8 Ways Good People Invalidate Their Partners and Ruin Relationships

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That’s an important word—“invalidate.” But I haven’t always thought so.

My wife would sometimes ruin an otherwise perfectly good night at home or dinner conversation by accusing me of “invalidating her feelings,” to which I’d usually roll my eyes at my silly, overly sensitive wife and her cute little feelings.

Feelings aren’t facts, right? So facts matter and feelings don’t—a convenient excuse to fall back on any time the topic was about something impacting her emotionally but not affecting me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she’d say. I’d get angry (and all of the sudden feelings mattered!) and remind her that she’s the one who started it by freaking out because I apparently didn’t do or say what she wanted me to. I’m not a mind-reader, freak-o!

Even today, I’m guilty of thinking back on my marriage as a relationship with fights about things that didn’t matter. Little, insignificant things we’d blow out of proportion. A dozen years of being unable to see the forest for the trees.

EVERY one of those fights mattered. They signaled that something was wrong and I dismissed or ignored that for years, probably because it hadn’t started hurting yet. EVERY one of those fights was the result of a conversation where one or both of us made a thoughtless, selfish, emotionally impulsive and undisciplined choice.

Only masochists who hate themselves would create and execute an action plan to sabotage every conversation they have to provoke an emotionally unpleasant fight for one or both relationship partners–especially knowing the end of that story was a messy divorce and broken home.

Most of us aren’t masochists who hate ourselves.

Most of us are just a little bit broken and a lot bit uninformed about the healthy and unhealthy behaviors that make marriage and dating relationships thrive vs. the ones that poison and destroy them.

Emotional Cyborgs and Fake Stoicism are the Life of the Invalidation Party

“Really? You want to talk about validating someone’s feelings? God, you’re such a pussy,” some internet tough guy might be thinking.

And I understand that because I used to be an internet tough guy too and throughout my life have pretended that things that hurt or upset me weren’t actually hurting or upsetting me. (That’s an example of validating someone’s thoughts and feelings even if you disagree with them.)

I thought if people knew the truth—that my feelings were hurt—that they’d view me as some wimpy bitch. Not a Real Man. Boys don’t cry!

Having my Man Card was important to me. It’s important to most guys, near as I can tell. The thinking seems to be: If you have your Man Card, the guys will accept me and the ladies will want me.

It’s funny how we ignore the obvious truth of how cowardly it is to pretend to be something we’re not because we’re afraid of what others will think about the Real Us.

We are ACTUALLY BEING the very thing we’re afraid of, or accusing others of being, when we put on our masks to hide our true and authentic thoughts and feelings.

To be sure, there ARE people who demonstrate a high level of stoicism and emotional consistency. People who seem consistently steady, regardless of what’s happening around them. People who are being authentically true to themselves amid their stoicism are awesome, and probably great behavior models to aspire to—because we probably shouldn’t let our emotions affect us as much as we do.

But in the interest of pragmatism, it’s pretty important to deal in reality. In real life, almost nothing influences human behavior as much as our emotions do. Just ask every successful marketing pro in world history.

So yeah. I want to talk about invalidating people’s feelings because it was routinely part of my conversations with my wife—EVEN when we weren’t disagreeing or fighting. It was my routine invalidation of the things she might have been thinking or feelings that ultimately CAUSED the fight or relationship-damaging moment. One of the thousands of paper cuts that would eventually cause our marriage to bleed to death.

Good People with Good Hearts Do This All the Time

Dudes often get bent out of shape about a series of posts called An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, as well as one called Your Wife Thinks You’re a Bad Husband Because You are One.

They lose their shit as if I’m attacking their character or not calling their mom again after our first date.

I understand this reaction also, because I too would lose my shit when I felt as if my wife was constantly telling me how I was failing her and our marriage despite feeling like a good human being who would do anything for her, and as if I’d sacrificed a lot on her behalf in order to share a life together. (More validation!)

Being a lousy husband like I was DOES NOT make you a bad person any more than an inability to prove advanced mathematical theorems like Will Hunting would make you a bad person.

We accidentally destroy our relationships. It’s an idea that’s been beaten to death on this blog and will be beaten to death some more in the book I’m writing. (For real, this time.)

I was reading through various psychology articles on invalidating others as a tactic for winning an argument, or as a means of trying to convince someone or ourselves that something is better or worse than what it is.

