behaviors as understandable. Validation helps you improve communication with those you love. When you validate others, you create a safe context for them to express their fears, worries, and issues that make them uncomfortable. When you have open, accurate communication, then you can problem solve.
John comes home from work and his wife Amy meets him at the door holding the credit card bill. She has an angry look on her face. In a loud voice she says, “You know we are trying to cut the credit card bill. We agreed to discuss any charges. It’s not even two weeks later and you’ve already broken that promise. How dare you! How can I ever trust you?”
How will John respond? Of course he will say something like, “You are always on my case. I can’t do anything right. You’re the reason we’re in this credit card mess anyway, so don’t go blaming me.” Communication then becomes an argument. John responded to his wife’s anger with his own anger. While that is understandable and natural, it doesn’t help either of them have a helpful discussion.
John’s first emotional reaction to his wife’s upset was likely one of shame or guilt, because he had broken their agreement not to use the credit card. Instead of expressing his guilt, he defends himself with anger. That makes him less vulnerable, and it also makes effective communication more difficult. If he had accurately expressed his feelings, John might have said, “Oh, honey, you are right. I can understand how you would be so hurt. I did use the credit card and then I felt guilty about it. I meant to tell you and I kept putting it off.” That would be a more accurate expression of his thoughts and emotions. In turn, Amy would likely react in a calmer way. They then problem solve together. Validation helps you stay on the same side.
Amy did not express her primary emotion either. When she first saw the credit card bill, she was hurt and scared. Anger was easier to experience so she quickly went to anger and thought of her husband as a jerk. She saw the situation as an attack on her and responded with an attack on her husband. Her way of talking with him triggered an angry response. She could have more accurately expressed her emotions by saying, “I saw that you used the credit card without talking with me and I was so hurt and disappointed. I thought we had an agreement. I know that you care about our future too and at the same time I was also scared because I’m afraid if we don’t stick to our plan we’ll lose the house. I’d just like to understand what happened.”
Accurate expression and validation of the other person’s feelings leads to a more productive discussion. Using validation means giving up the idea of responding to anger with anger or defending yourself. That is difficult. Dr. Alan Fruzzetti suggests that you keep in mind that you and the person you have a relationship with are in the same boat and need to work together for the relationship to survive. He also suggests that you visualize how what you want to say to the other person will affect the relationship in the long run. Will it help or hurt the relationship?