How Do You Validate Someone When They’re Angry With You?

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Learning how to validate another person’s feelings is a tremendously valuable relationship skill. If you aren’t yet familiar with the concept, check out my earlier post on the subject, and/or, if you’re in the mood to sit down and do a deep dive for a few hours, you can snag a copy of my book.

“But,” you say, “validation is easy when you’re just trying to help a distressed friend, or are sharing in someone’s excitement. What about when they’re angry at me or accusing me of something that isn’t true? Why on earth would I validate that?”


Because effectively validating the other person’s concerns is the quickest way to calm their anger, make *your* perspective heard, resolve the issue, and even come out of the argument with a stronger relationship than when it started.

Sound crazy?

The key here is to understand that you can validate someone, even when you disagree with them. In fact, I recommend reading that article first, before continuing on here, because it lays a critical foundation for the rest of this post.

If you’re too strapped for time to read both, though, I’ll summarize the key points below.

“I Hear You” Doesn’t Mean “I Agree With You.”

When we validate, we’re not saying, “you’re right, I meant to hurt you.” Instead, we’re saying, “I understand why you’d think that. I’d be just as angry, given the same background, limited information, emotional state, etc.”

While it may not seem like it at first, most people’s reactions (even the seemingly irrational ones) make perfect sense once you truly understand where that person is coming from. You may need to think about their background, their fears, their hopes, the fact that they might not have all the details, etc. but—more often than not—you’ll find that their response is actually quite reasonable given the situation.

This is critical to understand, because when someone comes at us—throwing accusations, yelling in our face, telling us we’re a horrible person—most people’s immediate reaction is to respond in-kind. Match their arguments with counter-arguments, talk over them, yell at them, and/or otherwise try to force them into submission. In most arguments, we focus on one primary objective: get the other person to admit that they’re wrong.

But how often does that work?

How many arguments have you been in where the other person actually admits that they’re wrong and you’re right, and walks away with their tail between their legs?

And if you ever have “won” an argument like that, how did you feel afterward? And how do you think that other person felt?

While “winning” an argument may feel nice in the moment, chances are good you’ve humiliated and belittled the other person. No one likes to be proven wrong—much less forced to admit it—so if you succeed in that goal, how do you think the other person is left feeling? While you got the other person to admit that you were “right,” what did it cost you? What did it cost your relationship?

Not a Pushover

Now, before I go any further, let me be clear about one thing: I’m not suggesting you just lay down and take whatever accusations people throw your way. I’m not suggesting you turn the other cheek and let people push you around. Knowing how to set boundaries and stand up for yourself is a critical part of emotional health, personal strength, and long-term happiness.

What I am suggesting here is that there is a healthier, stronger, more effective way to navigate arguments. A way that allows you to show respect for the other person, while also holding your ground, making your side of the story heard, and working together to find a solution. Seriously, once you get the hang of it, it’s like a superpower.

The Tools

The following skills/tools/tips are what you’ll aim to use in tense situations.

1. Hear the other person out—no matter how absurd their arguments might be.

I’ll be the first to say it: this is easier said than done. And, if you can hold back your counter-arguments long enough to allow the other person to finish out their point, I promise you will have a better chance at making your point heard.

This means keeping your “that’s not true!” and “oh come on—seriously?” comments until later. It doesn’t have to be for long, but most of us don’t let the other person get a second sentence out before challenging the first. We think that, if we let accusations go unchecked, the whole conversation will spiral out of control.

The truth is, just the opposite is true.

When you immediately challenge someone’s thoughts or feelings, most people fight back harder. They dig their heels into the ground and you create a near-impenetrable force to deal with for the duration of the argument.

In contrast, if you truly just let someone make their full point—uninterrupted—it’s often so unexpected that they naturally soften their walls and become at least somewhat more receptive to your side of the story.

2. Ask questions to better understand (not challenge) their point of view

There’s one exception to the above tip, and that’s that it’s generally okay to ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand where they’re coming from. So if the other person is saying:

“You don’t care about me and the kids at all! You’re never around and I have to do everything!”

You might ask one or more of the following clarifying questions:

“Why do you say that?”
“Does this have to do with last weekend?”
“Are you talking about the household chores, or what?”

The better you understand the situation, and how the other person is feeling, the better your validation.

3. Own up to whatever you can

This takes both humility and strength (which, for the record, I consider to be one and the same). In most—but not all—situations, there will be at least one or two bits of truth to what the other person is saying. If that’s the case in your situation, there is immense power in simply owning up to it. This doesn’t mean you agree to everything they’re accusing you of—just the parts that are true.

So, continuing with the example from the last point, you might say:

“I haven’t been home much lately, you’re absolutely right.”

The above response is disarming, validating, and assuring all in the same breath. It helps the other person see that you’re being reasonable, and that you’re not going to just fight back for fighting’s sake. Notice you’re not agreeing that you don’t care at all about your spouse or your kids. You’re also not agreeing that your spouse “does everything.”

If you feel there’s literally no truth to what you’re being accused of, then don’t placate or give in just to try to calm the other person down. Staying in truth and holding your ground is just as important to the argument as it is to your own personal confidence and strength. So, if we assume in the above example that you are home most of the day—and your spouse is somehow expecting you to be home every single minute—then you might respond with the following:

“Taking care of the kids is overwhelming. And I get that when I’m gone—even if just for an hour—it can seem like an eternity.”

Again—you’re not agreeing that you don’t care; you’re not even saying that you’re never home. What you’re doing is keying in on how your spouse is feeling (overwhelmed, distraught, disillusioned) and showing him/her you can appreciate those feelings.

4. Use “and” instead of “but”

This communication skill is so powerful, I wrote an entire article about it. When used to connect two phrases in a sentence, the word “but” essentially dismisses the first phrase altogether. This isn’t always an issue, but when it undoes praise, agreement, or an important point, it can start to become a problem.

This is especially true when you’re in an argument.

Keeping with our ongoing example, thus far, you’ve listened and validated—two critical elements of defusing conflict. If you use “but” as the transition word into your side of the story, however, it undoes all of your hard work. For example:

“I haven’t been home much lately, you’re absolutely right. But of course I care about you and the kids!”

As odd as it may sound, most people will jump right back on the defense when they hear you say “but.” It sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it play out in thousands of arguments. It’s some sort of cosmic, universal, undying truth.

If you instead say:

“I haven’t been home much lately, you’re absolutely right. And, I absolutely care about you and the kids!”

I guarantee you, you will preserve far more of the “safe” feeling of respect and understanding that you worked so hard to create. If you don’t believe me, try it. It’s more powerful than you might think.

5. Make your point.

Now is the time to share your side of the story or offer your arguments. Once the other person feels heard and understood, they are far more likely to be open to your side of the story. As we continue on the dialogue from our example, let’s assume that you, too, are feeling under-appreciated, and like your spouse doesn’t recognize just how much you do for them and the kids. You might say:

“Truth be told, I’ve been feeling under-appreciated as well. I recognize that you have a ton on your plate juggling the kids, laundry, day care, homework, etc. And, my work is draining as well. I’m working my butt off so we can live in a nice home, have plenty of food, etc. Again—I’m not at all suggesting that you’re not carrying a heavy load—I know that you are—all I’m saying is that it’s not as one-sided as it may feel.”

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “who talks like that? There’s no way an actual argument will play out like that.”

Well, I talk like that. My wife talks like that. My entire family, those I coach, and most those I went through therapy with, talk like that. And while it doesn’t always play out exactly like the above example (because there’s no “perfect” way of handling an argument), it should nevertheless serve as a basic example of how a passionate point can be made without yelling or completely dismissing the other person’s.

However you argue your point, as long as you’ve first listened and validated, and as long as you follow the tips from my language and communication skills article, you should fare pretty well.

Bonus: Validate Again

This return to validation is the last step in the Four-Step Validation Method I outline in my book, and I bring it up here because it’s powerful in an argument. If you’ve reached some sort of an understanding, it’s incredibly healing to wrap up with a simple validating statement such as the following:

“Thank you for saying something. These conversations are never easy, so I appreciate you speaking up. The last thing I want is for you to feel unappreciated, so I’m glad we talked about it.”

Short, sweet, and powerful.

Putting it All Together

Alright, so how would this argument play out in its [somewhat shortened] entirety? Let’s take a look:

Spouse: “You don’t care about me and the kids at all! You’re never around and I have to do everything!”

You: “Why do you say that?”

Spouse: “Because you’re never here!”

You: “What do you mean?? I’m here every night! And on the weekends!”

Spouse: “Uh, yeah, after like, 9PM!”

You [nodding in acknowledgement]: “True…”

Spouse: “And you have NO idea how exhausting it is every day to take care of the kids! I can’t get one minute of alone time. Not ONE MINUTE of rest until you get home! And Olivia came home from school crying today, Jason is still refusing to eat his dinner, and I just feel like I’m completely falling apart.”

You [after taking a deep breath and pausing]: “Yeah…you do a lot each day.”

Spouse: “I wish you’d just step up and help out every now and then around here, you know? I can’t do this all on my own!”

You: “You’re right that I haven’t been home much lately, and taking care of the kids is overwhelming—especially from nine to nine each day. And, truth be told, I’ve been feeling under-appreciated as well. I recognize that you have a lot on your plate juggling the kids, laundry, day care, homework, etc. And, my work is draining as well. I’m working my butt off so we can live in a nice home, have plenty of food, etc. Again—I’m not at all suggesting that you’re not carrying a heavy load—I know that you are—all I’m saying is that it’s not as one-sided as it may feel. I am doing a lot to support the family as well.”

Spouse: “Well I need help. I can’t keep doing this without you.”

You: “I get that. We definitely need to figure something out.”

[You two explore possible solutions together, such as hiring a nanny or cleaning help, perhaps you agree to come home for dinner and then go back to the office, etc.]

You [after reaching some sort of a resolution, or a decision to revisit the conversation later]: “Thank you for saying something. These conversations are never easy, so I appreciate you speaking up. The last thing I want is for you to feel unappreciated, so I’m glad we talked about it.”

Spouse: “Thank you for listening.”

Is this idealistic? Perhaps. We’re working off of hypotheticals, after all. And in certain relationships or circumstances, you may not even get halfway through a sentence without being interrupted, even after you’ve listened and validated.

But we’re talking about principles here. Key tips and tricks to keep in mind as you’re navigating a tough situation. And while following these tips won’t guarantee that your argument plays out as smoothly as the above, they will generally work well enough to help you find resolution, appreciation, or at very least let the argument fizzle out without saying or doing something you’ll regret.

The Wrap-Up

We’ve covered a lot in this article. To sum it all up briefly, I’ll say this:

  • Arguments are normal, even in healthy, happy relationships
  • Learning to listen and validate someone, even when you disagree, helps the other person feel heard, and helps get your point heard.
  • When you are arguing your side of the story, use the language and communication tips to avoid fueling the argument.
  • Always remember to be respectful. Do your best to keep the argument about an issue, not a person.

What do you think? Have you tried this? If so, how did it work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for more? Dive deep into the topic of validation with the Extraordinary Relationships Master Course. This self-paced, video-based training program will not only make you a master at validation, it will teach you the invaluable skills of boundary-setting, conflict management, vulnerability, and much much more. Watch a free preview here.

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13 thoughts on “How Do You Validate Someone When They’re Angry With You?”

  1. Oh boy is it true.
    I wish I had the patience not to scream in one second “That is sooooo not true” without listening the other person finishing the sentence..

    These principles are beautiful and should be taught at school.
    Suscribed to blog.
    Keep up wonderful work 🙂

  2. So good. Thank you for sharing. I love the concept of taking ownership where you can (and often should). Also, I’ve seen the “and” not “but” method make a conversation much more successful. Overall, very interesting and quite helpful. And :), I’d love to know your thoughts on the “Crucial Conversations” idea of how to stay in dialogue by making it safe during a heated argument like the one you describe above. Please keep the trainings coming!

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Thanks, Cody. It’s been a while since I’ve read Crucial Conversations – I’ll brush up on it!

  3. I appreciate the content however will note that this particular system may not be a one-size-fits-all approach.

    I am particularly concerned with the possible perception of boundaries if one is validating feelings of say an individual that exhibits Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder characteristics.

    An example of this was when I was communicating to an individual who would use anger and aggression toward me when we discussed more serious matters.

    There is simply no validation that could occur for an individual in this situation.

    The individual said that I caused them to react to me in this way and that it was my fault she would communicate with anger and malice.

    I just think this distinction is imperative to note.

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi John,

      So funny you post this—I literally just finished writing an article discussing this very point, and it addresses Narcissistic Personality Disorder specifically, and touches on BPD (simply linking to supportive research, as I don’t have experience with BPD): “When Validation is *Not* the Answer.”

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and point out this distinction.


  4. Thank you for your efforts in “trying” to teaching me a better way to communicate with my spouse as well as handle her false accusations. My wife and I have been married 25 years. For me, 20 years happily. For her, maybe 10. I say that because our perceptions of reality are quite different. She bases reality on feelings while I base it on known fact. Almost all of our arguments stem from her trying to communicate how my actions caused her to feel “condemned”, “discounted”, or “lectured to”. This usually entails me being labeled as someone I am not and I don’t respond well. Our argument then just goes in circles and nothing gets resolved. I find it extremely hard to accept responsibility to “validate” such harsh accusations that are 100% false. I’m extremely black and white therefore on one hand don’t understand why we as humans have to be so sensitive to peoples “feelings” when those “feelings” are based on misperceptions. It seems a better method would be “Identify the problem”, “determine truth/reality”, then “adjust and move on” based on this truth. However, I see the affects of not learning or applying this skill of navigating through conversations using your validation method earlier in my marriage. It has swept me downstream on a fast moving river and will make it even harder to reconcile my relationship with my spouse. Point me to anything you have written or read that helps couples repair years of poor communication skills. Thanks again!

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi Steven,

      Thank you for taking the time to reach out. It sounds like you’ve been able to find additional articles on my site diving deeper into validation. If you haven’t done so already, I do recommend you grab a copy of my book (available as audio or print—whichever you prefer), if you’re looking for the most thorough dive into the topic of validation. If you’ve already done so, and still have questions, my podcast—and the other articles on my site—are going to be your best bet.

      Kind regards,


  5. Can an invalidater be dangerous because I am with someone who just mentally abusive to me I tell you I’d rather get physical abused

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Invalidation can absolutely be harmful, and is often a part of emotional abuse. If you feel you are in such a relationship, I urge you seek the help of a qualified professional, as *any* abuse—emotional and/or physical—is completely unacceptable.

  6. Thankyou for this article. I find using these strategies particularly difficult when my mum heaps criticism on my family and friends. I really struggle when she make factually incorrect statements about them (eg about deaf friend she said needs to ‘listen more carefully’, or another friend of mine she insists ‘thinks she’s perfect’);and with the constant list of people she complains are in touch with her too much or not enough. Validation is so important, but I find myself challenging more than I mean too. I will recharge my efforts!

  7. I wish I had read this years ago! My last boyfriend started out by being very supportive and understanding, but became less so as time went on. I realize now that I didn’t validate him when he needed it, because I simply didn’t recognize what he was asking for, and why I was so upset when he would invalidate me.
    When he was away working, he texted me to complain that he’d had a horrible day working in the pouring rain. If he were nearby, I would have hugged him and made him a cup of tea; but because he was away – and I resented it because he went without my opinion even being asked – I texted him “you volunteered for this” instead of what I really wanted to say, which was “and I miss you terribly.” He broke up with me when he got home.
    If I had known that we both felt ignored, instead of just me, our conversations could have been very different.

    Do you have an article on what I can say when I’m feeling dismissed and therefore invalidated? It happens to me often in workplaces, sometimes managers seem to view any concerns or suggestions as an attack on their management skills. I’ve actually had my concerns about workload, resulting in my having tendonitis in both hands, while the department was 40% understaffed, dismissed with “work faster.”

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thank you for this, and for sharing the example from that relationship. The dynamics can be tricky, and, I think you’re right—your boyfriend would have probably appreciated a little validation before the gentle reminder of, “you volunteered for this.” 😉 But we live and learn! Regarding what to do when you feel dismissed or invalidated, I don’t have an article specifically addressing such a situation in the workplace. The closest would be What To Do If Your Partner Isn’t Great at Listening or Validating. I like question, though, and will put it on my list as one to address more specifically in a future article.


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