In doing so, I found eight common invalidation techniques people use in all kinds of conversations with everyone they talk to—not just their partners. I realized that people who are otherwise wonderful do this, and accidentally ruin their relationships with people who want to love them, but eventually stop subjecting themselves to that person’s invalidating bullshit.

8 Common Invalidation Methods That Accidentally Destroy Relationships

1. Misunderstanding What Validation Is

Sometimes my wife would tell me a story about one of her friends or something that happened at work. Sometimes, when she told me the story, I would find myself disagreeing with her assessment, and defending her friend, or otherwise taking a different viewpoint than she did. I thought I was “being fair.” I thought I was calling it like I saw it. Being real and stuff. But what I was doing was confusing Validation with Agreement. I didn’t have to agree with her to look for the very real reasons why she felt as she did, and then express that I understood her perspective.

“I get it, babe. I’m sorry you have to deal with that at work on top of everything else. I know it gets hard sometimes,” would have worked fine. Instead of “It seems to me you’re overreacting. Maybe if you did X, Y, and Z, your dumb girl feelings wouldn’t be interrupting my dinner,” which I didn’t actually say, but she probably heard.

2. Wanting to Fix Feelings

Sometimes people feel sad or angry. We don’t want them to. Maybe for unselfish reasons, but probably for selfish ones too. So we say, “Oh, don’t be sad,” or “You have nothing to feel sad or angry about. Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry about it.” This is almost always done with the best of intentions, but it also almost always makes you a dick.

When you tell someone who is sad or otherwise upset (involuntarily) to NOT be that way, what they hear is (even from really nice, unselfish people): “Oh, that sucks that you feel that way. Let’s go do something awesome that I want to do instead so that I don’t have to worry about this thing that matters to you but doesn’t impact me.” The first cousin of trying to fix feelings is…

3. Minimizing

Dishes by the sink, yo. Didn’t matter to me, so they SHOULDN’T matter to my wife, right? Because how I experience the world should be indisputable, absolute truth and the unquestioned law of all human behavior, right? For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we’re so shitty about this. Every second of our lives, we experience things through our individual, first-person experiences, and so often it seems, we think EVERYONE—no matter where they’re from or what they’ve been through—should draw all of the same identical conclusions and have identical emotional responses as us.

If someone is acting like something’s important, that we don’t think is important, we minimize it. Make it out like it’s not a big deal and they shouldn’t worry about it. This is ESPECIALLY shitty when someone is upset with OUR behavior, but we disagree that what we’re doing should upset them. You should only do that if you love getting divorced.

4. Hoovering

According to Dr. Karyn Hall, “Hoovering is when you attempt to vacuum up any feelings you are uncomfortable with or not give truthful answers because you don’t want to upset or to be vulnerable. Saying ‘It’s not such a big deal’ when it is important to you is hoovering. Saying someone did a great job when they didn’t or that your friends loved them when they didn’t is hoovering. Not acknowledging how difficult something might be for you to do is hoovering. Saying ‘No problem, of course I can do that,’ when you are overwhelmed, is hoovering.”

We wear masks for all kinds of reasons in our relationships and in our interactions with others. We’re afraid of rejection. We want to be liked. A lot of bad things happen when we’re dishonest—even when they seem like innocent little white lies that are totally harmless.

5. Misinterpreting What It Means to Be Present

Sometimes people think that being in the same room, or the same house, is the same as being WITH someone. We’re not off doing something on our own away from home. We’re right there, watching TV, playing a video game, fiddling with our phone, or whatever. I used to play online poker, watch movies, sports, or TV shows my wife wasn’t interested in, and all kinds of other things that saw her doing things by herself, while I was doing things by myself. I thought it was fine. I always thought it was good that both of us were doing “what we wanted to do.”

But what she wanted to do sometimes, even more than what she might have preferred individually, was to be TOGETHER. Feeling present with each other, and the emotional connections that thrive from shared experiences was something she wanted. Turns out, this is also something NEEDED for relationships, including marriage, to thrive and function well. She knew it. I didn’t. And now we’re not married.

6. Judging

Judging isn’t so different than minimizing. But judging often adds an element of ridicule to the occasion, which can often cause a lot of damage. I already mentioned it earlier—if my wife told me a story, or even just liked or didn’t like something opposite of me—I would react with judgment. Not only was I disagreeing with her, but sometimes I was doing so in ways that made it clear that I believed all of my thoughts and feelings had more value than hers. As if I came to them from some pure and intellectually superior place, and hers were just some stupid girl feelings.

