Divorce with Kids

Divorce with Kids

Divorce with Kids

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Divorce With Kids

Divorce is devastating under any circumstances. But if you have kids, divorce is even more fraught. In my experience as a marriage and family therapist and breakup recovery coach, divorcing parents are often worrying about how the end of their marriage will affect their children. I know that this can really ratchet up your pain and distress, and make a difficult situation even more challenging.

If you’re like most divorcing parents your number one priority is the mental and emotional wellness of your kids. You’re probably looking for answers to questions like, “how to tell your kids about divorce,” or “the impact of divorce on children,” or “healthy co-parenting strategies.” I’m so glad that you found this resource today!

Here’s something you should know right off the bat: The fact that you’re working so hard to educate yourself about how to help your children means 1) that you love and care about them so much and 2) you’re already doing a great job. Your efforts to help them through this mean that you’re the type of parent who’s going to get them through this in the healthiest way possible. You’re already doing it!

To support you in the work you’re already doing, I have put together another educational resource for you. On this episode of the podcast, I’m speaking with Dr. Amy Smith, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist on our team here at Growing Self who is an expert at helping families get through divorce. She has tons of experience coaching parents and many years of experience in helping divorcing parents learn how to help their children with the emotional and relational aspects of divorce too. 

If your marriage is ending and you’re worried about how your children will be affected, you’ll want to listen to this conversation. We’re talking about how to talk with your kids about the divorce, how to navigate co-parenting with your ex, and how to be the unwavering foundation your kids need — even when your own world feels like it’s falling apart. 

I hope you join us for all of this and more. You can listen here on this page, or find the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts (and subscribe to the show while you’re there!)

I sincerely hope that today’s show helps provide you with some insight and direction on how to help your children through divorce and that it helps ease your anxiety along the way.

You’ve got this!

Xo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Divorce with Kids

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Kids and Divorce Podcast : Episode Highlights

As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve seen couples counseling transition to breakup or divorce recovery work many times, and I know it’s never easy for either partner.  

But if you’re worried about your kids, I have some good news: Research shows that divorce does not cause irreparable harm to children in and of itself. In fact, children actually may do better with divorced parents, if the alternative is living in a high-conflict environment. 

The key factor that determines how well children will cope with divorce is whether or not they place blame on themselves. It’s normal for young children to not have a clear sense of self, and blurry ideas about what they do and don’t control. For this reason, it’s critical to help kids understand that the divorce is in no way their fault. 

Effects of Divorce on Children

As kids come to terms with their parents’ divorce, it’s normal for them to have a lot of questions. They may be uncertain about where they’ll live, when they’ll see each parent, and what the future will hold. 

It’s also normal for them to feel a sense of loss and grief. Their family is changing on the most fundamental level, and they’ll need some time to accept this new reality, and to adjust to it. They may experience sadness, anger, anxiety, and withdrawal as they grapple with this change. 

In the short term, you may notice some behavior changes, like more tantrums, or getting into trouble at school. It can be helpful for parents to recognize that there are big, difficult feelings behind these behaviors. Giving your child an outlet to talk about these feelings will be more effective than taking a punitive approach. 

Being There for Your Kids Through Divorce

If you’re going through the stages of a breakup or divorce, you’re sorting out some big, messy feelings. It’s important to remember that you are there to support your children emotionally, but that they can’t be there for you in the same way. Avoid putting that responsibility onto your kids. Take good care of yourself, and look for other adults who can talk with you about the details of your split or who can support you as you work through painful feelings about your ex.

Talk with your kids about how they’re feeling, and acknowledge that what they’re going through is really difficult. Keep the dialogue open and encourage your child to come to you with any questions they have. 

Avoid talking negatively about your ex. However they’ve treated you, your child deserves to have their own relationship with both of their parents (as long as those relationships are safe). As hard as it is, this is truly a situation where if you can’t say anything nice, it’s better to say nothing at all. 

Create Clear Co-Parenting Rules

As difficult as it can be when you’re in the midst of emotional turmoil, it’s important to work out a co-parenting plan with your ex that’s as positive and peaceful as possible. 

Getting really specific about what is ok and what isn’t can help you sidestep future conflict, and spare your children from the stress of their parents fighting. Will you pick up, or drop off your child when it’s your time with them? Will you come inside? Can the kids have video calls with their other parent while they’re in your custody? How will you communicate with your ex about your child? Think through questions like these and try to create an amicable divorce agreement that puts your kids first. 

Also, keep this in mind: You will make mistakes! This is very difficult, and sometimes your feelings will get the best of you. If you don’t navigate co-parenting as gracefully as you hoped, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that to your child, apologize, and try to do better next time. 

When You Don’t Like How Your Ex Parents

Co-parenting goes from tricky to exasperating when you don’t like the way your ex parents. Maybe they let your child eat too much sugar, or spend too much time on screens. Maybe they’re not being as ethical about how they talk to your child about the divorce as you’re striving to be. 

