How Invalidating Your Partner’s Feelings Hurts Them -- And Your Relationship, Too
By: Robert Porter
Updated February 25, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown
When you're in a romantic relationship, it's important to try to build your partner up. Sometimes, however, we can unintentionally hurt our partners and their mental health through dismissive and invalidating statements, even when we don’t intend to do any harm.
While we may mean well, these behaviors can have negative effects on our loved ones and on our partners -- in more extreme and pervasive forms, invalidating someone's feelings can even be seen as a type of psychological abuse. Verbal invalidations can cause an individual emotional trauma, and you should try your best to be the supportive partner that your significant other needs. Take a look at some of the following ways that you may invalidate unintentionally, as well as how invalidating your partner’s feelings can hurt your relationship.
What Does Invalidating Someone Mean?
To invalidate someone's feelings is to dismiss, belittle, or otherwise cast doubt or judgment on their emotional experience. When we unknowingly invalidate our partners, we express our feeling that their perception about their own experiences might not be accurate or faithful. This can have a negative effect on not only our relationship with each other, but also our partner’s relationship to their own experiences. When you invalidate the way that your partner feels about something, you're telling them that they're wrong for having those feelings. It might make them feel as if you're telling them that they're stupid or that their feelings don't matter. Sadly, people often invalidate the feelings of others unintentionally.
When you invalidate the way that your partner feels about something, you're telling them that they're wrong for having those feelings. It might make them feel as if you're telling them that they're stupid or that their feelings don't matter. Sadly, people often invalidate the feelings of others unintentionally. When you’re the recipient of invalidation, it can be equally difficult to recognize it for what it is -- but regardless, it may leave you feeling a little worse about yourself or your situation, or leave you feeling as though you've completely gone unheard.
There are a large variety of ways to invalidate others, but some common invalidating statements and behaviors can include things like:
- Denying their reality, i.e. “you’re young, everyone feels like this"
- Telling someone they should just move on from what they’re feeling, i.e. telling someone to “cheer up!” or “get over it.”
- Ignoring them or making them feel unimportant when they are expressing their emotions to you, whether through intentional means like giving them the silent treatment, or by simply not paying ample enough attention.
You may not mean to cause any harm -- in fact, you may have the best intentions, and may be in pain at the thought of your partner suffering through something -- but invalidating statements and behaviors can have the effect of making your partner feel as though you don’t care about their feelings. The recipient of invalidating messages may even feel as though there is something intrinsically wrong about the way that they process their emotions, and it can leave them feeling as though they are crazy or out-of-touch, which can lead to self-invalidation.
Don't Tell Someone Else How They Should Feel
A solid rule of thumb is to avoid behaviors and statements that might attempt to dictate how our partners should feel. As an outsider we may have our own perspectives on the situation that differs from our partners, but ultimately It isn't up to us to decide whether or not their feelings are accurate or if they deserve to feel a certain way.
In emotional matters, it can be the case that multiple points of view are valid and warranted, and it’s better to allow a partner’s feeling to be expressed in a way that is judgment-free. Not only can this allow the two of you to open up a freer, more comfortable emotional dialogue, but it can make your partner feel more secure in how they process their own feelings.
Dictating how your partner should feel is something that we sometimes do in attempts to weigh in on their emotions, and it can often be with good intent -- we might think that we are grounding them in rationality by letting them know that maybe things aren’t so bad. However, when individuals knowingly invalidate someone else’s feelings, it can become a part of abusive relationship dynamics, too; emotionally abusive individuals will often invalidate someone's feelings when they find those feelings to be a nuisance. For example, a wife might try to express that she feels unloved or lonely to her husband. If her husband tells her that her feelings are stupid because he just took her out to dinner, this is emotional invalidation.
It's fine to disagree with someone’s perspective on an issue, but you shouldn’t tell them that their feelings are wrong -- you simply don’t have the authority to dictate how they should feel, because they are the only person who knows their own experience, and it’s wrong, or worse, actively harmful to position yourself as an authority on their experience. If you're in a relationship with someone and they express that they're sad or that they feel like you aren't showing them enough love, then hearing that might hurt you. You might think that your partner is wrong, but that doesn't change the way that he or she feels. Instead of invalidating those feelings, it can be helpful to try initiating a dialogue.
