Creating Closeness in Disagreement: The Power of Validation

August 31, 2015

Recently, I came across an interesting question on Quora: “How do you build trust?” One of the most popular answers was from a salesman, who argued that a salesman’s only job is to build trust. While he provided several techniques, the one he emphasized (and stood out to me) was to offer the other person validation.


When I think of building trust, I don’t usually first think of validation. I think about making and keeping agreements as well as negotiating back up plans when expectations can’t be met (but that's for another blog!). But the Quora writer is also definitely correct: validating does help create trust along with a host of other positive benefits.


In the past, I’ve written about why creating goodwill is important in a relationship (along with some tips on how to do that) as well as the benefits of empathy, and validation is a practice that contributes to goodwill and offers us another lens through which to practice empathy, to see the world from the other person’s point of view. In this post, I will discuss validation, how it can help your relationships (even beyond building trust), as well as some tips to help you validate your partner.


Often when I work with couples, they have reached a point in their relationship where they have become distant or disconnected, or they might even experience each other as enemies. Often, when this couple tries to communicate with one another, they end up arguing, trying to convince the other to see things their way. When I ask them to check in and see how they feel towards their partner, they tend to either want to continue fighting, or they want to simply be done with the situation in one way or another, which causes them to grow distant.


While disruptive to the relationship, this dynamic points us to what really needs to happen: what if instead of needing to be right, we recognized that this drive is truly just needing to be acknowledged? In other words, when we try to be right, our true desire might be met better with validation. Adapting Alan Fruzzetti’s straightforward definition, when we are validated, we feel that the other person understands our experience and accepts it. How good would it feel when there is a disagreement to felt understood and accepted by our partner?


Note that understanding and accepting are not the same as agreeing. For example, my wife, Kelsey, might say to me, “I felt really hurt when you snapped at me last night before bed.” I might be taken aback: I don’t remember snapping at her at all! I remember feeling that she was ignoring me before we turned out our lights, but I don’t remember what could have led to that at all. So, I may not agree with the premise that I snapped at her. If I choose the path of needing to be right, our conversation might go like this:


Kelsey: “I felt really hurt when you snapped at me last night before bed.”

Me: “What are you talking about? I didn’t snap. You were the one who ignored me.”

Kelsey: “That was only because you snapped at me about not putting away the toothpaste!”

Me: “I didn’t snap! And you know it makes me crazy when you don’t put things away…”

Kelsey: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Just forget it!”


Needless to say, this interaction will do nothing to help us feel clo