The first question to ask yourself is, is my child safe? If the answer is no, you should absolutely step in. But if the answer is yes, pick your battles carefully. You won’t parent exactly the same way your ex does, and you won’t be able to control everything that goes on when you’re not there. 

If your ex is badmouthing you to your child, it can be tempting to retaliate with the same behavior. Avoid this. Your children will make up their own minds over time about the divorce, and pulling them in opposite directions will only do harm. 

Parental Alienation

One of the most heartbreaking outcomes of a divorce can be a child becoming alienated from one of their parents. Parental alienation may happen because of an ex “turning the child” against the other parent, or because of how the child interprets the divorce. 

Losing your relationship with your child, or seeing that relationship grow distant, is truly painful. The best thing you can do is offer your continued, unconditional love and support. Avoid trying to retaliate against your ex by interfering in their relationship with your child. This will be damaging to your child, and is likely to backfire. 

The best thing you can do is to continue letting your child know you are there for them, no matter what. Never give up on your relationship with your child. As they mature, they’ll have a more nuanced understanding of the divorce, and they’ll have opportunities to reconnect with you. 

Kids and Divorce

If you’re going through a divorce and worrying about how it will affect your children, stay strong. This is such a turbulent time, and I know it can be overwhelming. 

I hope our conversation gives you hope that your divorce does not have to be profoundly damaging for your kids. With support and an open dialogue, you can help them adjust to this new reality, and grow into happy, healthy adults. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On today's show, we're talking about divorce with kids. Nobody wants to get divorced, and it is not the most pleasant topic to discuss on this podcast or elsewhere. But divorce is also incredibly real, and it's common. If you are looking down the barrel of a divorce right now, I know that you need help with this. You need guidance because this is really hard. It's a difficult experience for anyone. But it's especially hard if you're a parent, and trying to figure out how to have a healthy divorce with kids involved. 

There are just so many things to figure out: How to talk to your kids about divorce? How to separate your lives with children? How to co-parent? The biggest thing I think is how to meet the emotional needs of your children while it feels like your own life is kind of falling apart, at least for a while. This is tough stuff for anyone. Again, it's just so incredibly important to be talking about this so that you can get good information to help guide you through this transition.

That's what we're talking about on today's show. That is why I have invited my colleague here at Growing Self, Dr. Dr. Amy Smith to join us because she is a true expert on helping divorcing families get through this transition in the healthiest way possible for all involved, and I wanted you to have the very best help. I have invited her to chat with us today. 

Dr. Amy, thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Amy: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here today.

Dr. Lisa: It's gonna be a great conversation. Now I do need to formally introduce you. With other guests, I would probably ask them to share a little bit about themselves. I know you are so modest, and you're not going to toot your own horn. I'm actually going to go ahead and get that horn for you, okay? 

Dr. Amy has a Ph.D. in applied developmental science, master's degree in human development and family studies with a specialization in marriage and family therapy. She is also a university professor at Colorado State University. She's the author of multiple peer-reviewed journal articles, encyclopedia articles. She is an expert on parent-child relationships. She also is a certified family life educator through the National Council of Family Relationships. All that to say, Dr. Amy, you know what you're talking about on this topic?

Dr. Amy: Hopefully! I feel that we always have things to learn but it is an area that I love to work with. Because it's so hard to be going through divorce. It's hard to parent anytime. Sometimes, we just need a little extra support when we're going through all of those changes as well.

Things to Consider When Divorcing With a Child

Dr. Lisa: It's so hard, it is so hard. To your point, especially hard when divorce is on the table. Let's just jump right into your topic. I mean, I know you're a wealth of information around how to go about this in the best way possible. I think on today's show, we've talked a lot on shows in the past about what it's like for adults and relationships, and how to stop the divorce potentially, or things to consider if you are thinking about getting divorced. I would refer you back to other podcasts on that topic. You can scroll back through our feed to find them.

Really today, this is for somebody who has either decided that this needs to happen, or who is in a relationship with someone who has decided for them that this needs to happen. They are just so agonized about not just their own feelings in relationship, but like, “What is this going to do to our kids?” And “How do I help the kids with us?” I think the biggest fear for a lot of parents in the situation is that the divorce is going to harm the children emotionally, relationally, irreparably. Can you speak to that a little bit? I mean, what does the research say?

Dr. Amy: The research in this area really does show that it's not irreparable harm to kids. It's hard for kids. Anyone going through that kind of transition, or there's a lot of uncertainty and unknown. And so often, kids can struggle a little bit. It's hard to go through that. Kids might have a lot of questions. It varies a little bit depending on how old they are. With an older kid might have a few more questions, and a one or two-year-old just from where they're able to have questions. There’s an adjustment period. It's difficult. There's research outcomes that say kids tend to do okay, particularly when they don't place blame on themselves for the divorce or the conflict, or when they're able to sort of recognize “This isn't my fault that it's happening, but I'm able to know that it is happening, and have that support through it.” 

