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  • Jennifer Eaton

This One Tool Can Make A Big Difference In Your Relationships

Relationships can be challenging, even good relationships! Many think if their relationship is good then it will be easy and just flow with little maintenance.

Here's a metaphor that might be helpful...

All cars need maintenance, even the fanciest ones. They need gas regularly, even in bad weather. They need oil changes, even when inconvenient and expensive. Then there’s the yearly inspection – is it up to par? And don’t forget brakes and tires. How about that transmission?

See the parallel? Just as with cars, there are many ways to invest in relationships.

Validation is one of the ways we can invest in our relationships (you can think of it like putting gas in the car). A validating relationship is one where both parties feel understood, cared for, and loved.

So how do we practice validation?

Validation is providing understanding until the recipient feels understood. This is different from empathy which is a helpful trait when it comes to validation. Validation is done until the recipient feels understood.

Here are some catch phrases that can help to apply validation (I need to credit another DBT expert in the field, Alan Fruzzetti, who a specialty in applying DBT to relationships both couples and families):Validate only the valid (HINT: emotions are valid)Don’t validate the invalidDon’t invalidate the validONLY invalidate the invalid AFTER giving TONS of validation and only rarely 

Common questions and concerns:

What if I don’t agree with the person’s perspective? Try again. Emotions are always valid, so validate that part. Validate the valid. Find the valid amongst the potential untruth. Another person’s perspective may be valid to them but that doesn’t mean it is valid to you. Where is the truth? Stick to the emotions and you don’t have to worry about agreeing with the invalid.

What if I don’t agree with the emotions?  Having different feelings from the other person or not understanding does not mean you can't validate their feelings.  Everyone has different interpretations and experiences that contribute to different emotional experiences. The ultimate goal is to help the recipient feel understood. Validate the valid, the emotions.

What if the person is lying and it is well known by all parties (this is common to avoid getting in trouble)? Don’t validate the invalid (the lie)! Validate the pieces of truth, e.g. that the person doesn’t want to get into trouble.


Here’s an example to demonstrate:

Parent (calmly):  The school called and said you were late to school. You are supposed to be on time. Adolescent:  I don’t think it’s a big deal. You are overreacting. It’s just school and the class I was late for is just a pass/fail class. I’ll still pass.

Parent (normal room voice level, calm – lacks judgment): I can see you are feeling frustrated (validating emotions) and you think it’s no big deal (validating person’s opinion without agreeing with it). I feel frustrated too (validating own emotions). Being on time is important to school and later when you get a job. Being late to school when you left here on time is not okay. I know you said “it’s just school” but it’s more than that (validated teen’s perception without agreeing). What happened and where were you? Adolescent:  My friend was upset so we walked a longer way to school together.

Parent:  You are a good friend and that was nice of you (validating the emotion and approach specific to helping friend) and it is important that you also are on time for school (this doesn’t validate the invalid of being late and keeps the validity of teen being a good friend present). Your friend was late for school and is already upset. I don’t want that on her plate too. Let’s figure out how to be a good friend and to be on time. Adolescent:  Yes, she got in trouble too. I won’t be late again!  I’m sorry! I don’t want her in trouble too.

Parent:  Next time, can you make sure you both get to school on time and be a good friend? Adolescent:  Yes.

Parent:  It seems you feel pretty lousy about this. (validates shame). I know you want me to drop this (validates teen’s interest) and let’s be sure you are on time from now on. I was worried (validating own feeling and sharing with teen) and I don’t want you to get in trouble (validates teen’s value too). If it happens again you could be in worse trouble with the school.  Next time this happens, I will start driving you to school and you are certainly old enough to get to school yourself. Adolescent:  I won’t do it again. I’m sorry. Same scenario with invalidation:

Parent (expressing valid intense frustration is not validating): I just got a call from school. Why the hell were you late??? (may imply reason of supporting her friend was invalid) Adolescent:  Wow, can you lay off? (invalidation often increases emotions)

Parent (stern and harsh voice, nonverbal invalidation): This is unacceptable!  Why were you late? Adolescent: I was helping my friend who was really upset.

Parent (raising voice, invalidating behavior toward teen trying to do the right thing):  That is not okay (invalidated the reason without validating emotions and perspective first). You must be on time for school. Adolescent:  I KNOW! Bug off! (raised voice)

Parent (through gritted teeth): The next time you do this, I will start driving you to school! Adolescent:  FINE! You’re so controlling!


Although this latter conversation can be a common exchange, especially with emotions are high, invalidation increases emotions even more. Notice there wasn’t much learning here, just punishment! If it we could see this acted out, both parties raised their voice and connection was lost. Validation can help address concerns and deliver consequences while working to minimize the tension in the relationship.

In the first example, the parent joined with the teen's emotions and purpose without validating the behavior of being late. The teenager was able to hear and accept the future punishment while also feeling heard.  To increase success with validation whether between parents and teenagers, amongst couples or friends, regulating oneself first is essential. Take some deep breaths, wait until emotions are regulated to talk about something difficult (most of the time it really can wait). Check to see if the other person’s emotions are regulated too, which will increase success even more.

And validate, validate, validate, validate…..

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