Affirmation Versus Validation

Why validation may be the key to communication.

Posted Oct 01, 2020

Polina Zimmerman / Courtesy of Pexels
Source: Polina Zimmerman / Courtesy of Pexels

In Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, he notes that one of the languages, words of affirmation, involves sending encouraging messages to your partner such as “I love you, because of what a good partner you are.” When affirming something, you are offering support, and/or asserting something as fact. There is usually a positive connotation to this term, in which one partner agrees with the other regarding his/her assertion. For example, a husband affirming his wife’s belief that they need to spend more time together as a couple would be agreeing with her statement and holding it as truth. 

Often, I hear people using the terms affirmation and validation interchangeably. Validation, unlike affirmation, does not mean that one person agrees with the other. Rather, to validate someone is to acknowledge and accept his/her feelings/thoughts/beliefs/etc. Linehan (1997) notes that validation involves expressing understanding, legitimacy, and acceptance of another’s experience. Validation does not attempt to alter a person’s experience, but rather accept it as is (Shenk, & Fruzzetti, 2011). In a study with 60 undergraduate students who were exposed to a stressor in the form of mental arithmetic problems, assigned to a validating or invalidating response condition, differences resulting from the responses given were shown. An example of a validating response was “I too would feel upset if I were the one completing the task” (Shenk, & Fruzzetti, 2011, p. 172). An example of an invalidating response was “I don’t understand why you would feel that way” (Shenk, & Fruzzetti, 2011, p. 162). Shenk and Fruzzetti (2011) found that validating responses were “…more conducive to the regulation of individual emotional reactivity even during a stressful situation” (p. 178).

Using the aforementioned example regarding time spent together as a couple versus time spent apart, in validating his wife’s belief that they need to spend time together as a couple, the husband acknowledges her belief. However, it does not necessarily mean that he agrees with it. Instead, he may feel that spending time apart is important for their marriage and individual identities, but has in fact acknowledged and heard her. In this case, validating her, by saying something as simple as “I understand that you want us to spend more time together” communicates that she has been heard.

It is important to realize that not all discussions will reach a mutually agreed-upon consensus, however in the interest of open and honest communication, both partners should be able to express their views. Had the husband not validated his partner's views, and instead continued to assert his own, he may be met with frustration, which may escalate the situation from a discussion to an argument.

Being that members of a dyad each see the world in their own unique ways, it is unrealistic to think that both people will always see eye-to-eye. Therefore, rather than continually circling back and belaboring the same points trying to get your partner to view things in the same way you do, or experiencing an impasse, we may benefit from validating one another. By acknowledging each other’s different viewpoints, and asserting their worth, we can deescalate a potentially heated discussion.

References

Chapman, G. D. (2010). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.

Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. In A. C. Bohart & L. S. Greenberg (Eds.), Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy (pp. 353-392). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Shenk, C. E., & Fruzzetti, A. E. (2011). The impact of validating and invalidating responses on emotional reactivity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30(2), 163-183.