We’ve all been there – a partner shares something upsetting, and we react in a way that leaves them feeling dismissed, judged, or misunderstood. It’s a common misstep, but an incredibly damaging one. Invalidating a loved one’s emotions can erode trust, breed resentment, and gradually unravel the fabric of a relationship.

But what if there was a simple technique that could transform these moments of disconnect into opportunities for deeper understanding and connection? Enter the Stress-Reducing Conversation, a powerful tool pioneered by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, renowned experts in couples therapy.

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Gottman’s stress-reducing conversations are communication techniques developed by Drs. John Gottman and Julie Gottman. The technique helps couples effectively manage and reduce stress in their relationships.

But it does more.

For the partner accused of invalidating feelings, it offers strategies to create a more validating and supportive environment.

It can also highlight forms of emotional abuse that invalidate self-esteem and destroy emotional intimacy. The technique helps couples effectively manage and reduce stress in their relationship.

Do you find that you feel bad when talking to your partner? Does it seem as if your feelings don’t matter to them? The Stress Reducing Conversation is a critical communication tool to improve emotional validation and increase feeling safe.

The power of validation

At the heart of the Stress-Reducing Conversation is the art of validation – the act of communicating that your partner’s feelings are understandable, legitimate, and important to you. When we validate, we create a safe space for vulnerability and authentic sharing. We say, “I see you, I hear you, and what you’re feeling matters to me.”

Validation is not about agreeing with everything your partner says or feels. It’s about honoring their emotional experience, even if it differs from your own. It’s a way of expressing empathy and demonstrating that you’re truly listening.

Emotionally validating statements

In contrast, emotionally validating statements acknowledge, respect, and validate someone’s feelings. They show understanding, empathy, and support for emotions.

Here are some examples:

  • “I can see why that makes you sad/angry/frustrated/confused/upset.”
  • “Your feelings are important to me, and I want to understand.”
  • “It is completely understandable to feel the way you do.”
  • “I hear you. I want you to know that your emotions matter to me.”
  • “I am here for you.”
  • “It is okay to feel [emotion].”
  • “I would feel the same way if it were me.”
  • “You are not alone in this. I’m here to listen and be there for you.”
  • “Your feelings make sense given what you are struggling with.”
  • “Thank you for telling me about this. It helps me understand you better.”

The listener doesn’t have to solve the problem. They simply need to be present, pay attention, and try to understand and empathize. Demonstrate that you hear, respect, and acknowledge your partner’s feelings. That is enough. It enhances trust, strengthens the relationship, and promotes open communication.

People learn how to validate feelings at a young age. When a person isn’t validated as a child, these problematic negative patterns become ingrained habits. However, these harmful communication patterns can and should be broken.

The perils of invalidation

In contrast, invalidation sends the message that your partner’s feelings are irrational, exaggerated, or unimportant. It can take many forms, from overt criticism (“You’re overreacting”) to subtle dismissal (“It’s not a big deal”).

Invalidation can be especially insidious because it often masquerades as help or support. Minimizing statements like “Look on the bright side” or “Others have it worse” may be well-intentioned, but they can leave your partner feeling unheard and alone.

Over time, chronic invalidation can erode self-esteem, breed resentment, and foster emotional distance in a relationship. It’s a surefire way to make your partner feel like they can’t trust you with their vulnerabilities.

Spotting red flags

While the Stress-Reducing Conversation is a powerful tool, it’s important to note that it’s not a panacea for deeper relationship issues. If attempts at validation consistently devolve into criticism, contempt, or gaslighting, it may be a sign of more serious dysfunction.

Some red flags to watch for:

  • Using your partner’s disclosures against them in later arguments
  • Expressing boredom or annoyance when your partner shares
  • Invalidating your partner’s reality with statements like “That never happened” or “You’re imagining things”

If you notice these patterns, it may be time to seek the guidance of a couples therapist. Chronic invalidation can be a hallmark of emotional abuse, and professional support may be necessary to re-establish safety and trust.

Here are some types of emotional invalidation statements to avoid:


Here you are completely disregarding or brushing aside the significance of what your partner is talking about. You communicate that their feelings are irrelevant to you, excessive or unnecessary.

  • “You need to get past that.”
  • “This is nonsense.”
  • “It can’t be that serious.”
  • I’m sure she didn’t mean it.”

Criticizing or showing contempt

  • “This is really getting old.”
  • “That is ridiculous.”
  • “That’s crazy talk.”


You downplay or diminish the emotional intensity or importance of what the speaker is saying. You act as if their feelings are less serious or less serious than they tell you that they are.

  • “It’s not that bad. It could be worse.”
  • “I’m sure that’s not what they meant.”
  • “I’m sure they don’t think that.”


Instead of empathizing, you meet their emotions with judgment or criticism. You might call their thoughts irrational, unnecessary, or wrong.

  • “It’s time to move on.”
  • “You are making a big deal out of nothing.”
  • “That is not (or they are not) worth getting upset about.”


You put their feelings on trial. The implication is that they should not feel the way they do. The implication is that their reactions are their own fault, or they are overreacting.

  • “Stop taking everything so personally.”
  • “You were late, so it is understandable that your boss was upset.”
  • “You should be ashamed of yourself for feeling that way.”


You don’t effectively communicate interest. Instead of normal nods, and vocalizations, you are silent and still. This implies you are indifferent to their attempts to express their feelings.

You changing the subject while your partner is in the middle of a sentence.

They feel invisible and unimportant to you as they share.


You undermine their perception of reality or emotions. You leave them questioning their own feelings and experiences.

  • “You are imagining things.”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “You are the only one who feels that way.”

Mastering the Stress-Reducing Conversation

So how does the Stress-Reducing Conversation work in practice? The Gottmans recommend setting aside 15-20 minutes each day for this dedicated exercise in empathetic listening.

Here’s how it unfolds:

  1. Take turns sharing about your day, focusing on stressors outside your relationship. Set aside time at least 5 days a week for a 15-20 minute conversation about your day. Don’t talk about relationship stressors. This is a time to focus on issues outside of your interactions.
  2. As the listener, your role is to offer understanding and support – not advice or problem-solving.
  3. Take turns talking about your life, work, and day. As you speak, keep the conversation focused on your own life and the characters in it.
  4. Validate your partner’s feelings with statements like:
    • “That sounds really frustrating.”
    • “I can understand why you’d feel overwhelmed.”
    • “It’s totally normal to feel anxious in that situation.”
  5. Ask open-ended questions to deepen your understanding, like:
    • “What was the hardest part for you?”
    • “How did you feel when that happened?”
  6. Show engagement through eye contact, body language, and minimal encouragers like “mmhmm” and “I see.”
  7. Do not try to problem-solve. That is not necessary to do in this exercise.

The goal is to create a daily ritual of emotional connection, where both partners feel seen, heard, and supported. Over time, this practice can deepen intimacy, enhance trust, and equip you to handle stressors as a united team.6


The Stress-Reducing Conversation offers a roadmap to transform everyday interactions into moments of connection and understanding. By practicing validation and empathetic listening, we create a safe harbor for our partner’s vulnerabilities and lay the groundwork for deeper intimacy.

While simple in concept, validation is a skill that requires ongoing practice and commitment. But for couples willing to put in the work, the payoff is profound – a relationship characterized by trust, emotional safety, and enduring connection.