They tend to turn out okay, and it goes away. They can have healthy relationships after that, as well. There's actually some research in kids that says that, “When there's really high conflict, or there's a lot of conflict going on in the home, the kids actually have sometimes better outcomes when there's a divorce, and the conflict is reduced in their lives.” If that's sort of the decision that's happening. Really, when that conflict is able to be de-escalated, or there's just less conflict around that — not to say divorce is the only path forward to reduce conflict. But that high level of conflict between parents also has negative outcomes for kids.

Recognizing there's lots of different paths forward, but paths forward that allow kids to know this isn't their fault — that they are loved going through it, and that they still have their parents who care about them. They still tend to turn out okay, even if it's a difficult adjustment period, or there some questions, or things that they want to explore. They still turn into good, healthy functioning adults most of the time.

Dr. Lisa: That's so reassuring. Everybody, you heard it here from a legitimate expert that going through divorce is not going to ruin your child's life, or damage them forever, and that it's going to be okay. 

Dr. Amy, I did also hear you say that it is normal and expected to have a transitional period where it is hard. I also heard you say that there are certain ideas or messages that kids really need to be getting from their parents in order to have those positive outcomes. Let's just take those one at a time. If it's okay. What would you say is normal and expected for kids to be feeling or going through as their parents are making this transition that may be some of the harder stuff and again. Not wanting to talk about this to be all negative, but sort of to prepare parents for what they can expect and how to help. So, what’s normal? 

Dr. Amy: Sure, normal can look a lot of different ways. So I'll try to… 

Dr. Lisa: I said that. I was like, “What am I talking about? What's normal?”

Dr. Amy: There’s a lot of variation there. Kids can often… I would say they still have lots of questions about it, or, it's a confusing thing about life has looked one way. Up until now, and now there's a big change in my world. I don't know what that… I don't know why it's happening. I don't know what that means for me. A lot of kids might have friends that have divorced parents, and they see their parents every other week. But then they have another friend and they do summers and holidays. There can be so many questions that they have like, “Who am I going to live with?” “Do I still get to see my dog?” “Do my favorite toys even get to go with me if I'm changing home?” Often, there's a lot of confusion and questions. Sometimes those questions… Kids often ask, “Is it my fault?” “Did I do something wrong that led my parents to not be wanting to be together?” “Is it because of me?” 

When we think developmentally, kid’s brains are also still learning that idea of self, and then “How do I influence the rest of the world?” That idea that probably “I'm influencing everything that happens in the world” is very developmentally normal for kids. It can be a little bit tricky when we have that normal perspective, and we're going through this big outcome to say, “Well, I'm sort of influencing everything.” Or “I'm figuring that out that probably I influenced this divorce.” And maybe they didn't really at all. 

Some of those questions, and confusions, and wanting clarity, there can also be, a lot of grief or loss for kids of, “I've gotten to see both of my parents all the time, and I love both of my parents. Now, I don't get to see them all the time.” Or “I don't know what that's going to look like and I'm sad.” Or “I'm sad that I don't live in the same house all the time if we have to move.” There can be that sort of element of loss for them too. That makes a lot of sense. Whenever we have changes, and changes are hard. There's uncertainty that they could still be okay, and they're losing something so often that confusion or loss tends to come into play. 

Sometimes, there's that… Kids tend to either go internal to themselves of how we see that. That can look like, “Maybe I'm withdrawing some” or “I seem more sad” or “ I'm crying more.” Those kind of internal behaviors that could maybe be a little bit feeling more anxious, or “Can I control things” or they could also have external symptoms. That might mean more pushback, or maybe if you're a kid that's usually pretty mild-mannered is starting to talk back a lot or really resist rules. Sometimes, that is a really normal reaction, or if we start being a little bit more flamboyant in our interactions, and even beginning a few more arguments at school, or more tantrums, if they're in that age. Those would be external behaviors that also sort of saying the same thing. 

Sort of seeing some of those changes. Short-term can be normal to see and wanting maybe to support your kids through that, and really being able to identify where are those things coming from, what are they feeling. Helping them explore that can be really helpful. But it is normal either to see some behavior changes too at times.

Dr. Lisa Wow, that was just so much information! To make sure that I'm following — developmentally, kids are very self-referential. They're little narcissists. Everything is about them, right? Because of that, they can blame themselves, or feel a sense of responsibility, or guilt. That can be normal, and it needs to be really addressed directly. I'm also hearing you say that, because this is a loss, they will also commonly have really big emotions, sometimes it is sadness. 

But sometimes, that can look a lot of different ways. Anxiety, which turns into controlling behaviors. Anger, which can be difficult as a parent, and withdrawal, isolation, rejection of others. These are just symptoms, I guess, of these really super big feelings that are going on in kids. They need help from parents in order to be able to manage those. I'm so glad we're talking about this because we're both family therapists. Sometimes, you see kids…  And here come my air quotes. You can see this on the video if you're watching, but if you’re on audio you can't. My air quotes is that kids are behaving badly because they are doing weird controlling things. 