Figuring out what's wrong while trying to reassure your partner is fine. Tell your significant other something like "I love you, so I hope I can make you feel better" is much better than attacking the feelings that they have. Instead of making someone feel small for feeling a certain way, you can embrace those feelings and work to fix any issues that might be present. You’re certainly not alone in having a hard time navigating these waters. Even so, it's important to take the time to treat the feelings of others with respect, especially when you love them.
Never Dismiss Someone's Feelings
Dismissing someone's feelings is another form of invalidation; you don't have to tell someone outright that they're wrong to invalidate their feelings. Being dismissive can include being inattentive when they’re telling you about their feelings, or letting them know that what they’re going through is not that big of a deal. Well-intentioned invalidators often defend some dismissive behaviors as simply putting situations into perspective, but this can be unhelpful when it’s not specifically asked for, and might leave your partner feeling bad about their emotional resilience -- or the perceived lack thereof.
Dismissiveness can also include powerful non-verbal invalidations -- the silent treatment, for instance, can be an incredibly painful behavior that might leave them feeling as though their emotions aren’t even worth engaging with. The silent treatment can be especially wrong and hurtful.
When someone expresses their feelings to you, they aren't necessarily trying to make you feel bad. Sometimes these feelings will make you uncomfortable. This might even be a sign that something needs to change. Many people like to avoid change and who want to keep things going the same all the time. This isn't conducive to cultivating a healthy relationship. Recognize your partner's feelings and allow yourself to express your feelings freely, too.
The Blame Game
Have you been guilty of playing the blame game with your significant other? When your partner expresses anger or sadness, you might tend to start blaming those feelings on them instead. You might feel awkward about being put in a position where you are meant to assume guilt. Your partner might be feeling angry about something, but you could try to shift that blame by saying that your partner is just overly sensitive.
Alternatively, you might shift the focus in a situation to another issue that is unrelated -- for instance, if your partner is saying that she felt hurt that you blew her off when scheduling a date night, it is invalidating to bring up how she wasn’t on time for a dinner date in the past. These deflections allow us to avoid engaging with our partner’s feelings in a way that might lead us to be wounded, but they also prevent us from fixing the problem and making our partners feel loved and understood.
Try to avoid blaming negative feelings on other people or trying to pass the buck in some other way. If your partner is mad at you, then try to have a calm conversation about it. You'll never figure out how to move forward together if you can't communicate. Your partner's feelings of sadness or anger might make you uncomfortable, but it can be healing to put ego aside and listen to your partner without becoming unduly defensive.
Bottled Up Feelings Lead To Issues
When someone continually invalidates the feelings of their partner, they might start bottling up those feelings. Once it becomes clear that communicating feelings is not seen as acceptable, they might start to ignore how they're feeling simply. This can lead to many different problems. Someone might wind up becoming depressed due to not being able to address the sadness or loneliness that they're feeling. You might even find that your partner will become anxious due to not wanting to anger you with their feelings.
It should be easy to tell that this is not healthy behavior. Feelings should never be seen as something that should be hidden. If you try to force your romantic partner to hide aspects of themselves or the ways that they feel about certain things, then you are doing them a disservice. This is the opposite of being a good partner, and your relationship might not be able to last unless you're willing to change. Embrace your partner's emotions and don't make them feel as if they need to hide things from you.
Removing Invalidation From The Picture
When we’re young, we often learn how to engage with difficult emotional situations in ways that are inherently invalidating, whether it be from our parents, siblings, friends, or simply from our experiences with the world at large.
One of the first things that you can do is apologize to your partner for how you have been acting. If you feel bad about invalidating their feelings in the past, then letting them know that you feel sorry is a good start. You can then work on learning how to discuss feelings in healthier ways. This does not come naturally to everyone, but you can choose to seek out professional help.
