Why Does My Partner Invalidate My Feelings?

Do they mean to invalidate?

               Do you share feelings or thoughts with your partner only to have them say something in response that leaves you feeling unheard or invalidated? Feeling invalidated occurs when you share a thought or feeling, and the other person communicates that your thought or feeling is unacceptable in some way. If you’ve had this experience, it is probably not because your partner dislikes you, intentionally tries to invalidate you, or thinks you are crazy. Based on decades of therapy experience working with individuals and couples in therapy, I’d like to share some observations about some of the most common reasons this might happen.

               Talking about emotions or important opinions and perspectives can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Hurting someone’s feelings often seems like a potential consequence to sidestep. Being told your feelings, opinions, and perspectives are wrong or ridiculous is a worrisome outcome. Starting an argument might be a commonly feared result.

               It can be confusing when someone who we know loves us, responds in ways that appear dismissive or invalidating. As a couples therapist in Colorado Springs, I can offer some insight into why this might happen. Despite the fact that there are explanations for this experience, it still does not make for effective communication in the relationship. If you are seeking strategies to listen or communicate more effectively, I invite you to read my blog, specifically the blog series about effective listening.

               I want to be clear in saying that sharing my ideas in this post does not suggest that there are not relationships that are characterized by abusive patterns. If active and intentional abuse is a part of your relationship, please consider getting help from local support networks to protect yourself.

Sharing thoughts and feelings with your partner

 Why can my partner invalidate my feelings            Being able to share our most intense feelings and deepest thoughts is one potential benefit of an intimate relationship, and many people long to feel seen and heard by their romantic partner or spouse. Of course, not everyone shares this longing, as some people like to keep a tight lid on their emotions or deepest thoughts. Yet, most of us will need to connect with our partner on a deep level, emotionally and cerebrally, at various points throughout our relationship.

               Connecting on a deep level can seem difficult or scary. Perhaps you hesitate to step into vulnerability and might have even felt burned in the past when opening up to someone you thought you could trust. Hearing someone pass along private information to someone else without our consent, and sometimes while poking fun at you, can feel extremely violating. It’s also possible that people, in the past, have responded to your sharing by offering words or responses that don’t even appear related to what you’ve just shared. These experiences can leave you feeling quite guarded about your deepest thoughts and feelings.

              Often times in the early stages of relationships, people do feel close and supported by their partner. Sometimes however, as relationships continue through the months and years people can notice feeling increasingly unheard and dismissed. Such experiences can be a main reason couples drift apart, which can lead to a host of problems in the relationship. People can begin to feel stuck in a hopeless pattern of ineffective communication that makes us question whether our partner really cares about us to begin with.

               Avoiding sharing how you feel with your partner and neglecting to talk about important things is not the answer. Instead, choosing to work together to find and practice strategies for more effective communication is the way to go. A thorough discussion of more effective strategies can be found in other posts in my blog. In this post however, I will offer a window into potential reasons you might feel invalidated by your partner so that you aren’t left to conclude that the invalidation is intentional or unchangeable. Sharing these perspectives is not intended to invalidate you feeling invalidated. My hope is that hearing about different viable explanations for why your partner seems to invalidate your feelings or thoughts can help you feel less stuck in the experience.

Your partner does not mean to invalidate, they just don’t want you to feel a certain way

               In the most general sense, your partner might struggle to offer validation or help you feel heard/seen because…well…they do not want you to feel negative feelings. I’ve been married 23 years and not once have I wanted my wife to hurt or feel disappointed or be angry. So, when she does feel hurt, my initial urge might be to try and make her feel better. I might then try to talk her out of how she feels or suggest it is not as bad as she makes it out to be. I might try and offer a different perspective or more information thinking that, surely if she knew all the facts she wouldn’t feel hurt. I might even inadvertently try and shame her out of feeling the way she is feeling. Of course, none of that typically works and has the unfortunate consequence of leaving her feeling invalidated, dismissed, or unheard.