They are lashing out, or breaking rules, or being defiant, or not doing their homework, or stuff. It can be easy for parents to take a sort of like punitive approach with kids like they tried to start managing the “bad behaviors,” and sometimes miss the fact that there are big feelings. Normal, healthy, appropriate feelings. Do you see that in your work?

Dr. Amy: Often, when I work with families. Either I'm working with parents or a family that often we see behaviors, and we want to stop the behavior because they're not working for some reason. But often, if we're getting into fights, or we're really talking back or things like that make sense, as parents, we'd want to sort of stop that behavior. Often, those behaviors are a way of saying, “I don't really know what I'm feeling” or “I'm feeling something big, and I don't know how to express it” or “I'm trying to show you that I'm having those feelings.” Either way, we often pay maybe more attention to those big external behaviors. Those internal ones sort of have the same impact, even if we're keeping it all inside. 

We seem like we're functioning really well. Sometimes, those feelings are still all packed up, and maybe a tighter little bundle but they aren't coming out. But it's still important for those kids to have, the outlet and the space to talk about it, and to know that those feelings are okay and that they make sense. As parents, you're sort of still there of, “We care about you, we understand you can have those feelings. Let's figure out what we do about them.” Being able to recognize that it's not just the kids that act out, but sort of that act in, too, both wanting that support. Sometimes, it's easier to see the acting out as the problem behavior.

How to Tell Your Kids About Divorce

Dr Lisa: As opposed to the perfectionistic 14-year-old girl who's the star of the school play, and throwing up her lunch every day in the bathroom. Like that kind of… We miss that. The ones that hide. I'm hearing you say is that a lot of the outcome for kids really depends on the parents’ capacity and willingness to be that emotional partner in that place for kids. 

Certainly, a parent could send their kid off to therapy to have that one hour a week of talking about their feelings, or I'm sure a lot of the work that you do is really around that, as a parenting coach, helping parents learn how to engage with their children in a more emotionally substantive way. Do you… And I know that this is a podcast and beyond the scope of our 45 minutes together, whatever it is, and people… You do multi-sessions of family therapy around this. But what would be some of your recommendations or strategies to help parents just kind of reorient themselves and almost know how to be with their kids in a way that's helpful for their kids? 

Dr. Amy: Yeah! That was like very…  

Dr. Lisa: Oh, thank you for saying that because I just felt very convoluted as that came out of my mouth.

Dr. Amy: I think one of the first biggest tips is to recognize that even though you're, as a parent, being that emotional partner, like that support for your kids to process, sort of that recognition that it is a one-way street of you're there to support your kids feelings, but your kids aren't there to support yours. Sometimes, that's really hard because when we go through divorce, or we're thinking about our any of those process, as a person, there's a ton of feelings, and lots of things that come up, and we want support and validation. That makes perfect sense. When you're thinking of a kid that's maybe a little bit at the middle, we might want that reassurance that your kid does love you, or that they want to be with you. It's not necessarily your kid’s job to give that to you, or to hear the problems between parents. 

Wanting to be able to provide kids answers, provide kids information, without having it be their responsibility to take care of us because it's not a kid's responsibility to do, and that's a really big burden for a kid to carry. Doing things like saying, if a kid had a question, “Mom and dad have decided that we're not going to stay married together. We know that's a really hard thing to hear. We've been trying to figure it out, and it's not going to work for us. But we want you to know that we both still love you, and we care about you, and nothing's going to change. We're still going to be mom and dad.” Kind of providing that validation and information without making it their responsibility. That's sort of one of the steps is offering that support without doing that. 

The other thing is you can tell your kids that it's okay to have feelings like, “Actually, no! This is a really big change that we're going through, and it is going to be different. Do you have any questions? How do you feel about it. You can come talk to me at any time.” Maybe even checking in with them about things, and that's depending on the age. If we're old enough to do that, but as little kids too, just that reassurance that they're loved, and that it's not their fault. Answering those questions that they have. If they come to you and say… Maybe they say, “You know, I sometimes I feel angry.” Or I feel… Kids sometimes act out in their bodies like, “My tummy gets tight when I think about it.” That makes sense. 

It's okay. If you're angry with us right now, we made an adult decision, and that adult decision is impacting you. You can be angry at us, but we can talk about that. It's okay to do that. Saying whatever those emotions are coming up — same goes for sadness, or anything that they're feeling — that makes sense that you'd feel that way. This is really hard. Then, we can model those coping behaviors for our kids to, “What do we do when we're angry? Should we go get our pillow? We can hug our pillow really tight because no one gets hurt if we hug our pillow really tight.” Or “Is it that sometimes we just need a little extra cuddle time? Should we go read a story together?” There's also really great storybooks about families going through a divorce, like the things that won't change or… Families look all sorts of different ways. We've been having those kinds of resources available.

Dr. Lisa: Will you send me, If you think about it after we finished recording our interview, send me links to some of your favorite books, and I'll include them in the show notes of this podcast so people can find those links. But go on. This is great!