Many people fear to express their feelings, and they would find it to be more comfortable to be able to dismiss feelings that they feel as problematic. Now that you know that these actions can hurt your partner, you'll understand that you should avoid doing this in the future. Consider spending time working on your communication skills with a couple’s counselor. It can improve the overall health of your relationship, and you'll be able to become a better romantic partner.
Spend Time Talking
Spend more time talking with your partner about issues. Once you become more comfortable with the idea of talking about feelings, it won't be so hard to avoid invalidating the feelings of others. You'll often find that people wind up invalidating someone's feelings due to being afraid of those feelings or being offended by them. You have to let those issues go so that you can get to the bottom of the situation.
There will always be a reason why someone feels the way that they do. Your partner needs to be able to express what they feel in their heart. If you love your partner deeply, then you should always want to be able to reassure him or her instead of wanting to put their feelings inside of a box. Spending more time talking about things will prepare you to do better, and you'll be able to work on fixing issues in your relationship. Don't be afraid of feelings and choose to embrace them instead.
Practice Validating Behaviors
More than just keeping yourself from repeating harmful behaviors, we can learn to become better emotional listeners who actively try to validate our partners by practicing validating behaviors. Listening attentively to your partner when they express their feelings may seem like a basic step, but it goes a long way in making sure they are being genuinely understood.
Additionally, behaviors like summarizing and providing reassurance that how they feel can be helpful in validating a loved one’s feelings. After your loved one has told you how they feel, you might attempt to sum up what they said aloud to them -- not only so they know that you’re trying to understand, but so you can know that you are getting what they’re saying. You might say, “it sounds like you’re really upset about all of this,” or “I understand that you worked really hard on that project/date/event, it makes sense that you would feel burnt out.”
Online Counseling Can Be Very Helpful
Consider signing up for online couples counseling today. This is going to make it much easier to get through your problems, and you'll be able to work on expressing your feelings better. You can learn to communicate properly so that expressing feelings will be a natural and honest process. The online couples counselors will also be able to help you with any other issues that you might be experiencing.
This is a very simple and cost-effective way to get help. Your relationship can improve, and you can start being a better partner. You don't have to face this situation alone. Just reach out to an online counselor to begin the process of healing today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is emotional invalidation?
Emotional invalidation is the dismissal of someone's feelings. When someone denies another person's feelings, it denies their emotional experience, which can have damaging psychological effects, particularly when emotional invalidation is recurring. Emotional validation can make you feel misunderstood, and it makes a sensation of emotional safety in relationships improbable. Patterns of deliberate invalidation are abusive in nature. Feelings are inherently valid; if you feel something, your emotion is real. Emotional invalidation is used to gaslight people and to make them feel as though they are "losing their mind." It can hurt someone's feelings, but emotional invalidation is also sometimes used to warp a person's perception.
For example, if you were to tell your partner, "I felt hurt when you said that I'm bad at cooking", and they reply with, "I never said that. What are you talking about?" you may start to wonder if they actually told you that you're bad at cooking even if it happened recently, and the memory was crystal clear before you brought it up to them. This is only one instance of emotional invalidation; it can also look like someone saying, "it could be worse" or "there's no reason to be upset." A person might make unkind jokes about your feelings or tell you that you're overreacting. There are ways to unlearn invalidating behaviors, and it is important to do so in order to maintain emotional safety on both sides of the relationships in your life.
What is it called when someone dismisses your feelings?
When someone dismisses your feelings, it is referred to as emotional invalidation. There are numerous ways to invalidate a person's feelings, but the concept is generally to deny an event that happened or to deny the validity of an emotion. Common phrases such as, "someone else has it worse" can cause people to feel invalidated and actively dismiss a person's emotions. While things may be worse for someone else, one person's circumstances don't make the feelings of another disappear. Even if your partner is feeling sad about something small, it is important to realize that it might not be so small to them and that what they're feeling is real. They may recognize that the issue isn't massive in the grand scheme of things and feel sad regardless. When your partner feels down, allow them to have their experience, listen, and try to see your partner's perspective.
How do you respond to emotional invalidation?