The more I tell these stories, the more horrified I am at my obliviousness through the years, and my blindness to what asshole moves these types of beliefs and behaviors are.

7. Denying

This one’s awesome. We invalidate other people by saying they don’t feel what they are saying they feel. They report what they’re experiencing in real-time, and instead of accepting that—we just tell them they’re mistaken. That they don’t know what they’re saying and feeling, as if we think they’re hallucinating or mentally insane. It’s hilarious in the saddest way possible how common this is.

8. Nonverbal Invalidation

Nonverbal invalidation comes in many forms. The shittiest are obnoxious eyerolls, finger-drumming, or yawning.

The more common and innocent ones are when we drift off during conversation, interrupt, change the subject, check our phone, or any number of nonverbal things that communicate to someone that whatever they’re saying couldn’t possibly be as important as whatever we wish we were doing or discussing.

Unfortunately, this is classic ADHD behavior, and OFTEN done with no intention or awareness of how it’s being received emotionally by someone else. I’ve spent a lifetime doing this, I think, but only in the last few years have had the mental wherewithal to check myself and achieve the self-awareness and focus necessary to keep my eyes and thoughts on the person with whom I’m conversing.

More than half of marriages fail (when you factor in all the still-married people who hate one another). I assume non-married relationships end at an infinitely higher rate, but I don’t have data to support that.

But I don’t need data to know that MOST of the ugliness that arises between two people who began their interpersonal journey totally infatuated with, and interested in, one another grows slowly from a million of these little moments.

Invalidation. It ended my marriage and has surely ruined a number of my other relationships, romantic or otherwise.

What has it done to yours?

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27 thoughts on “8 Ways Good People Invalidate Their Partners and Ruin Relationships

  1. Great points. Good post. Well-done

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen, Matt. This is just beautiful. One of the best things leaders can do is to just be present with someone in their emotional state. To just stand there in the moment not trying to fix anything, just offering that much needed validation.

    True story, when hubby and I first got married he invalidated everything I said. It was maddening. He once said in that commanding tone of his, “you’re not upset and angry,” and so I just snapped and threw a chair at his head. We shouldn’t do such things of course and violence is never okay, but it is what it is. To perpetually invalidate someone is an attack. The fact that many women tend to have a more passive response to such abuse does not lesson the fact that the behavior itself is really crazy making and emotionally abusive.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. JBarrett says:

    I have experienced all of these throughout my entire 19 yr marriage. I know his ADHD adds to it but so many years of ignoring it has taken its toll. We are currently on the rocks and it isn’t looking good as I have completely checked out. Thank you for putting it out there so maybe someone can see this and try to change the behavior.

    Like

  4. meridda says:

    Awesome post, matt! One of your best, I’d say (although there are a lot of those). Can’t wait for the book!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jason says:

    Great points! Thanks, Matt.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ej725 says:

    Excellent again. I wish I could memorize this entire essay. I wish some married people would read this with a truly open mind with a willingness to see themselves as they really are. Bless you, Matt, and your delightful articulate nail-on-the-head accuracy and your amazing ability to get it all out of your brain and heart onto paper.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Jane says:

    Each & every # was a small glimpse at my 11 year marriage. Matt, I wish I could introduce my husband to you, so he could hear it from someone who doesn’t have “stupid girl feelings”.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lydia Reyes says:

    Totally impressed! Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A fine piece as I see us both in many of your points. We all have our broken bits inside us that impact our behaviours and reactions. His delayed diagnosis of ADHD and all the self esteem stuff that comes with a life of unmet goals. My family of origin fear and avoidance of Elephants in the room to keep peace.

    Acknowledging our own flaws and faults (for want of a kinder expression at this hour) and doing the work on them allows us to be gentler and more understanding with our partner’s as they do their work.

    We all want to be that person we present to the world when dating and courting and being “the one” for our partner. Only I am responsible to be the best person I can be – thank you Jack Nicholson in the movie whose name escapes me.

