Acknowledging Without Approving

by Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT 104464

Sometimes we get into a rut of thinking that if we acknowledge something then the other person might believe that we are approving or authorizing that thing.  What do I mean by that?  What type of relationship does this affect?

It affects all the relationships: friendship, romantic, parent, family, you-name-it.

Here’s an example, your friend has been going out and socializing regularly.  You start to notice that it’s more often than it used to be and that it’s starting to effect various aspects of their life.  You also notice that the people they’re spending time with have changed and these people don’t hold the same value system that your friend usually holds.  If you acknowledge the situation you’re afraid that your friend will either feel judged by you or that you think it’s okay.  Neither outcome is desired, so you keep it to yourself and watch your friend while feeling powerless to do anything.

But that’s not true.  Those aren’t the only options.

You can acknowledge many aspects of this without approving of the behavior.  Your friend feeling judged is 50% how you steward the conversation and 50% their inner dialogue on how they interpret the conversation (from what lens are they viewing this conversation).


  • Friend, I can see that you’ve been really enjoying yourself lately!  I love how you’ve been so spontaneous and it seems like there’s a new side of you that’s really having fun.  It’s great!  I would like to acknowledge that I’ve also noticed that some of the priorities you’ve had in the past aren’t priorities anymore and I’m wondering what’s going on for you.  

  • Friend, I just want to check in with you.  I’ve noticed that you’ve been drinking more often than usual, how are things going?

  • Spouse, I know those have been your friends for a long time, but I don’t like the way you talk to me when they’re around.   I’m not asking you to stop spending time with them, but I don’t approve of the changes that happen in your personality when you are around them and around me at the same time.

​You can acknowledge something without approving of it – and if you acknowledge it well then your half of the conversation road is going to be as smooth as possible.  The other person might have a painful history that’s triggered and they don’t  respond well.  If that happens, you can stand firm in the knowledge that you were authentic, you tried to be kind in your delivery, and that you gave the other person the opportunity to know what was on your heart.

Most people will respond with curiosity, a little defensiveness, and kindness in response.  This can be an opportunity to grow your relationship in a positive way.  If the conversation goes well then trust is built.  If the two individuals come to a solution together then that teamwork brings them close again.  The ability to be vulnerable and safe can be huge for both people in these scenarios:
confiding your disapproval is vulnerable – hearing someone acknowledge their disapproval is vulnerable.  The two of you are potentially wearing your hearts on your sleeve, and when you’re safe with each other it can blossom the relationship.

But even if the person is triggered or if you delivered your message all wrong – there’s still opportunity to repair that rift, make the relationship whole, and continue knowing that you were honest about your worry and you didn’t sit back and do nothing.  You tried because this person is important to you and they are worth the risk of being vulnerable and being rejected.  True friendship is risky, but usually worth it.

Jessica Darling Wilkerson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California.  She works with clients from all over the state using a HIPAA compliant telehealth program called Simple Practice.  Jessica is also the sole owner of Inspired Life Counseling and provides clinical supervision to pre-licensed psychotherapists who are working toward licensure.
Jessica follows the teachings of Dr. Henry Cloud and she absorbs every book he writes.  When it comes to healthy boundaries and communication she has spent most of her career following his career.  In her therapy sessions online or in-person Jessica sprinkles in the topics of healthy boundaries and teaches communication strategies while also helping her clients work through the ongoing trials and heal from wounds which may have been created earlier in life.  If you’d like to learn more about Jessica or schedule an appointment please review her bio and click the links there to get on her schedule.
This article was copied from Jessica’s personal website and was originally written 7/1/2019