When you’re in a romantic relationship, it’s important to try to build your partner up. Oftentimes, however, we can unintentionally hurt our partners' feelings and their mental health through dismissive statements aimed at their emotions, even when we do not intend to do any harm at all.
This can be a sign of emotional invalidation of someone else's feelings.
While we may mean well, behaviors like emotional "gaslighting" or invalidation can have negative effects on our loved ones and on our partners. In more extreme and pervasive forms, it can even be a type of psychological abuse.*
Emotional invalidation can cause an individual trauma, and emotional invalidation of your partner’s feelings can hurt your relationship, too.
*Abuse can come in different forms. Go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website to learn more about abuse or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Emotional invalidation generally includes dismissing, belittling, or otherwise casting doubt or judgment on their experience. When we emotionally dismiss our partners (even unknowingly), we express our feeling that their perception of their own experiences might not be accurate or faithful.
Emotionally invalidating your partner's emotions 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 emotionally invalidate the way that your partner feels about something, you’re telling them that they’re wrong for having those emotions.
It might make them feel as if you’re telling them that their feelings and emotions don’t matter. Regardless of intention, emotional invalidation is often the message on the receiving end.
Once emotionally invalidated by someone else, many of us start to question whether we’re “too sensitive,” suppress our emotions, or emotionally invalidate ourselves.
There are a variety of ways to dismiss others, but some common statements and behaviors can include things like:
The goal, instead, is to be a supportive partner who hears — and shows that they want to hear — their significant other.
A solid rule of thumb is to avoid emotional invalidation through 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 differ from our partners, but ultimately it isn’t up to us to decide their emotions are accurate or if they deserve to feel a certain way.
However, when individuals knowingly dismiss someone else’s emotions, it can become a part of abusive relationship dynamics, too; emotionally abusive individuals will often us emotional invalidation to control someone’s emotions. This can be done to belittle a partner, to make a partner question their perception, reality, and knowledge, or for another reason.
Dismissing someone’s feelings is another form of emotional invalidation; you don’t have to tell someone outright that they’re wrong to cause emotional invalidation. Emotional invalidation 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 it might leave your partner feeling bad about their resilience — or the perceived lack thereof.
Your partner might be feeling angry about something, and you may try to shift that blame by saying, “I don’t understand why this is such a big deal,” “You should know that I didn’t mean it like that,” “I don’t have to explain/apologize/etc.,” or, “If you weren’t like this/so sensitive/etc., it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Instead, you might say something like, “I want to better understand.” This is best for situations where a partner is, say, hurt over something you said.
Often, it’s emotional invalidation to tell someone that they should know where you were coming from or that they’re being too sensitive.
When someone continually causes emotional invalidation for their partner, they might start bottling up those feelings.
Repression may negatively impact health (both physical and mental), and it can pull you apart from one another, too, making your partner feel like they can’t talk to you or like they aren’t understood by you.
Embrace your partner’s emotions and try not to make them feel as if they need to hide things from you by actively paying attention to emotional invalidation.
When we’re young, we often learn how to engage with difficult emotional situations in ways that are inherently emotionally invalidating, whether it be from our parents, siblings, friends, or simply from our experiences with the world at large. This can lead, sometimes, to us using emotional invalidation on other people the way that we were invalidated. This doesn’t mean that it’s something to excuse, but it is something you can unlearn and change. Give yourself compassion and let yourself restructure the way you engage in conversations about emotions.
One of the first things that you can do is apologize to your partner for the emotional invalidation. If you feel badly about your previous emotional invalidation, then letting them know that you are genuinely sorry and want to handle things differently is a great place to start. You can then work on learning how to discuss feelings in healthier ways, without emotional invalidation. This does not come naturally to everyone, but you can choose to seek out professional support to change this pattern.
Here are some ways to put it into action and follow through:
More than just keeping yourself from repeating harmful behaviors like emotional invalidation, becoming better listeners can help us practice 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 can be helpful in validating a loved one’s feelings.
Consider signing up for online couples counseling today to help with emotional invalidation or other concerns in your relationship. When you sign up for an online counseling platform like ReGain, you’re matched with a therapist in as little as a few hours or a few days, where seeking a therapist to work with face to face can take months due to waiting lists and other possible barriers.
Couples counseling, whether remote or face to face, can help couples work through emotional invalidation, including better communication, understanding one another's emotions more effectively, improving emotional intimacy or emotional affection, and more. No matter how you choose to access counseling services, don’t hesitate to start the process.