There is a specific type of communication we all long for in relationships—especially in our relationship with our spouse. Early in our marriage, Greg and I became acutely aware of what happens when this form of communication is missing between us. Though we had studied it for years in others, we somehow failed to apply it in our own relationship.
Every time I shared my feelings about an experience I’d had with a friend or concerns I had about one of our children, Greg and I would end up in a major disagreement about “us.” We couldn’t figure out how this happened so consistently when the initial topic of conversation had nothing to do with our marriage. The experience left us dazed and unable to figure out what was really going on.
As a result, we began to feel unsafe sharing our hearts with each other. It didn’t take long for both of us to realize this was going to be a real problem if we desired to have a close, connected, healthy marriage.
Validation Made a Difference
Then one night something happened that put our marriage on a different course. As we laid in bed in the dark and quiet, Greg was facing the opposite direction while I was sharing a disappointing experience that I’d had with a girlfriend earlier that day. This time his response was different than ever before.
Previously, whenever I shared my feelings about an experience or relationship, Greg responded by offering either an alternative viewpoint to help me see the scenario from a different angle or a quick fix to solve the problem. But this time Greg took a completely different approach. After I shared that my girlfriend hadn’t shown up for lunch and never called to explain, Greg responded with an empathetic, “Wow, I can see why that really hurt you.”
The mood in the room suddenly changed. I even scooted closer to my husband and grabbed his hand. Greg was unsure of what he’d done to draw me close to him, but we both knew something was different.
The next morning as we sat drinking our coffee, Greg and I unpacked what had happened the night before. He had expressed validation for my experience and feelings, and that simple act drew us together.
Validation Is Not an Apology
To validate something is to recognize its value. Sometimes couples resist offering validation because they misunderstand it. Validating your partner does not mean admitting guilt, accepting blame, or seeking forgiveness. Validation is simply an acknowledgement that your spouse’s experience, viewpoint, feelings, or reaction has value and should be heard.
When one partner resists offering validation to a spouse, it can lead to trouble. In this kind of environment, couples often invalidate each other by rejecting, debating, minimizing, demeaning, judging, or trying to “fix” the other’s emotions. That leads to the closing of hearts, which is what Greg and I were feeling early in our marriage as we battled uncertainty, disconnectedness, and aloneness.
One of the greatest longings of the human heart is to be validated—to be seen and known. That’s why it’s such a gift when your spouse validates not only your feelings or experience but also who you are as a human being. Validation can have a powerful impact on your marriage, drawing you and your spouse together and bringing a new level of intimacy to your relationship.
The simple act of validating your spouse can lead him or her to feel unconditionally accepted, and it’s really not that difficult to do. Here are simple ways to offer validation in your marriage.
Validate Through Verbal Affirmation
Verbal affirmation offered to your husband or wife will go a long way toward building intimacy in your marriage. It doesn’t have to be cheesy or over the top. Simply express your gratitude for who your wife is or for something your husband has done.
Though it took me awhile, I’ve learned that Greg loves it when I notice what he does rather than what he doesn’t do. So during the Christmas season last year, I thanked him for all the hard work he had put into buying Christmas presents online. He kept a detailed registry of every gift, noting the amount spent and when it arrived safely at our house. That took a lot of work and worry off my plate, and a few words from me eased tensions in our relationship during the hectic holiday season.
Validate Through Nonverbal Gestures
Sitting at lunch today, my girlfriend shared how she and her daughter love to dance to Frank Sinatra music while cooking. She smiled as she told me of how she recently looked up from her intense dance moves to see her husband standing in the corner of the kitchen smiling and nodding at her. He was affirming both her love for Sinatra and her dance moves. That simple gesture went a long way toward making her feel appreciated. In addition to your words, your nonverbal cues can affirm that your spouse is important to you.
Validate by Recognizing Gifts and Abilities
There is great power in affirming the abilities of another. Be on the lookout for the gifts, talents, and abilities that your spouse has but may not be aware of. For years Greg insisted that I would be a great public speaker. His comments literally made me laugh as I thought about my experience giving a presentation in college. I looked down to see my knees were actually knocking. I was never quite sure what Greg was thinking as he encouraged me, but after ten years of affirmation, training, and validation, I now love public speaking. God has gifted your spouse in many ways, and you are in a unique position to offer the validation needed for your husband or wife to step out and utilize those gifts.
Validate by Acknowledging Feelings
This is by far the most difficult change to make, but it is doable. Greg and I were clueless about this early in our marriage and missed out on the benefits of this gift for eight years. Now we make it a point to acknowledge one another’s feelings, especially during times of conflict. It took us a bit of practice, but if we were able to clear this hurdle, you can too.
Here’s a simple way to acknowledge your spouse’s feelings, even when you don’t feel the same. First, repeat what you hear your spouse saying. Literally say, “So, what I hear you saying is” and fill in the rest. Second, acknowledge the underlying emotion. You might say, “It sounds like you really felt . . .”
Finally, accept your spouse’s feelings and perspective. You could say something like this: “It makes sense to me that you are feeling that way.” Remember, you don’t have to feel the same way that your spouse does. Your words simply validate that his or her feelings (which are not negotiable) and experience (which might be different from yours) are legitimate and should be heard.
After many years of practice, Greg and I can attest that learning to validate each other is worth the effort. Validation is a gift worth giving, and it can be a game changer in married life.