Difficult tolerating emotion

How to control emotions               Humans often have a hard time tolerating emotion; both our own uncomfortable emotions and the uncomfortable emotions of others. For example, when someone I care about feels some difficult emotion, I usually feel bad too.  Perhaps I start feeling blamed or responsible. I might feel empathy for their plight. I might even feel irritated that I am impacted by their negative feelings. Efforts to alleviate my own discomfort can lead me to say or do things that communicate to my partner that their thoughts or feelings are unacceptable.

               You might think, “So, why share our emotions at all?” The short answer is because we are human. Humans feel things, whether we want to or not. Particularly in the context of a close relationship, emotions play a big role in our lives. Feelings of attraction, connection, or admiration often push us to develop a deeper relationship. Feelings of betrayal, jealousy, or inadequacy can be very hard to navigate in relation to someone you love. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Emotions are interwoven throughout our relationship experience.

               Of course, other emotions like attraction, enjoyment, and connection are not so hard to tolerate. Feelings like those are what keep us in the relationship. It’s the other, more difficult, emotions that are hard to tolerate and can steer us to communicate or react in ways that are experienced as invalidating and can leave you feeling unheard.

Poor communication skills can inadvertently invalidate

               As I’ve outlined in other posts, our society typically does a terrible job of teaching us how to manage, express, and tolerate emotions. Thus, we also do not always develop effective skills in communicating about emotion. That means that even if your partner has the ability and takes the time to understand where you are coming from, they might not be able to adequately communicate that to you. In addition, if they do communicate such understanding effectively, they might expect that you will immediately feel better. When you do not immediately feel better, they might continue in ways that eventually leave you feeling invalidated.

               Many people simply have not developed the words to respond in a validating way to an expression of emotion or the sharing of a deep and vulnerable thought. The idea of saying, “I hear what you are saying, I understand where you are coming from, and I can see how you might feel the way you feel,” might be completely foreign to some people. Others might feel so uncomfortable communicating about feelings, deep thoughts, or in the context of perceived conflict, that they avoid it at all costs.

Longstanding patterns of invalidation

               All of us have a history. Me, you, your partner, your friends, your parents; we all have a history that contributes to the deep roots of our personality and patterns of relating to others. You might have developed the belief early in your life that you “are not good enough” or that you “are responsible for others’ feelings.” Of course, there might be as many different core beliefs as there are people, although the beliefs just mentioned are two common beliefs I hear from people I see in counseling. These deeply rooted beliefs can influence how you hear what someone else is saying (and can influence how they respond to certain thoughts or expressions of emotion from others) and can set off a cascade of invalidating interactions.

               Consider the two different beliefs I mentioned above and how they could play out in a relationship. Suppose you carry a belief that you are not good enough and your partner carries a belief that they are responsible for others’ feelings. Let’s say your partner offers you a potentially helpful idea or thoughtful piece of constructive feedback. The belief you hold might influence the way you hear their feedback and give rise to feelings of inadequacy or feeling criticized. Even if you were to communicate in a masterful way that their comment triggered feelings of inadequacy, their belief that they are responsible for others’ feelings might influence the way they hear you. Your partner might then try and explain that they were genuinely trying to help you and maybe even connect with you. They might try and convince you to not feel inadequate or criticized. Their efforts to convince you might be the very thing that leaves you feeling unheard and invalidated.

               In a similar vein, some people have been actively taught that emotions are a weakness and do not deserve acknowledgement. A lesson like this can be passed down, even subconsciously, from generation to generation. You might have even learned this during your lifetime, which can make sharing thoughts and feelings even more unappealing. If your partner has been taught such a lesson, the invalidation of your feelings might be the learned response from them as a way to get focused on solutions.

Can my partner learn to validate my feelings?

               The short answer is, yes. As I’ve outlined above, there are several potential reasons why your partner might respond to you in ways that leave you feeling invalidated, unheard, or dismissed. There are additional potential explanations that I did not detail here. Such patterns of communication can leave you questioning whether your partner likes you or loves you at all. In my experience, most of the time partners who seek counseling really do care for each other deep down and are unaware of how the patterns of communication can deeply impact one another. Even if aware of the patterns and impacts, many people are not sure of the reasons for the ineffective patterns of communication or how to do it differently.

