Marriages thrive on trust, mutual respect, and security. If one partner doesn’t feel as though his or her feelings are being treated with respect, then the relationship will eventually corrode. One way in which many people accidentally disrespect their husband or wife is through emotional invalidation. Emotional invalidation is simply the act of discounting someone’s feelings, implying that, for them to be saying or doing something, they must be either crazy, stupid, or some combination of the two. It can happen quickly and casually (“C’mon that’s ridiculous” or “You’re so sensitive”), passive-aggressively (“Don’t freak out, but…”), and, in the worst-case scenario, in a humiliating and degrading way (“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about”).
Emotional invalidation is not always obvious and, while there are certainly occasions when one person intentionally undercuts their partner’s feelings, it often happens accidentally or because it’s written off as no big deal. But it is. As family therapist Hanalei Vierra has explained, “When a person expresses a feeling about something to their partner, that partner gets to make a choice about how to react. That choice is to either connect with their partner or to push their partner away.” Make the wrong choice too many times and you send a very direct message. But emotional invalidation is not aways easy to identify. Here then are a few ways you might be accidentally invalidating your partner without even knowing it.
You Always Make the Plans
When it reaches a point where all of the social arrangements are made by you and your partner isn’t consulted or even asked, then he or she can feel like they’re being phased out. “This action, while often done without malicious intent, can result in your partner feeling that their opinions, family, and friendships don’t matter as much as yours,” says Rachel Perlstein, a licensed clinical social worker and the co-founder of the relationship coaching service A Good First Date. “It can skew the power dynamic and result in your partner feeling that they have to defer to you.”
You Tease Them Too Much
You might be reading this one and saying, “I never do that!” But remember, we’re talking accidental here. A subtle dig about their weight or a teasing remark about their career can hurt just as much as an outright insult, making your spouse feel like you’re not on their side. Little remarks, even made in jest, can be like death by a thousand paper cuts to your relationship. “A healthy partnership is one in which you build each other up and look for the strengths in the other person,” says Perlstein. “This not only sets a negative tone, but can damage the trust between the two of you resulting in different types of distancing behaviors from your spouse.”
You Do Tasks for Your Spouse
In a healthy relationships, couples split the labor and work together and both partners pick up their share of the responsibilities. When you decide, for whatever reason, that your spouse can’t handle certain responsibilities and do them yourself, it sets a bad precedent for the both of you. “It can show a lack of trust in their capabilities and conflict can ensue,” Perlstein says.
You Talk Over Them
You may feel like the rhythm of a conversation is a back and forth, with each of you interjecting your thoughts whenever they hit you. But if you keep interjecting your thoughts before your partner even gets their first thought out, you are undercutting them with every word. “When you intrude upon them before they are done sharing,” says Perlstein, “it can result in your significant other feeling like you aren’t really listening, what they are sharing is not important, and they can shut down.”
You Problem-Solve for Them
When your significant other comes to you with an issue, they might just be looking for you to listen to them and hear them out. If you start throwing out solutions and suggestions on how to fix the problem, it can be extremely frustrating for them. “Without meaning to, you can communicate a lack of care about their feelings as well as a lack of trust in their ability to find the solution,” says Perlstein. “Instead, after your spouse shares a problem with you ask them what they need from you. Do they want you to help resolve the issue or do they just need you to serve as a sounding board? Provide them with what they are looking for.”
You Undermine Their Parenting
Parenting is tough, and it’s easy to constantly wage micro battles about everything from screen time to sleep schedules. Undercutting your spouse’s feelings on everything from bedtimes to screen times sends a doubly bad message, as it can make your spouse feel as though the two of you are not on the same page when it comes to parenting and it can confuse your kids as well. If they see that you are letting them get away with things that you spouse does not, it will make them take your spouse less seriously and weaken them in their eyes. “Communicate directly about expectations and household rules and follow them as often as possible,” says Perlstein. “While there are always exceptions, for the most part, parenting with all its complexities should reflect an agreed-upon approach.”
You Put Your Interests First
If you and your spouse have different interests and yet somehow the two of you always end up doing what you want to do, it can be a major invalidation red flag, showing a lack of caring about their feelings. “Make sure that you don’t only tell them their interests are important,” says Perlstein, “but show them by brainstorming how to create the time for them to do the things they enjoy.”