Empathy and validation are essential in relationships

Communication is key to a happy, healthy relationship between romantic partners, friends or family members and effective communication requires more than just words. The ability to maintain a healthy relationship hinges on empathy and validation.



This is the ability to understand the other person's experience, see it through their eyes, walk in their shoes and be compassionate. Opening yourself up to their experience and empathising with them is part of a loving relationship. Empathy needs to be communicated and felt by the other person. 

How do we do this?

  • Be curious. Don’t make assumptions, ask questions to help you understand their situation. Rather than trying to fix the issue, get in there with them, and feel what they feel. 
  • Listen without judgement. Try to see the issues from the other person’s perspective. Try not to assume responsibility for their feelings, or take the messages personally.
  • Look for the feelings. Concentrate on what they are feeling, and listen to what they need.

Although it’s not always easy, in fact when you are in a conflict with the other person, it’s probably the most difficult of all relationships skills to master. Moreover, it is especially difficult for individuals who grew up in homes where they felt under attack or needed to protect their positions at all costs to prevent being bulldozed by the needs of others. To protect their position, they were unable to create a space for others, it just wasn’t safe. Again this is where curiosity comes into play, by understanding and seeing the conflict through the eyes of the other, can help to elicit empathy. 


The second part is validation, validation means you translate your ability to feel and understand your partner into words. Communicating empathy is not the same as agreeing with your partner, it’s about them knowing you understand and feel them. Validating each other is part of loving each other. 

How do we do this?

  • Summarise what they have said. It doesn’t need to be word for word, but it shows the other person that you are listening.
  • Express that you respect the other person’s perspective and feelings as natural and valid, even if they are different from your own.
  • Focus on connection rather than ‘fixing’ or changing the feelings.

In summary, words are important, but being authentic is key and to be authentic you must feel what you say. The next time you and someone you care about have a disagreement, see if you can stop and take a breath, regulate yourself, and figure out what’s going on for you. Ask yourself, "What do I need?", "What makes me feel threatened by this situation?", "How do I really feel?"

When you have figured this out, see if you can do the same for the other person. See if you can jump into their experience and see things through their eyes, and feel some of what they might be feeling; this is empathy. Next, communicate to them by stepping into their experience, and telling them you understand their thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t agree with their approach. This is validation.

It’s worth noting that we have to receive empathy to feel empathy. Not only does it feel great to be understood, but we also learn about the courage it takes to be vulnerable.

When empathy and validation are on board, it creates emotional safety and this is the platform from which problem-solving is going to be the most productive. 

For some, this is an incredibly difficult process, often due to issues in early childhood. If you need help as a couple, family or friend, seeking out a trained professional therapist is a good place to start helping you explore these issues. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wilmslow SK9 & Alderley Edge SK9
Written by Tracey Wetnall, MBACP Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Wilmslow SK9 & Alderley Edge SK9

Tracey is a psychotherapist and registered member of the BACP, she is based in Wilmslow, Cheshire for face to face counselling but also works with clients across the UK via a safe secure video link. Tracey has a passion for helping individuals, couples and families, navigate their way through difficult and challenging situations.

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