Thanks to a plethora of self-help books on relationships, most partners, whether dating, committed or long married, have become aware of the value of listening for improving understanding and connection. Most recognize or are reminded by their partners when they are not listening.
Validation is much more than listening or even active listening. It is a verbal affirmation of another’s right to think or feel a certain way.
“I can see why you felt embarrassed when I said that in front of our friends.”
“Most people would feel betrayed in that situation.”
The problem with invalidation, and the reason it is so caustic to relationships, is that it is not simply the absence of validation.
Invalidation is actually the disqualification of another person’s thinking or feelings. It carries the implication that you must be crazy, bad, over-sensitive or inept to feel a certain way.
Invalidation can occur in a number of ways. Often the intent of the partner is not to hurt the other but the impact of the message is disqualifying and critical. For example:
- Invalidation can be an overt dismissal – although the partner thinks he/she is just giving his rationale.
“I don’t ask your opinion because it takes you too long to make up your mind.”
- Invalidation can be a subtle negation of feelings, even though the intent may be to make a partner feel better.
“You’re too sensitive. It’s ridiculous to react that way.”
- Invalidation can involve a preemptive attempt to control the real reaction of the partner so he/she will listen.
“Don’t get mad, but I have to tell you something.”
- Invalidation can involve a public correction or clarification of a partner that actually disqualifies their input.
“Listen, forget what he just said, he has no idea what color tile we want in this kitchen.”
Regardless of intent, invalidating your partner is never a great thing. Being human, most of us have been on both sides of these comments. Hopefully, we catch ourselves, our partner gives us a “WHAT?” look or it is rare enough for both to step over it without looking back.
When invalidation becomes a chronic dynamic between partners, it becomes relationship corrosive. It compromises the mutual trust and respect needed for love and connection. From what I have observed with couples over the years it often unfolds in the following ways:
Some partners absorb the disqualification and negative implication and act into it. They keep their mouths shut. Their self-esteem suffers – no one benefits. There is no partnership.
Some partners retaliate. The result is a pattern of character assassination of each other which never makes possible a viable and safe way to disagree or move on — be it about the kids, the kitchen or the future of the relationship
Some partners react to being invalidated by disqualifying the other as a confidant. They find other people to validate their feelings, opinions and dreams. The “insider feel” of the couple is lost. Often the relationship is lost.
Some invalidated partners harbor hidden resentment, which erupts as anger, over minor incidents or issues. Now both are left victimized without knowing why.
Are You Invalidating Your Partner?
If you think it is possible – here are some Strategies For Changing:
Re-consider — The Familiar
Sometimes we are unaware of the way we sound or the impact of our message because it is the way people have always communicated with us. It is familiar. Some family legacies are worth leaving behind. You may be carrying a legacy of invalidating that is still taking too much from you.
Observe Self and Impact on Other
If your intent is good but your partner is clearly upset or looks embarrassed – allow yourself a second or third take:
“Let me try this again – What I am saying is that we have to make a decision this week about the trip. It is not that I don’t care about your opinion – I want to hear it. We are just pressed for time.”
Disagree Without Invalidating
It is possible to be true to yourself and disagree without invalidating.
- “I can see you like that color – I just don’t think I can live with it. How can it work?”
- “I might have handled it differently, but I definitely understand why you were so angry.”
Own the Source of Your Comment
Are you holding on to resentment and anger about something else that is coming out as dismissal or denigration of your partner? Maybe it is worth validating your true feelings.
At a calm moment – ask if your partner ever feels invalidated by the way you say things to him/her. If the conversation takes off, you might even share if you think you both at times invalidate each other. Whatever the outcome, you will be setting the stage for something very valuable – feedback on how you speak to each other.
Balance with Validation
A valuable antidote to invalidation is making validation an essential part of your relationship. No one outgrows the need for validation from the person they love. Once partners enjoy the give and take of being affirmed and appreciated – invalidating responses don’t fit.
Consider how it feels to hear….
“You know that makes a lot of sense.”
“I can always depend on you.”
“You made a great choice when you feel in love with me!!”
Holding hands photo available from Shutterstock.