Dr. Amy: I will definitely send those links. Doing those things that make it normal, or even checking in with them. Sometimes,we might have family routines like we have pancake breakfasts on Saturdays, and that's something we've already done and you want to continue that tradition, and maybe you're doing it for the first couple times without their other parent being there and saying, “It's a little different that we're doing this. Just me and you now…” Or “…me and your siblings. How are y'all doing with that? Should we still do that?” So, kind of checking in on where they're at, “Do we want to maintain that? Does that feel really good?” Or “Do we need to switch to waffles, and have something new and something fun?” Big on breakfast food today. Kind of checking in on what is that's important. 

The other thing would be to the extent that your parenting agreement has. Kind of validating that… Of course it makes sense they would still want to talk to their other parent, or they still love their other parent. That makes sense. When we have two parents that are really good, safe parents, kids deserve to have that connection with both of them, and they want that. That kind of goes into just maybe a what not to do. Not bad talking their parent to them. 

Sometimes not saying anything is better than saying. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. We'll go back to that that we learned when we're kids. If we can't say something nice about their parent, don't say that they're a bad parent because what a kid can sometimes hear is that, “Well, if my two parents. I came from two parents. If one of my parents I'm hearing is really bad. What does that mean for me? Does that mean I have the bad? Or what does that mean?” Or “Is it bad that I want connection with this person that I still love them.” Being able to separate the conflict between parents, and then there's the relationship between kids and their parents. Those are not the same thing. Someone might not be the best spouse for you, or there might be thoughts every since that ended, and it doesn't mean they can't still be a good parent for your kids. So, trying to recognize and balance that for them as well.

Dr. Lisa: So much to unpack here. I heard you say that how to explain divorce to a child and how to tell your kids about divorce… It matters the way that you're describing what's happening, the way that you're communicating. That's something that parents can do to shape this experience for children is to get real clear and intentional about how am I talking about this.

My other takeaway from what you said is that it's incredibly important for parents to be very actively managing their own emotional turmoil in a way that helps them be not just emotionally present, but emotionally safe for their kids. Don't send the kids to therapy. You go to therapy. You have a place to talk about all these feelings of anger and rage, and hurt, and fear. That one-way street… Do not share that with your kids. It's your job as a parent to be a safe space for your children, to talk with you about how they're feeling. That your job is to invite that, and just be extremely validating and affirming, and make it okay to do that. 

I also heard you talk about the need to be really intentional about routines, and things that help children kind of maintain that sense of… I don't want to say sameness, but our new normal and positive ways, “This is the breakfast and dad's not here. That's kind of weird, but we can have pancakes anyway. You want to talk about how weird it feels that dad isn't here.” Without trying to  talk them out of their feelings. 

Dr. Amy: That's okay to feel weird. Weird isn't always bad. It's just weird. 

What is Parental Alienation?

Dr. Lisa: Okay. Moving on you were talking about… I think what is a really important topic…  Because it's almost like there's the short-term pieces of a divorcing family, divorcing parents around how do we manage the first conversations, the big feelings that might be occurring right around the time of the separation in those first few months. There's also this almost longer-term peace around the family dynamics that can start to happen when parents actually don't like each other, and sort of what to do with all that in a healthy way so that it doesn't begin to negatively impact the children and their feelings.  

For our listeners, in addition to other things, Dr. Amy is also an expert on the subject of parental alienation, and what all happens there. I think we were kind of dipping a toe into that pool a little bit around what happens when parents start talking about their negative feelings with their kids in a way that's really unhelpful for the children. I know, that's a big topic on its own. 

Can you share a little bit more about what do parents need to be keeping in mind when they are awash in big feelings that… Maybe your ex did cheat on you, maybe they were horrible to you through the divorce and hid assets, and are demanding, trying to litigate you out of existence. I mean, those things happen in yucky divorces. To be in a situation where you still need to be fairly positive with your child about their dad or mom or whatever. That's hard. Can you say more about this piece of experience like…

Dr. Amy: And it is still so hard. We talk sometimes about these solutions. When we're just sitting here having a conversation, they can sound so easy to do like, “Here's my step-by-step book.” They are so hard to do. It's more like the first step on the moon type step-by-step book. I do just want to say that it's not an easy thing to do, by any means. In recognizing that, sometimes we do have valid reasons why we might not like the other person all that much. I think one thing that's important to remember is they don't have to be a good partner for you. They don't have to be the right person for you to be with. They're always going to be your kids’ parents. We can't change who our parents are — a little bit of that recognition. 

Sometimes, we have to get a little creative. What can you do? Maybe there are situations where having an exchange for parents like, “I don't think I can see this person right now.” And have a good exchange for that. Maybe my sibling or your good friend, or whoever they do the drop-off, you have a neutral person. Maybe they're living with this new partner, and you're not ready to see that at all. We can't do those exchanges or drop-offs at their house. “Oh, let's meet at a coffee shop.” And have it be sort of a neutral territory. Being able to have those creative situations of knowing yourself, and maybe have to do a little bit of self-exploration to know those things for yourself. 

