Healthy Behaviors, Relationships

Validate through Empathy


One of the most common ‘issues’ I see in my practice when working with couples is a lack of validation for how someone FEELS. Of course, it’s not only absent in couples relationships, but in family and business relationships as well.

What is Validation?

By definition it is “to confirm or establish the truthfulness or soundness of something” and that is precisely why we fail to validate in our relationships! We are afraid of acknowledging the ‘truthfulness’ in our partner’s (fill in family member or business associate where applicable) perspective. When we fail to validate our partner, we are essentially telling them their perspective – their feelings – are untrue.

BUT…. Our feelings are ours! They are neither true nor untrue – they simply ARE. Feelings are not right or wrong – they come from within and may be appropriate or inappropriate (for the circumstances); healthy or unhealthy but they are not TRUE or FALSE.

Think about this:

When someone says “I love you” they are talking about how THEY feel about YOU. Only they know the truthfulness of their statement.

When someone says “I am afraid of being hurt” – they are telling you something about THEM and it is important to acknowledge – VALIDATE – that you heard and understand what they said.  All too often, the listener responds back with an “I” statement, which fails to make any reference to whether or not they – in fact – heard what was said.

Responses are often

“I’m not going to hurt you”

“Don’t be afraid”

“That’s sill”

Consequently, the speaker never has an opportunity to feel ‘heard’ or feel as though his/her feeling was acknowledged. We are often caught up in our own feelings of defending what we perceive as a statement directed toward us (attack). If we learn to simply acknowledge what the speaker was doing – telling us how they feel – we have much more productive conversations!

Try a bit of empathy instead:

“That must not feel good”

“That must be scary”

“That must be hard”

Remember: When someone begins a sentence with an “I” statement they are talking about THEMSELVES – not about YOU… Responding with how YOU feel or what YOU think is an inappropriate response unless your reaction was specifically requested. 


Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / / CC BY-NC

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