    Maybe instead of blaming our partner for wanting us the do better, we should thank them for the opportunity and motivation. 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ps – just remembered – it’s “as good as it gets” – the movie that is 😜

      And no pressure, but I’d like a couple copies of “the book” for my waiting room. It’s not just about how to treat our partners, you know – it’s a lot bigger than that and your prose is accessible and non threatening. Life lessons I think. 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Zee says:

    I don’t know how to categorize this, but it feels like invalidation when he says, I just want you to be happy” and proceeds to dothe exact opposite of what I said makes me happy. I used to get frustrated, but now I know that’s how he maintains his good guy image. It’s just lip service, not real change.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Kristi says:

    This one is fantastic, Matt. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Linda says:

    Oh! I do this…crap. Saying this is emotional abuse then leads to the obvious conclusion that I am being an abuser, and that is a hard pill to swallow. I’ve also recently learned that my emotional style is “avoider” which makes my comfort level with other people’s emotions very limited and therefore quite prone to invalidation. Thank you for this education Matt. The puzzle pieces are slowly coming together, and as the saying goes, awareness is the first step to recovery.

    P.S. You might find the book “How we love” by Milan & Kay Yerkovich interesting. It goes along well with your ideas, and reaches down for the core reasons why.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. KK says:

    I experience all of these behaviors in my marriage :(. And I have tried explaining each of these every time one of them happens….of course it doesn’t sink in though.

    Like

  14. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    HAVE TO WATCH THIS MYSELF—SPEAKING WORDS OF LOVE AND RESPECT, INSTEAD (AND NUTURING!).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. zelmare says:

    Great piece. I’ve been through a divorce, and before that a shitty marriage, and a lot of what you are saying makes me cringe … I used to be on the receiving end of a lot of the above. I know that the piece was about invalidation, but another sure-fire way to make a marriage go bad, is withholding intimacy, ‘because it’s wimpy’ of ‘men don’t do that stuff’. Also…it’s great that you grew as a person through the mistakes you made previously. I hope that doesn’t sound patronising, it is not meant that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Tina says:

    Good one Matt – my ex and I were both guilty of this. I was usually the one Hoovering and later on judging the hell out of his feelings. (Like how dare you claim to be unhappy – you are the one that makes me unhappy) I think I became pretty dismissive nonverbally too. It was pretty shitty of me and no way to fix the things going wrong between us.

    I almost spit my coffee at the screen on Misinterpreting What It Means to Be Present though. My ex considered him self “at home” if he was within a one mile radius of the house. I’d text or call him asking “where are you” and he’d say “I’m at home”. I’d say “no you are not because I am at the house and you are not here”. “Oh well I’m next door taking to Charles,” or “I’m up at my buddies shop working on his race car” or “I’m at the convenience store (across the street) chatting with some friends”. To him all of that was “At home” I cant even come up with words for how furious it would make me and he was always like – whats the big deal – I was “close enough” to home. That and the ignoring me while I was trying to talk to him because the TV was on or he was busy checking his phone. We’d go out to dinner together and he’s spend the entire time on his phone – like literally would say more words to the wait staff than to me. Grr. Ok – remembering why its is good we are ex’s right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Autumn Grayson says:

    I can say that it can mess up parent child relationships and friendships just as easily as romantic ones.  I understand what it is like to be someone who invalidates others because, unfortunately, it is an extremely annoying personality trait I inherited from my Dad, even though I am a girl.  Sadly, one of the main things that made me get rid of my invalidating behavior was being invalidated myself for a couple years.

    Some other things to add to the list of invalidating things are when someone is being super emotional, especially to the point of yelling at another person for a long period of time, and then expressing outrage when the other person dares to finally show their own emotions.  My Dad is actually a decent person, but I would sit there and take his yelling for (sometimes hours) of time, and I would take it in near silence until I would eventually start crying, because I learned that yelling back only escalated the argument.  At first I figured I was safe venting my anger through tears, because how could he get angry at that?  But then he would often have a ‘How dare you cry!’ response.