Saying, “I know I can't go into this situation and handle it well, then I'm not going to put myself and my kids in that situation. I'm going to figure it out on a creative other way to do that.” If there are situations where maybe there's those times we’re like, “If I have to answer something about my ex-partner, I'm not going to say anything nice.” You could say to your kid, “I'm really glad that you had a great visit with them” or “I'm glad that you still had a special time with mom or dad” or “That sounds like a really fun experience, I'm glad you got to do that.” 

Sometimes not saying anything about your own feelings, and then go have your person to go talk to it about, and whether that be your therapist, or your friend, or whoever your safe space is going to be like, “Oh my gosh, let me tell you everything that just drove me crazy…” Doing it not maybe outside the doorway where your kid is, where they can overhear. Kids are really good at hearing everything that goes on around. 

Finding your safe space and your safe person, and being able to have all of those emotions. In the moment, just saying what you can say and doing what you can. Sometimes, there's little tips in that too… Tends to be easier to drop a kid off versus pick them up. If one parent is posed to pick up, what if they come, and you're in the middle of something or it's hard or so being able to do the drop off on a scheduled time–-being able to follow that often.

If we're in an area where there's a lot of contention, or there's going to be a lot of disagreements, having a really clear parenting plan about what is or isn't allowed. It could be, “Are we allowed to FaceTime with our kids during the week?” If it is “Yes, you're allowed to have a video call every day” for either side when your kid isn't in your custody, you always have that fallback plan of “This is what we agreed to.” If one person's not following through on that, you have that safeguard. Sometimes, it's really thinking in advance of what do I want this to look like. 

Parenting plans can be very creative. Creating what you want it to be, with the exception of it's probably not going to be everything that you want it to be. Probably in an ideal world, you want your kids all of the time for it not to happen. Thinking of those priority things and being able to say, “Okay, we're each going to navigate that.” Sometimes, it's helpful to do a little bit of how do we effectively communicate with each other to whether… Maybe you go work with a therapist or a coach some time on. We don't need to solve all of our issues necessarily. We've decided we're not doing that. We do have to know how we can communicate effectively. And that's, “Can we do that? Can we at least get the skills to co-parent?” 

Even though we can divorce someone, they're still in our life for the rest of our life because they're in our kid's life. There's events like future weddings, or graduations or all of those milestones, they're going to be there. Finding out a way that we can maybe be around them without it ruining that whole event for you, it's so special as a parent. It can be really helpful too.

Divorcing with Kids

Dr Lisa: Again, so much good stuff. What I was thinking of just really briefly. As you're talking about like that parenting plan and the agreements. I don't know if you caught this, but there was a podcast — I think it was last year — excellent podcast with a family law attorney. Her name was Stephanie Randall. It was like how to have an amicable divorce. She just provided so much really great information for people to be thinking about, and just like ways of negotiating certain things like parenting plans in order to have it be as good as possible. I'll just refer our listeners back to that. 

What I heard you saying like emotionally, and relationally, for parents with kids is–-and this is a really simplified way — I think of saying it, no matter… In some ways, how bad things get for you, and how bad you feel that your job as a parent is really to insulate your child from that as much as you possibly can–-being very thoughtful and intentional about the things you share, and having a well-developed way of managing all of these feelings outside of the relationship with your kid. But also the high degree of emotional intelligence knowing, “This is a trigger for me, and I'm not even going to try to do a drop-off in this situation because I know I'm going to lose it.” Figuring out how you can solve the practical situation without putting yourself in a vulnerable situation emotionally. Like, there's so much there.

Dr. Amy: I'll say we're not going to get it right all the time probably. That's okay. Actually, we can model really great behaviors for our kids. Let's say, we did the drop-off, and you got really mad, and we argued, and the kid could even go back to them and be like, “Gosh, you know what? I thought about it, and in our drop-off, I got really mad that time. Did you see that? I had some big feelings too.” Or “I was really angry and I didn't handle that quite the way that I wanted, and I'm sorry that you saw your parents fighting like that. I want you to know that wasn't about you and that wasn't a ‘you’ thing. I'm going to try to do it differently in the future. I'm sorry that I acted like that.’ Sometimes, dad does make me mad, but that's okay. We're going to figure out where we go from there. 

Being able to apologize or model that of, “Yep, you're right. Sometimes we aren't going to do it perfect, and that's okay.” Really, that goal is that we're trying our best to get there, or we're doing our best, and maybe it gets easier over time, or we're a couple of years in and there's a thing or like, “Gosh, where did that come from? I thought those feelings weren’t there.” It's okay to figure that out, and that we can always try again. There's always the next day and we can try again the next day, and that's an okay thing too.

Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful. To direct very directly and explicitly, the creating emotional safety is by being authentic like, “Did you see me right there? Totally lost it.” And acknowledging what that was like for the child, but also modeling for the kid how we repair times when maybe we did make a mistake. 

