The importance of validation in relationships

Have You Met You?

How many times did you return from a stressful day of work, or experience of a deeply stressful situation and tell your partner, family member, or friend how you felt, and they responded by saying “I am sorry, that stinks, or you should have done this instead of that”.

In these moments, many feel alone or judged. Certainly unheard.

Some Research:
Seeking to better understand why some couples have healthy, lasting relationships while others do not, psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues arranged their clinic and research lab at the University of Washington to look like an inviting bed and breakfast. They asked research participants, 130 couples, to spend a day at the retreat and watched as they did what most people do on a typical weekend—prepare meals, chat, clean, and hang out.

As Dr. Gottman and colleagues studied the interactions of each couple, a pattern was observed. Throughout the day, partners would make small, seemingly insignificant requests for connection from each other. For example, partners would express interest in a movie or show, something they had read, or an event that happened in the past week outside of the relationship, Gottman and colleagues call these requests for connection “bids.”

Dr. Gottman and colleagues define positive and engaging responses, showing genuine interest, as “turning toward” and negative and passive responses as “turning away.” As it turned out, the way couples responded to these bids had a profound effect on their satisfaction and well-being. Gottman found that couples who had separated or divorced during the six-year follow-up period had “turn-toward bids” just 33 percent of the time—meaning only three in ten of their requests for connection were met with interest and compassion.

In contrast, couples who remained together after the six-year period had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nearly nine times out of ten, the healthy couples were meeting their partner’s emotional needs by the seemingly simple trio of listening, reflecting, and validating.

Now here’s the kicker: by observing these types of interactions, Gottman and team was able to predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples——will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy, several years down the road.

Yes, there was emphasis on diversity and combinations of defined couplehood, an extremely important factor (that merits further studies).  While much more needs to be learned and applied to be truly effective in helping couples, this is a promising start.  At Embolden Psychology, our perspective emphasizes the importance of friendships and work relationships, not just  romantic or intimate ones. How relationships proceed seem to have certain trajectories that can be observed and used in helpful ways.

How to recognize invalidation
You don’t have a say in decision-making
They reject your emotions and instead tell you how you ‘should’ feel.
They resort to stonewalling or silent treatment when you try to put your point across.
They pin the blame of your distress or unhappiness on your perceived sensitivity.
They shut down the discussion and dismiss the whole point of having a conversation.
After a conversation, you feel ignored, rejected and judged.
Your relationship has turned into a one-sided conversation.
There is an absence of cues that suggest they are listening.

How to validate someone’s feelings
In order to effectively emotionally validate your partner/friend/loved one, here are simple steps you can follow.
Stop what you are doing and listen. This is very hard to do when we are preoccupied. Like meditation and mindfulness, practice strengthens the pathways.
Understand the emotions that your partner is expressing and if you cannot, respectfully ask for clarification.
Work to understand what contributed to their feeling.
When responding to their distressing situations work to show unconditional positive regard.
Demonstrate genuine understanding to their individual experience of the problem.
Reflect. The only way to check out what you actually just heard or thought you heard is to find out.
Try to adjust your energy level in sync with their mood and response. For example, curb any unnecessary emoting when they are sharing a personally distressing narrative.
Refrain from giving unsolicited advice.
Being validated is so powerful. It’s meeting yourself and seeing it reflected in someone else’s eyes.

Learn more about emotional intelligence and the workplace here.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

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