The best way to respond to emotional invalidation is to bring it up. Emotional invalidation must be taken seriously, and this is a pattern that needs to change for your relationship to be a healthy one. If someone refuses to take the matter seriously, you can respond to emotional invalidation when it occurs by saying, "my feelings are valid" or "I am talking about my experience." Be firm yet calm. When someone feels invalidated, it can be hard for them to speak up, but this is a way to affirm your feelings and let someone know that you know your feelings to be real.
What does invalidation mean?
Invalidation is when you discredit something. The word "invalidate" can be used in a number of ways, but if you're emotionally invalidating a person, you're discrediting their feelings. Imagine a situation that would upset you. Say that, in this scenario, you're crying, and someone close to you says, "Stop crying!” You have no reason to be upset." Think of how it feels to hear those words when you're in distress. It's likely that, at the very least, you don't feel understood or heard. This is an example of invalidation. Invalidating your partner is a form of emotional abuse, and it is not okay to continue invalidating your partner.
If you're used to feeling invalidated, you may wonder what emotional safety or security feels like. Emotional safety, whether that's in a friendship, relationship, or familial connection, feels like knowing that you can express your feelings without being marked or dismissed. You will feel like you are able to say, "Hey, can I talk to you about something when you have a second? I'm hurting and need someone to talk to." When you have emotional safety in a relationship, you understand that you will be heard and that you will feel secure in the relationship. You won't need to hide your feelings. Emotional security is a need, not just a comfort.
How do you emotionally validate someone?
In a relationship, it's vital that both you and your partner feel understood and know that your emotions are valid. You don't want to feel invalidated by your partner, and you don't want to invalidate them, either. Emotional intelligence is a concept that allows us to manage our own feelings more effectively and to listen to or understand each other's feelings more efficiently. Emotional intelligence will aid you in working through hurt feelings rather than letting them take over or attempting to dismiss them, and it will allow you to maintain a sense of emotional safety in both sides of your relationships.
Always remember that feelings are valid. Everyone’s feelings are valid. It’s important to understand your feelings, care about your feelings, and let yourself feel your feelings and emotions. It can take time to care about your feelings but feelings don’t just go away. Feelings aren’t bad! Feel don’t mean you harm. When someone is dismissive of your feelings it’s difficult especially when someone invalidates your feelings, other’s feelings, or a person’s feelings. You can think “Why do they invalidate my feelings?” When someone does this it’s important to have a conversation with them.
What is dismissive behavior?
Dismissive behavior can play out in a variety of ways. Dismissive behavior can look like:
- Ignoring someone
- Using flippant responses such as "get over it" or "I'm sorry you feel that way"
- Using dismissive body language
- Using a dismissive tone
Note that saying, "I'm sorry you feel that way" is not the same as saying, "I'm sorry" or "I'm sorry that happened to you." Saying "I'm sorry you feel that way" is invalidating because it doesn't acknowledge the root of the problem and instead places blame on the person's emotion as the problem. Sometimes, people accidentally use dismissive behavior to avoid conflict or talking about painful issues without knowing that this is what they are doing or that they're hurting people's feelings. If so, it's important to talk about it and work to establish emotional safety in a relationship so that you can express your feelings and work through difficult topics when it's necessary.
What is a dismissive tone?
There are different kinds of dismissive vocal tones. If a person does not usually speak in a flat or monotone way, someone may use a flat or monotone voice to dismiss you. In other cases, a dismissive tone can sound more abrasive. Other times, people will dismiss you by being completely silent. When someone uses a dismissive tone toward you, it can make you feel bad or like your feelings don't matter, but know that this is not the case. This is about them, not you.
What is dismissive body language?
When dismissive body language is overt, it may look like a person rolling their eyes or smirking at you when you express thoughts feelings, or experiences that are serious and meaningful to you. It can also look like someone actively turning away from you, someone refusing to look up from their phone when you speak, looking annoyed when you speak, or displaying body language or a facial expression that shows anger or distaste when you talk. When someone presents dismissive body language, you will likely feel as though you are being turned away and invalidated emotionally. Sometimes, acknowledge that there may be a disparity or misunderstanding, but know that if you feel invalidated in other ways, a person's body language is likely a sign to back up that invalidation.
What is an invalidating relationship?