In the back of my mind right now, I'm imagining that we have one of our listeners sitting with us right now in this conversation, who is one of these people who I know you and I have both worked with closely, Dr. Amy over the years, who is in a situation where they have maybe grave misgivings about the way that their ex does parent. They don't trust their ex to meet their kid’s needs. They're worried about their child, and they're part ex-partners care. 

I think a lot of times parents who are divorcing, that right there is the hardest thing for them because they have certain standards of parenting that maybe their ex isn't doing, or maybe it's not even about giving them candy and going to bed without brushing your teeth. But maybe the ex on the other side is actually bad-mouthing you to the kid and isn't trying to be as ethical emotionally with the children as you are being. 

Bad things are being said about you on the other side. Again, this is a big topic and we're not going to talk about everything in our short time together. I know people spend months with you trying to unpack all this. But do you have any basic ideas or thoughts that might be helpful, even just as a starting point for someone who is in this reality where they're trying real hard for their kids, and maybe their ex is slinging sauce and being mean, and being questionable? Do with that.

Dr. Amy: It is so hard because, on one hand, we can only control what we do. We can't make another person change, although sometimes that feels like it would be the easiest situation. There's sort of two scenarios you described. There's the one scenario of I don't really like how this person parents too. Maybe I have disagreements about it. The first question is, “Are your kids safe? If the answer is that they're not safe, you should step in and do something, and try to figure that out. Because we, as parents and professionals, we want kids to be safe, first and foremost. 

A lot of times, though, kids are safe and we don't like what's going on. Bedtimes a lot later than we think it should be, or they're eating a lot more sugar. In those cases, it's sort of… Let's pick our battles on that, if it's… This diet really is important for some reason. Maybe, here it is… Well, maybe then we need to negotiate that. But if it's, bedtime is 7 p.m. versus 8 p.m., and we don't like that it's 8 p.m., it's okay. Then we pick our battles on that because you're probably going to parent differently in different households, and that gets even more complicated if somebody gets remarried, or there's more kids added into the mix. 

Kids can kind of adapt between those two rules. Having routines or things for your own kids, when they come home like, “First night back, we do movie night,” or “We're going to have that meal together,” or whatever those routines are that you can establish. It's really helpful to provide that consistency or expectation for kids if they know what's going to happen. That can even be maybe that's not being done on the other side, but they know that routines there with you. That can be kind of grounding and hopeful. Doing what you can and helping that. 

Sometimes, it can be… I see it come up a lot of times of, “Are we going to church or not?” and that can be different, or maybe we have different political things we're telling our kids about, or different… Those value differences can be really hard to hear. Your kids are probably going to experience that sometime in their life too. We can practice it and be like, “Yeah, people really believe different things in this house. But we believe it's this, and this is what we've really been doing. You're right, that's different in that house.” That can be confusing. 

We need to talk about that more. Who can we find to talk about that? Sometimes that can be helpful. Sometimes, there's the other thing that you mentioned was really, when parents kind of bad-mouthing you or they're not doing any of these things.

Dr. Lisa: Or using the kids emotionally, or like doing all the things that you said to not do, right?

Dr. Amy: What we generally want to do is do the same thing back and to kind of defend ourselves. It makes sense of, “Well, they do that too” or, kind of we… 

Dr. Lisa: Let me tell you the truth.

Dr. Amy: What that does is it puts our kid in a very stuck position of having to choose sides. Kids don't want to pick sides, and that's really, really tough. Being able to say… came in and they're like, well, “so and so”, they said this, and it doesn't even have to be the other parent. It could be another step-parent or a grandparent, or anyone involved could be saying the negative things about you. “I really wish they hadn't said that to you. I'm going to tell you the truth, and the truth is that, ‘Yeah, we do disagree a lot,’ or ‘Mom and Dad, we don't get along very well.’ But one thing that's true is that we're both trying to love you.” Or they brought up a situation like “Oh, you don't like this” or “We can't do this because of you. Dad said that.” 

Well, you can own your truth and be like, “Gosh, I don't know why dad would say that, but I love this. Here's what I actually think is true for me.” And then sort of period. Stop. Don't go to the… say your dad is wrong, or they're saying that, but sort of owning or mom's wrong, “No, actually, this is what's true.” Sometimes you can even provide the data to choose it like, “Well, mom said we can't pay for the soccer game” and be like, “You know, you're right! I don't have the money for that, and that's really hard….” because sometimes money looks different, “That's right. But it's not because I don't love you, or isn't because I don't want to pay for that. It's just I can't really afford that right now. Maybe we can think about how we could do it in the future.” 

Being able to acknowledge what's true and what's your truth, and providing that consistency and stability that you can do, and kind of being there for that. Recognizing…  Again, you probably need to go to that safe person to handle that. While we want to be those people for our kids, getting a professional involved for your kids, and getting them to see a therapist can also be helpful during that time, particularly in that high conflict to say, “You don't have to try to take care of Mom or Dad. This is an adult that’s safe, and you can talk to it. You can talk about all of those confusing feelings.” And that kid doesn't have to worry about hurting anybody's feelings that are saying the wrong thing. They just have a safe space, and they can get the coping tools, and they can navigate it, and they can be honest about what's coming up. That can be really, really helpful for kids as well.