               Although many ineffective communication patterns are long-standing and deeply rooted, shifting patterns so that you (and your partner) can more frequently feel validated in the relationship can be achieved with cooperation, patience, and intention. While some people already possess the self-awareness, patience, and adaptability to effect changes on their own, others need professional guidance and support to understand what changes might be effective in their relationship, how to practice creating new patterns of communication, and ways to maintain more effective communication patterns in their relationship.

How to change communication patterns

               One of the first things I do with many couples I see in therapy is ask both of them how they “feel about feelings.” This often helps me understand some of the lessons each of them has learned about emotion up to this point in their lives. Learning how to communicate about emotion in ways that take into account where each person in starting is crucial. While effective counseling or therapy addressing communication patterns can be a nuanced and thoughtful process, I will share some general tips that are often a part of improving emotional communication in a relationship.

  • Practice tolerating emotion

    • This includes learning to tolerate both your own emotions and your partner’s emotions so there isn’t such a desperate urge to try and make the other person “feel better.”
    • Remember, every emotion you’ve have ever experienced dissipates or goes away over time even if you don’t do anything to “fix” the feelings (assuming you aren’t actively keeping the emotion present by obsessing about the issue). The same holds true for your partner.
  • Practice communicating more accurately

    • “I feel….” Many people sound as though they are expressing a feeling when what they are really expressing is a thought (that is often an interpretation of someone else’s behavior). I can tell that someone is usually sharing a thought disguised as a feeling when they say, “I feel like…”. Expressing such a thought will predictably lead the other person to try and convince you of why your interpretation is not correct. A more effective approach is to make sure you are expressing an emotion by using the sentence stem, “I feel ____________.” Of course, an emotion word needs to be what goes in the blank.
    • Learn as many emotion words as possible so you can be clear and accurate in communicating how you feel. There are many, many, many words to express emotion and each one means something a little different. I am continuously compiling a list of emotion words for my clients and am close to 100 words that express different emotions with no end in sight.
  • SLOW DOWN

    • Do not rush the communication process.
    • Be patient and withstand frustration if your partner does not immediately express effective validation.
    • Take a moment to consider how you might most effectively say what you are trying to say. As my wife might say, “practice the pause.”
  • Let go

    • Realize that there are certain experiences and resulting feelings you experience that are not worth addressing. For example, one morning I came downstairs to find the kitchen sink had been cleared of all the dishes that were there the night before, except any dishes I had left. I felt attacked and punished by the fact that my partner had cleaned everyone’s dishes but mine and I almost expressed those feelings and related thoughts (i.e., “Oh, so this is what we’re doing now?” However, I realized that my feelings would dissipate in a short matter of time and this particular issue was not one that I need to address, as it would inevitably create an unwanted rift and I knew I could manage my own emotions without having to confront my partner.
    • Of course, there are other experiences and resulting feelings that do need to be addressed. Experiences that are reflective of recurring patterns or feelings that you might have a hard time letting go of despite your best efforts might be worth mentioning, even if the conversation will be a difficult one. Addressing ongoing experiences or feelings that will lead to the buildup of resentment in the relationship are usually worth addressing.

Therapy Colorado Springs

 

Dr. Mike Ghali, owner of Individual and Couples Therapy, has been practicing therapy for over 20 years. He recently moved to Colorado Springs, CO with his family. While physically located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he holds in-person sessions, you can also schedule telehealth sessions with Dr. Mike from anywhere in Colorado or Florida.

If you’d like to schedule a free 15-minute consultation call INC Therapy, please click here., then click Schedule, and choose the available time that works best for you and your partner. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Mike at info@inctherapy.org. Please do not include sensitive clinical information in emails.

If you are looking for a presenter for a training or event, please visit www.drmiketalkspsych.com