    Other invalidating behaviors include acting like hurtful arguments weren’t that hurtful/forgetting how intense they were.  Or calling the person ‘judgmental’ just because they dare feel upset about those intense arguments even though they were never actually resolved.  Or when the invalidator starts huge arguments over the smallest things and expects everyone to agree that it is a big deal, but then acting like the arguments other people have are always over silly things.  His is complicated to explain, but my Dad would get angry at someone and then argue with us for a very long time until the issue was resolved to his satisfaction, even though it was a small thing.  But then if, say, my sister and I were arguing and trying to work something out between us he would come in, often only partially understanding what was going on, and then just passin his own judgement on the situation and sort of having a ‘you’re sisters and you love each other, so just give each other a big hug, I resolved this situation for you so just go about your day!’. I know he had good intentions, but it was invalidating because, when I reflected back on it, I realized that he was treating everything that bothered him with earth shattering importance, while acting like every argument the rest of the family had was just petty silliness that could be solved with a hug or apology.  He problem was that it made it a lot harder for the rest of the family to actually work through things.  Oh, and another invalidating thing was when I reminded him of something he did a few months ago, he wouldn’t remember, so when I would bring hear things up he would say something like ‘Oh sure!  Name the exact date and time when his happened!’. I mean, seriously?  He never had to name dates and times when he accused me of things, and no one keeps track like that.  The funny thing is that if I did keep track, he would accuse me of recording grudges down in a little black book.

    It is almost as if the only valid emotion is anger(though only when the invalidating person has anger) and so men invalidate women’s emotions because they are more likely to manifest as tears.  Too bad people don’t realize that tears are often a manifestation of anger, often because some women feel like they are not ‘allowed’ to yell.

    The funny thing is that people who invalidate feelings and claim to be logical want the utmost respect when it comes to their thoughts, feelings and actions.  But when they sit there and demand respect without giving it, invalidate others, or get angry and emotional while accusing others of being emotional, they completely undermine the respect others had for them before.

    And the ones who invalidate tend to think they are being calm and rational and that the other person isn’t.  But if someone is actually rational, and they see that what they are saying to their significant other is unintentionally making them even MORE upset, wouldn’t it be more rational to take a step back and examine why the conversation isn’t working and figure out how to fix it?  If the so called rational person can’t examine what they are doing and change to a tactic that works better, then they are the emotional ones, only sticking to tactics that fulfill their pride and anger.

    Like

  18. Ah, yes, death by a thousand cuts, emotional invalidation. This is how my relationship tanked, along with my partner pushing me away (In his mind unintentionally, but it still happened). And now here I am, seeing all the flaws, that I just could not correct at the time. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Osvaldo Pereira says:

    Matt, I am in year 2 of a divorce being finalised, year 4 of a separation. The crushing grief you feel after a break-up, the spasms of grief that reduce you to broken bits, in there now.

    How did you create the space to move on in your life without seeking to chase after your ex and make things right? You clearly know where things went wrong. You would armed with this knowledge have the capacity to fix things?

    I grew up in a Sourthern Italian traditional conservative family that at the best of times would drive me and my wife crazy but with strong views on family, marriage, commitment to each other, basically with an “us against the world mentality.” It makes you capable of almost any act of sacrifice for someone you love, and any act of anger to someone who breaks that bond or circle of family. It didn’t help me approach my break-up with a clear mind and heart and both my ex and I acted horribly toward each other.

    Knowing now with some distance the things you did wrong, do you tell your ex and apologise? How do you stop yourself if love is still present from trying to chase her and reintegrate your family, which must the the fervent, secret dream of all of us who see ourselves in you, think we were fundamentally stupid but not malicious men, and believe our suffering has taught us better?

    Like

  20. andrea says:

    Very good points. My 11+ year relationship is unraveling now, partly because I was upset that my SO did nothing for my birthday last week, besides text me. After i brought this up, I mentioned the last few years when I brought home cupcakes or cakes with candles, to surprise him. His response? That he’d purchased me an iPad years ago and what is a $4 cupcake compared to that.

    It is sad. I’m wondering though, and I haven’t read a ton of your blog, but you seem to spend a great deal of time thinking about the relationship, and that is great. But are you dwelling too much? You are remorseful and you’ve grown since then, you are definitely more aware of what happened…but are you moving forward in the world? I read a lot of preoccupation with memories. No offense!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It’s for others now, Andrea. More than me. I am compelled to think and write about these topics on behalf of others NOT accidentally getting divorced or having bad relationships because they lack awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Esmeralda says:

    Genius, and I hop everybody who needs to read this, does!
    Men and woman need to learn how to validate, how to sit with painful feelings, how to not be conflict avoidance (possibly another thing you could discuss at a later date), how to be truly present, et cetera, Your 100% right
    I spoke about my friendship divorce before, but minimizing and just getting a little bit lazy with helping me with my problems was the beginning of the end of our friendship. it just was. Never ever fall into that trap of feeling so safe you can just peace out of listening and validating.

    Like

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