You are a pill. A worry wart. Stop crying. Quit being so dramatic. You whine too much. Stop worrying about it.
Each of these is a form of invalidation. Invalidation is an indicator that can predict whether or not you’ll end up getting divorced. In the book, A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for your Marriage,_we learn that invalidation “is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. Invalidation can take many forms. Another subtle form of invalidation occurs when you are expecting praise for some positive action that is ignored by your partner while some minor problem is highlighted.”
Invalidating your spouse is one of the best ways to quickly destroy trust and confidence in your relationship. Imagine each expressed thought rebuked or criticized and every act of service and kindness minimized by the one you love. A relationship plagued with this habit will not last very long.
As an advocate for developing strong communication skills, Steve Hein has traveled the world teaching principles that help individuals and families improve their ability to communicate. He is an expert in recognizing signs of invalidation. In his free eBook, “EQ For Everybody: A Practical Guide to the Developing and Using One’s Emotional Intelligence,” Hein describes what invalidation looks like and how we might be able to avoid it.
Don’t feel like that
When we tell someone to smile, be happy, stop whining or don’t worry we are trying to control her feelings. Avoid telling your spouse how to feel.
Don’t look like that
We invalidate her feelings when we tell her how to look, as well. Some people will say, “Stop looking so sad” or, “Don’t look so upset.” Give your spouse the freedom to look how she feels.
Trying to make you feel guilty
Instead of being helpful, we can throw on a guilt trip with phrases like “I tried to help… At least you…” These types of sentences do not really help but only minimize her feelings and impose guilt.
Isolating your feelings
Just because you do not currently feel the same way as your spouse does not mean that nobody else feels like she does. Isolating her feelings by telling her she is the only one that feels that way is a good way to drive a wedge between you.
Minimizing your feelings
This happens when we say things like “you’re just being dramatic” or “It can’t be that bad.” In his mind, it really is that bad.
Applying labels or name calling
A wise man once told me that we act how we are treated. You apply labels to your loved ones by saying things like “you are a pill sometimes,” “you are way too emotional” or “you are just a whiner.” If you want to solidify this behavior, keep calling her names.
You should feel like this
Telling your love how she should feel is another subtle form of invalidation. By saying things like “you should be happy,” you are rejecting the current feelings of your spouse.
Defending another person
You and your spouse are on the same team. When your husband or wife expresses frustration with how they were treated by someone else, always take the side of your spouse. The moment you defend the person who upset or frustrated your spouse is the moment you are no longer playing on the same team. Your spouse will feel betrayed.
Each of us is guilty of invalidating the feelings of others. The trick is to be more aware of the subtle ways in which we do it, then make a conscious effort to stop. Hein offers a few ideas to help combat invalidation through validation. He explains, “To validate someone is to accept, understand and nurture their feelings … When we validate someone, we allow them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. We are reassuring them that it is OK to have the feelings they have. Sometimes validation entails listening, sometimes it can be a hug or a gentle touch. Validation allows a person to release their feelings in a healthy, safe and supportive way.”
Deepen and solidify your love by validating each other. As we learn to recognize the many forms of invalidation and avoid them, we will allow our spouse, our children and our loved ones to develop a healthy self-esteem.