Have you ever desperately wanted your spouse to validate your feelings but have been left feeling unheard, judged, or simply misunderstood instead?
That’s because . . .
One primary way to open ourselves up with our spouses is to validate or acknowledge their feelings. And one primary way to shut their hearts down is to do the opposite.
Validation is a skill that’s so very elusive to many of us. In fact, it’s often left unexplained and definitely not often modeled in our families, churches, and/or culture.
But it’s absolutely crucial to effective communication and the fulfillment of our craving for connection with our spouses.
I wanted to provide an example of a missed opportunity for validation between a husband and wife from Scripture. One that came to mind was a difficult interaction between King David and his wife Michal.
Allow me to give you a synopsis of what 2 Samuel 6:14-22 details.
David was psyched about bringing the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem, dancing before the Lord with all his might in a priestly linen ephod during the procession into the holy city.
His wife, Michal, watched from a window and “despised him in her heart”(v. 16c).
Later these two had an ugly exchange that began with Michal saying to David,
How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” —2 Samuel 6:20b
To be clear, David was not half-naked. He just wasn’t decked out in his finest royal robes. She apparently did not like the fact that he was associating himself with a lowly priest.
Adding to that, she probably hated how much love and devotion he was showing to the Lord at that moment. Maybe she wanted to be the one David worshipped. Pure speculation on my part!
But let’s consider how this exchange would have gone if she had decided to validate David’s feelings and experience instead.
When David returned home, if she had concerns about his behavior, she could have leaned into her curiosity, saying,
What you did today really made an impression on me. But I want to understand it more because it seems out of character for a king to dance so passionately before his subjects. Can you tell me what motivated you to do it this way?”
David could have used this open door to connect, even bond, with Michal—sharing his joy and deepest feelings—instead of feeling shamed for them.
She, in turn, could have gained a sense of empathy for his experience if she had listened to him without a personal agenda.
In response, she could have validated his feelings further, saying,
This truly was a momentous opportunity for you to express your love for God. I can understand how strong and overwhelming this experience must have been for you.”
She could have gone on to say,
But help me to understand how important the ark of the Lord is to you. Share more with me about your relationship with God and why you feel so passionately about Him.”
Then she could have really pulled her husband toward her, saying,
I may not understand it all now, but I really want to know more about how you feel, whether I agree with it or not. Your feelings matter to me more than my opinions.”
I’ve laced into the revised conversation above . . .
4 Steps for Validating Your Spouse’s Feelings and Experiences
1. Let your spouse know that what s/he has said/experienced has made an impression on you.
Say something like . . .
“I know this has been hard for you to talk to me about. It must have taken a lot of courage.”
2. Communicate that your spouse’s words matter to you—are evoking compassion.
This might sound like . . .
“It hurts me to know I’ve hurt you in this way. I’m glad you cared enough about our relationship to come to me with this problem.”
3. Make it clear that you want to work on understanding your mate’s emotions more completely.
Add to the previous two statements something like . . .
“I don’t know all that you’re feeling right now, but I’d like to know more. Help me to fully understand how difficult this is for you.”
4. Convey that you accept your spouse’s feelings.
Sum things up with something like . . .
“I want you to know that I believe you have a right to your feelings. They make sense to me and I accept them, even though I may not see eye-to-eye with you on this.”
This is where couples often get confused. They think that acceptance equals agreement. But acceptance is about embracing your spouse’s unique experience/feelings and viewing them as valid—as in, validation.
Back to David and Michal . . .
David certainly reacted to his wife’s harsh and judgmental words in 2 Samuel 6:21-22 with defensiveness. Who could blame him? A monumental disconnection probably took place in his heart toward her.
Perhaps her barrenness—a curse from God (2 Sam. 6:23)—was ushered in by a lack of sexual connection from that point forward.
Regardless, a lot was at stake when the opportunity to validate was overstepped in favor of judgment.
In the same way, the importance of validating your spouse’s feelings cannot be overstated. If you reject this opportunity, you will not just miss out on understanding your spouse, but will likely cause a fracture that breaks your spouse’s heart AND erodes your connection.
It’s up to you—distancing yourself or connecting?
Final Thoughts . . .
In highly charged moments, validation can be so crucial and extremely clarifying. Sometimes a conflict can be avoided by simply validating what your spouse has said.
Validation may be all your spouse was looking for in the first place! Be the spouse who averts hurt and conflict, stepping in to connect!
Both giving and receiving validation can be difficult for those who are deeply wounded and unhealthy. So, if you’re living with a spouse who fits these descriptors, accept that this skill may be something you’ll need to “lead out on”—being the example.
Who knows? You just might eventually inspire them to let go of self-protection and risk by validating your feelings and connecting with you in return.
If your spouse is unwilling or unable to validate, seek out friends who can validate, filling the emotional gap in your heart and mind.
Most of all, turn to God who cares deeply for your hurts and needs. He is always ready to offer comfort in your time of need!
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” —Hebrews 4:15-16
How has validation helped you to connect with the one validating you?
What are some of the reasons why you struggle to validate others, in particular your spouse?
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Messy Marriage