The Single Best Thing You Can Do for Your Relationship

When we think of what we can do to nurture our relationship, we often think of tangibles. Buy her diamond earrings. Take her out to an elegant dinner. Surprise him by wearing sexy lingerie. Buy flowers and chocolate. Take a romantic trip together. While all of these things certainly won’t hurt your relationship (at all!), they aren’t necessarily the strongest ways to connect with your loved one.

The deeper component has more to do with how you interact together rather than what you do together. It’s called validation. Consistent, thoughtful validation of your partner’s thoughts and feelings is the best thing you can do for your relationship.

Think back to a time when you remember feeling really understood. Perhaps it was a caring teacher in grade school who seemed to know exactly the right thing to say when you were upset. Maybe it’s your friend who dropped everything when you called with exciting news and was eager to share your joy. Think back to the last time you really felt heard, understood, and listened to. It’s a powerful feeling, isn’t it?

Validation in your relationship is the same idea. It means that when your partner tells you about their day, or shares their feelings, you stay with them in the moment, honoring their experience. You join their world and see things from their point of view. It’s a way of showing you understand and accept their thoughts and feelings just as they are. Research has shown that having these types of interactions with your partner helps your partner feel less upset and less vulnerable, whereas invalidating behaviors do the opposite; they make your partner feel criticized, dismissed, or contempt from you.

Relationships that are the most successful are those where both partners share their inner world with one another — their real thoughts, feelings and desires — and where their partner, in turn, is able to really hear them. When you share a validating style of interacting together, you build trust and intimacy. These are the bonds that make relationships last.

While the concept of validation may seem simple, it can sometimes be a little tricky to execute. Imagine your partner comes home and tells you they are furious because they found out they need to work over the holiday weekend. What is your first reaction? Many of us would feel protective of our spouse, or upset at the situation, and have the natural urge to try to help or fix the situation. You might offer advice on how to solve the problem. While it intuitively feels helpful to give suggestions, this can feel invalidating to your partner. Your partner may not be looking for help with a solution — they probably have already tried to find ways to solve the problem, and might feel even more frustrated in hearing advice, no matter how good your intention.

So how do you effectively listen to and validate your partner? There are a few key components to help guide your conversations.

1. Mindful listening is the first component of validation. This means you really pay attention to what your partner is saying. As difficult as it might be, suspend your own judgments and reactions to the situation or topic. Temporarily let go of the need to advise, change, help or fix the situation. Your own thoughts are put on the back burner; your focus, instead, is on your partner’s current experience. Show you are listening by stopping what you are doing (closing the laptop, turning off the TV), turning to face them, nodding your head, and making eye contact as they talk.

2. Acknowledging and accepting is the next step in validation. This means you acknowledge what they’ve said or what they are feeling. You might say, “I can see you’re upset about this,” or “You seem discouraged” in response to their news about having to work over the weekend. Rather than trying to cheer your partner up, you allow them space to be upset.

3. Validating does not equal agreeing. An important distinction is that you can accept your partner’s feelings, but it doesn’t mean you need to agree with them. For instance, say that you go to see a movie together. Afterward, you discuss your thoughts about the film. Your partner found it entertaining and funny, while you found it boring and predictable. You might validate their point of view by saying, “It sounds like you really enjoyed the film. It wasn’t my favorite, but I can tell that you had fun watching it.” In this example, you’re acknowledging your partner’s enjoyment of something, without sharing the same sentiment.

4. Ask questions. If your partner presents a problem or difficult situation to you, try to find out more about how they are feeling and what they want by asking open-ended questions. “What do you wish would happen?” “What was your reaction to that?” “How are you feeling about things now?” Gently asking questions to clarify their experience can be very gratifying for them. It shows you care and want to really listen.

5. Show you understand. Use validating statements such as, “I would feel that way, too,” or “It makes sense to me that you’d feel that way given the circumstances” to let them know you see why they feel the way they do. You can also show validation with non-verbals, such as giving them a hug if they feel lonely, making them a cup of tea if they feel jittery, or giving them space if they need time to think.

In the end, it’s about the way you interact together, much more so than what you do together. And it can make all the difference in your relationship.

I hope you liked my post today. Please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also TweetGoogle+1 and Pin today’s post to let your friends know about it. All my best, Dr. Shannon.

For more about Dr. Shannon’s new book, When Depression Hurts Your Relationship, view her book page on Amazon.


About Shannon Kolakowski

Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and author. Passionate about helping people create the best relationships they can, Dr. Kolakowski seamlessly integrates the latest clinical research with her own personal experience and insight to help clients and readers be their best selves– both within and outside of relationships. Because Dr. Kolakowski specializes in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders as well as relationships, she brings an added depth to her understanding of how you can improve all aspects of your life. Her new book, When Depression Hurts Your Relationship, is now available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and in stores at all major booksellers. Featured in publications like Redbook, Scientific American MIND, ParentMap, Men’s Health Magazine, Salon, Shape and eHarmony, Dr. Kolakowski also maintains a relationship blog on The Huffington Post. She is a frequent interviewed by the media and is an expert contributor for Her book Single, Shy and Looking For Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious will be released in October 2014.

6 Responses to “The Single Best Thing You Can Do for Your Relationship”

  1. avatar Dr. Deborah says:

    Dr. Shannon, Validation is so important to our daily life. I love that you point out that appreciating and understanding a person’s viewpoint and feelings doesn’t mean we necessarily agree or lose anything about ourselves. Thank you for this highlighting this important topic. Also, welcome. I’m so pleased that you will be writing for us. Warm regards Deborah.

    • avatar Dr. Shannon says:

      Thank you for your warm welcome, Dr. Deborah. I have seen, time after time, how amazingly effective the tools of validation are with the couples who learn to use them. I hope readers find these ideas useful, as well, and practical to implement. I look forward to sharing more ideas with all of you on PEDL.

  2. avatar Amna says:

    Very nice article, good listening emphasized.

  3. avatar Syed Tahmim says:

    Thank you for publishing it. I do most of them with my partner but I didn’t notice that I do it before reading your post. I will try to be more precise on this as I am now passing very difficult time and I don’t want to lose her.

  4. avatar Jawed Raza says:

    Just gone through ur Post of March,17.Thank u for such a nice & infomative Aryicle.I never before read anything about Validation.But all u discussed in ur publication seems much familiar to me.can v define it all in one single sentence “CARING OUR LOVED ONES IN ALL SITUATIONS”

  5. avatar Kimani says:

    Quite true that relationships that are most successful are those where both partners share their inner world with one another — their real thoughts, feelings and desires. Also listening to each other.


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