Harville Hendrix who wrote the ground-breaking book “Getting the Love You Want” gave the word “validation” a very specific and useful meaning – “understanding and communicating to the partner why his or her reality makes sense.”
- “You make sense when you ban devices from the children at 9pm as you say how it is stressful it is when they are tired the next day.”
- “It makes sense to me that you leave the room when we get cross, given what you’ve said about feeling overwhelmed when we argue.”
Yet Hendrix says that validation means more than just responding with how the partner’s world “makes sense”. He says “Validation demands and leads to greater awareness of the other’s difference from oneself.”
Validating difference can be difficult:
- “You make sense to me that you get full of rage when you describe what its like to feel frequently criticised by me.”
- “It makes sense that you want to leave me, given your distress at feeling I let you down.”
In the last example; suppose the speaker is desperate to continue with the relationship. Validating that the reasons for leaving make sense with any honesty at all may be impossible. The threat of leaving is more likely to trigger helplessness, pleading or rage about being rejected.
How does validating ‘demand and lead to greater awareness of how the partner is different?’ Try it: think about when you last found yourself arguing, reasoning, or secretly thinking ‘that’s ridiculous’. What was it that you did not like about your partner’s difference from you in that situation?
Now suspend your fear and get curious: ask your partner to say more about his/her different reality. When you understand more, be generous: show that you accept that this very different reality makes sense from his/her point of view.
For we all need to know that we make sense to our partners and others; that we are not mad, bad or stupid.
So figure out a loving, validating gift, a sentence which marks his/her difference from yourself:
“It makes sense to me that you… given that…”
With thanks to:
Getting the Love You Want by H Hendrix
And, Imago Relationship Therapy by H Hendrix et al.
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