Have you ever expressed your opinion, thoughts or feelings, and the person you’re talking to hardly waits for you to finish before telling you their own, different version …as if that is how things really are!
If so, I wonder how that made you feel?
You may have felt that what you said had been completely dismissed and your thoughts, feelings and opinions don’t matter very much.
Perhaps you recognise this kind of interaction between yourself and your partner, and if that’s the case you’ll probably be aware that it can cause hurt feelings, friction and even serious arguments.
This kind of communication is often a pattern that can frequently escalate communication into arguments, preventing healthy discussion and resolution. What lies underneath is something we learned, or didn’t learn, in childhood, which is a key to unlocking any unhealthy behaviour: a need to validate ourselves.
What is the need for validation and how does it come about?
When we are born, we have no concept of being an individual being. We begin to appreciate as we develop emotionally as a small child, that we are a person that is separate from others — “I am me, and other people are different, and separate from me.”
There is an idea of having a separate identity.
As a child grows they need to experience that they can have a different opinion from others and still be loved and accepted. They have learnt that: “this is me, and I am different to you, and we are both acceptable as we are,” because they have experienced healthy parenting, which encourages the acceptability of difference. The child has received validation.
It’s surprising how many of us as adults, still struggle with this. This is where the problem of validation comes in.
How do struggles with validation reveal themselves?
We each naturally have our own interpretation of events; our own priorities; our own point of view, and it can be surprisingly hard to accept another person’s different interpretations, particularly when it involves a personal issue.
Ask yourself: how often do I leap into defensive mode when I’m talking with my partner, making assumptions such as:
“I know why you said that — you said it just to annoy me.”
“I don’t know why you think that — it isn’t like that at all!”
This is because lurking deep within there is an unwillingness to allow the other person to be different, and to accept their different experiences, thoughts and feelings, as equally as valid as our own.
Giving someone the freedom to be their own separate self is a precious gift.
What do healthy couple relationships look like and what part can I play?
In couple relationships separateness and intimacy go hand in hand. In order to have healthy intimacy, there also has to be healthy separateness. Thinking and feeling differently is completely valid, it just means we need to understand where we are both coming from and accept that we are legitimately different.
The healthier our own self image, the more comfortable we are ‘in our own skin’, being who we are, and allowing others to be separate and different. A healthy self image means having a realistic view of ourselves, neither underestimating or overestimating our importance.
What can happen if someone has an unhealthy view of him or herself?
Without a healthy view of a separate self, the challenge of ‘difference’ can be threatening, because we are looking for our self belief to be bolstered by others being the same and agreeing with us. We are looking to receive validation, but it is difficult to give it.
This can feel emotionally claustrophobic in a relationship. Someone on the receiving end may even feel the need to create some emotional distance to preserve their own sense of self.
What might it look like to validate each other, and what are the benefits?
The next time you’re having a personal conversation, instead of taking a defensive attitude try saying things that validate how the other person is thinking and feeling. For example:
Instead of saying…
“It isn’t like that!”
“I accept that’s how you feel. Tell me why it seems like that to you?”
“ You’re just being stubborn!”
“Tell me why that’s important to you”
The effect of communicating mutual validation in a relationship is powerful, bringing encouragement and understanding, rather than criticism and judgment. As a result it draws couples closer together, growing a deeper connection, which is what we all want and need.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- How healthy is my own sense of self? Is there an area I need to work on?
- How easy do I find it to validate my partner’s point of view, when it is different from mine? (Think especially about areas where you have conflicting views)
- How do I feel when my feelings or opinions are devalued?
- If there were to be more validation and less defensiveness in our relationship, what effect might that have?
Toucan Together’s Conflict Module allows you to understand the sources of any disagreements between you, your typical ways of approaching an argument and healthy ways to resolve them so you can move forward together and grow closer.
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