It is important in relationships for both partners to ensure they value each other's opinions and feelings and give each other mutual respect. Over time, as a result of issues, one partner might stay present and committed, putting in all they can to make it work, while the other may act or feel less concerned. Sometimes, this may be as a result of invalidation from one partner to the other. Validation is a critical aspect of any form of relationship as it ensures and affirms that the feelings of one or both partners. Invalidating your partner's feelings may make the relationship begin to experience some level of deterioration when a spouse or husband fails to acknowledge how they feel and empathize with them.
What does it mean when someone disregards your feelings?
When someone disregards your feelings, it means they have invalidated your emotions, opinion, or feelings. Their dismissiveness about your plight has shown that they do not consider your feelings very important. It is important to understand that your feelings are very valid and you are not wrong to feel the way you do. Sometimes, you may want to feel cared for by your partner, maybe when you are going through a personal disappointing phase. It could even be that you shared some good news with your partner only for them to be dismissive or react shabbily to the news. This means your feelings and emotions are being disregarded. If this becomes a norm in your relationship and is causing incessant issues, it may be necessary to go for marriage counseling or schedule couples therapy sessions with your therapist if your partner continues to react to you in this manner. Marriage counseling is aimed at helping couples understand themselves and communicate better, and will go a long way in helping your partner understand your feelings, and put in efforts towards validating your feelings.
What is Traumatic Invalidation?
Traumatic invalidation is one of the worst feelings anyone can have after experiencing trauma. Trauma is a very disturbing experience that can exhibit signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Aside from the fact that no one understands what and how they feel, their point of view should be carefully received and discussed. Dismissing their feelings would mean invalidating their traumatic experience.
Are you responsible for your partner's feelings?
When issues arise in a relationship and the partners visit a therapist, one of the important counseling questions the therapist will ask is about who carries the responsibility or burden of the other party's feelings. Some partners believe the responsibility of how they feel should rest on the other party. However, each individual is responsible for how they feel at different times. It is pertinent that both parties understand that they are responsible for their individual feelings and also know that they should be aware, attentive, and sensitive to how their partner feels. Sometime, it could simply be that what their partner needs is just a listening ear or a comforting shoulder. Invalidating their feeling would only mean you have decided to ignore how they feel, and this hurts terribly.
How do you respond when someone invalidates your feelings?
When most people who have had their feelings invalidated reach their threshold, they tend to defend themselves or withdraw out rightly. Continuous invalidation often leads to low self-esteem, depression, and a feeling of worthlessness. Indulging this type of behavior over a sustained period may result in the relationship breaking down completely with divorce. Seek the services of a professional therapist who can conduct couples' counseling for you both, and help you make your relationship get better.
What is psychological invalidation?
Psychological invalidation is the practice of belittling, judging, or denying someone else’s emotional reality. We might not give them our attention when someone is trying to tell us how they feel, or we might become defensive and deny their reality when we do listen.
We can also be psychologically invalidating to ourselves. Whatever the cause, self-invalidation can be especially damaging, and it can sometimes make you feel like you’re crazy, or as though your reactions can’t be trusted.
How do you deal with invalidating parents?
Invalidating parents can have a huge impact on our self-esteem, and can even cause lasting problems with assertiveness, self-respect, and trust into adulthood. When learning to deal with invalidating parents, remember to trust yourself and your perceptions -- you’re not crazy for feeling the ways that you do, you’re not incapable, and you’re not over-dramatic. Don’t judge yourself for the emotions you’re feeling or minimize them, and when you hear others doing it, don’t let them do it. Remember that behavior is distinct from emotions, and that while it’s healthy to disagree with certain emotions, it’s not helpful to judge yourself for feeling them or push them away.
Your parents may invalidate you out of a genuine desire to help you or to make things better, but the reality is that invalidation can lead to real issues with processing and communicating feelings. When your parents tell you that things “could be worse” when you’re sad, they intend to fix things, but they ignore the fact that it’s an unhelpful way to frame an issue; when most of us have felt our most heard, understood, and accepted, it wasn’t perspective being thrust upon us that made us feel so secure.
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