Letting your spouse know that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged is one of the most important elements of a happy relationship. This, after all, lets people know that they are not being ignored or casually disregarded. Conversely, denying a partner’s feelings and trivializing their opinions can quickly sabotage a marriage. This emotional invalidation can happen in a quick, almost casual manner (“That’s ridiculous.”) or in passive-aggressively telling a partner how they should react before you even speak (“Don’t freak out, but…”). In the worst-case scenarios, it can devolve into situations that can be humiliating and degrading (“Don’t listen to him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”).
Invalidation is sneaky. A lot of times, one might ignore or write off their partner’s feelings without realizing it. In fact, many times, one partner will invalidate the other’s feelings thinking that what they are doing is helpful. That they are attempting to replace one emotion with another one that they deem to be more correct. Whatever the root cause, this is something to be conscious of and judiciously avoided. Here, then, are a few sample phrases that invalidate your partner and should be avoided.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
This is a total non-apology that absolves you of any responsibility and shifts the blame back on to your spouse. They’re not upset about something you did, this phrase is saying, they’re just upset and it’s inconveniencing you. Apologizing is meant to be a taking of responsibility for your actions. Saying that you’re sorry about how your spouse feels doesn’t do that. “Telling your partner ‘I’m sorry you’re upset’ is like saying ‘I’m not sorry about the thing I did that made you upset, but I don’t want you to be upset,’ ” says Rosalind Sedacca, a Dating & Relationship Coach.
“It’s not worth getting upset about.”
Such phrases not only trivialize whatever it is that has your partner upset, but also suggest that it’s something they are choosing to be upset about. “Placing a value judgement on why they’re upset treats it like a ‘decision’ and may contribute to negative feelings,” says Erin Parisi, a licensed mental health counselor. “Whereas just listening to your partner when they are upset is a much more powerful way of aligning yourself.”
“It’s not about you.”
This is a sweeping generalization that takes everything your spouse said and negates it. It says that, no matter what they’re actually feeling, they’re actually only thinking about their own needs and desires. It robs whatever they are coming to you about of any importance. “This dismissive comment implies your partner is a narcissist with nothing to value to offer if they use the word ‘I’ in a conversation,” says Sedacca. “It’s unfair and would put anyone on the defensive.”
“You’re being crazy.”
This is another way of attributing legitimate feelings to irrational emotions. Telling your partner they’re being crazy is saying that what they are feeling is solely a result of being emotionally imbalanced and, if their head was on straight, they would never be feeling this way. “This phrase immediately knocks people down and puts them on the defensive,” says Meg Josephson, a licensed clinical social worker. “It doesn’t acknowledge or honor the pain they are going through and puts you at odds with them. Definitely not a good way to support your partner.”
“Think of all the good things in your life.”
Yes, it’s good to be grateful for the things in your life that are going well. And most people probably do have a lot to be thankful for. But that still doesn’t mean that they don’t have struggles. And when you tell them to be happy for what they do have, it not only invalidates their feelings, it also piles on a healthy dose of guilt and blame. It tells them, “You have no right to be upset because of what you have” and can make them feel worse than they did before. “The spouse may hear ‘Stop grieving, or feeling sad or frustrated,’ ” says licensed clinical social worker Julie Fanning. “You don’t get to feel anything but happy because you have good things in your life.”
“I thought this was a strength of yours.”
If your spouse offers to help with something or take on a task and then somehow doesn’t quite get it right, they’re already going to have their pride stung. What they need from you in that moment is support and encouragement, not twisting the knife by passive-aggressively questioning their abilities. “When a significant other drops the ball in an area of life where they normally excel,” says Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, “they will probably notice and feel it at core level without it being pointed out that they typically handle these situations better.”
This is another phrase that wipes out any rational cause for a person’s emotions and whittles it all down to pure emotion. It is telling them that the reason they’re upset is strictly because of an irrational reaction to a situation and not because they have a valid reason. “Calm down” can make your partner feel like you’re not listening and that you don’t understand them. “If you ever feel tempted to tell your partner to calm down,” says life coach Stacy Caprio, “take a step back and see what you could say or ask them that shows you have empathy for what they are feeling and will work with them to fix it.”