Every couple argues but what distinguishes happy and unhappy couples is how they argue. There is one relationship skill that when used correctly, has a practically magical ability to calm things down, reduce tension and anger, and even increase closeness—emotional validation.
Validating someone’s emotions involves taking their perspective and conveying you ‘get’ why they’re upset from their point of view—something that at first glance might seem risky and even foolish. Indeed, when someone is angry or upset with you, telling them they have every right to feel the way they do might seem like the last thing you should do. First, because you might still think you’re right and you don’t want to convey you’re not. And second, because you probably fear that telling an angry or upset person they are entitled to feel as they do will only make them angrier or more upset.
However, both those concerns are unfounded. Conveying you understand why someone is upset does not mean you’re admitting you’re wrong, as you can and should also express your own perspective on things. And most importantly, when you convey you understand how your partner feels and do so with sympathy and understanding, something magical happen—rather than make them angrier and fuel their fire, your message of emotional validation will actually douse their flame and make them calmer.
Why does this paradoxical result happen?
Getting our feelings validated is something we all seek and crave, often far more than we realize. When we are upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed or hurt, the thing we want most is for the other person to ‘get it’, to understand how and why we feel the way we do—to validate our feelings and to convey their understanding with a generous dollop of sympathy.
Think back to a time you were angry or upset and someone totally got it and was able to validate exactly how you felt—you probably experienced tremendous relief and an authentic visceral ‘release’, and by doing so you were probably able to let go some of the feelings you had built up.
That is how your partner will feel if you are able to convey emotional validation to them, and yes, even in the midst of an argument. Providing emotional validation will not only calm things down but it will allow warmer feelings to return and a more reasonable discussion to ensue. Indeed, when both members of a couple practice emotional validation, they tend to have longer lasting and more satisfying relationships than couples who do not practice this skill.
Emotional validation does not come easily to most people and as such, it does need to be practiced. But it is has such a powerful and positive impact on relationships, it is one investment that is very much worthwhile.
Guy Winch is a psychologist, speaker and author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013). Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog!