I had lunch with a friend last week who has been going through a hard season of marriage at the same time Mark and I have been navigating our hard season. We are both in marriage counseling and we were sharing what we’ve been learning in this season.
My friend shared that she and her husband are learning about the importance of “acknowledging” feelings. I said that Mark and I are doing the same, but our counselor calls it “validating.” What we’re both learning is one mistake many married couples make is not acknowledging the other person’s feelings, even if you don’t agree with their perspective.
She shared a story of how she and her husband had to make a decision for their family. He felt they should make “Decision A” and she felt they should make “Decision B.” Eventually he chose to move forward with Decision A.
She felt her husband was wrong and she wanted an apology. He, on the other hand, felt he had made the right decision for their family. He didn’t want to apologize for something he didn’t feel was wrong.
The counselor helped them to see that maybe an apology wasn’t needed after all. Instead “acknowledgement” was needed. He needed to acknowledge to her what it must have felt like for him to make “Decision A.” He also needed to acknowledge how the final decision had personally affected her.
Sometimes an apology is needed in marriage. Many times, however, acknowledgment will do the trick. When we acknowledge–or validate–our spouse’s feelings, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them or even understand them.
Practically, it is saying things like, “That must have been hard for you,” or “What I hear you saying is ___________.” It might be looking your spouse in the eye and saying, “I didn’t consider how that might have affected you. I understand your hurt now. Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Acknowledging someone’s feelings is stepping into their shoes and seeing things from their perspective. It’s letting them know they’ve been heard and listened to. It causes them to feel valued and cared for.
The next time you and your spouse have a disagreement or are sharing feelings with one another, try to acknowledge what they are communicating. Being empathetic goes a long way in making your spouse feel loved and cared for.