Malicious Parent Syndrome

Dr. Lisa: I could totally see. That would be definitely an argument. Get the kid therapy so that they don't have to try to take care of anybody emotionally, and can just feel what they feel and figure out their own truth. That's a good reminder. Just what a difficult situation, though, emotionally. As I heard you talking about how a thoughtful parent could handle those situations where maybe they are being bad-mouthed on the other side is that to balance how maybe good it feels to say, “Yeah, I can't pay for soccer because your father hid his retirement assets. When we…” The whole truth, versus this idea of, “It is not good for my kid to hear negative things about either of us. It's not good for my kid for me to say bad things about their other parent, even if I am completely justified.”

Doing so…  And that would… Is something that can be challenging to get to. There's a sort of other corollary here. I don't want to spend our time together without talking about this just a little bit because I know that parental alienation is a very real thing. I know you're an expert on this topic. This is a situation when there has been a lot of negativity or bad-mouthing about one parent from the other. It does have an impact. Can you say a little bit more about what parental alienation is, and how to manage it?

Dr. Amy: It's a really tough area. I'll say parental alienation exists on a spectrum. Often, when we talk about it, we talk on like, the worst-case scenario, situation of parents that are safe, good loving parents that don't have any access to their children for some way, or the kid has sort of turned against them, even though they are good safe parents. That's one sort of caveat, when we're talking about it that parental alienation really only exists when there's two parents that should have contact with their children. In situations where there was any abuse or neglect, that's not parental alienation to not have your kid have contact with them. 

That's being safe. It's one definitional point is that it's between when there's two safe parents, and that it can exist on any spectrum from that kind of bad-mouthing and confusion creating, and that can go really big to kids saying, “Well, I'm not going to go to your visitation” or “I'm not going to do that.” One of those things can be protective is, again, going back to those, legal orders that we have in those protected rights of saying, “You actually have to do this, or this has to be done” because sometimes what happens is you don't get to go to visitation or the kid is gonna say, “I don't want to go” or “I don't want to answer the phone.” 

The courts can be used as a way to kind of, “Nope, this is the order. This is what we're doing.” Having that safe ground and being intentional in how you create it can help, and navigating…   

That sort of navigating that support. There are cases I've worked with where people 

don't have contact with their kids at that point and that is just heartbreaking to do. Sometimes, the best we can do is try to maintain that consistency. 

One of the things we know that doesn't work is to do the same behaviors. On the other end of things, and sometimes, kids get to be adults, or they can change in the future. Recognizing that it was really hard, and it's really tricky, trying to navigate that continual contact, “I'm still here, I'm still showing up for you.” That looks different in different contexts of there's a little kid versus a teenager showing up might look very different. But often, it's very… 

Let's go to the preventative: Can we figure out where that's coming from? Can we do some couples work together? Or if I'm just having that time, I can… You can disagree with behaviors without bad-mouthing another person and say, “I really wish mom or dad wouldn't say those things, and I really hope that you can trust that what I'm telling you is what's true for me. We only get to say what's true for ourselves. I want you to know that I love you and I care about you, and I have fun.” 

Providing that alternate balance to kids can be really helpful, or not pushing back. The kid says, “I don't want to see you right now.” It's really hard to do these transitions, isn't it? “But right now, it's our parenting time. So, what are we going to do?” And kind of navigating through that. We've been figuring out if they say, “Where is it coming from or handling her?”, that gives us ideas of how do we move forward. Often, that alienating back doesn't work, or it will be met with resistance, or be used to confirm things even, and recognizing again that it's a full spectrum of anywhere. 

They don't always all go to those worst-case scenarios. I think that's a helpful thing to remember that they do. It's tragic and awful when that happens, and that they don't always or we can prevent it earlier on sometimes as well.

Dealing with Parental Alienation Syndrome

Dr. Lisa: That said that parental alienation is on a spectrum. There's sort of shades of grey. It's when one parent is very negative towards the other, and actually influences the child to think badly about the other parent to the point where it impacts their ability to have a relationship with that other parent. 

I've heard some people saying, “It feels like they're brainwashing my kid against me!” All of this, and you're saying to not use the same tactics about trying to talk back, but just really consistently like sticking to the visitation as much as possible. If the child is maybe like a teenager or something. He's like, “No, I'm not getting in the car!” To just find ways of just consistently showing up to the degree that you can so that your kid knows that you're not giving up on them. You're still there. 

Even if right now they might be under the influence of somebody who's highly negative, they'll grow up, and maybe have the opportunity to re engage and make up their own minds. That sort of summarize that.

Dr. Amy: I think that's great. I would also say, in those cases, get support for yourself as well because there's so much outside of your control, and there is so much grief and pain. To go through those experiences, that's traumatic for a parent. To have that support in place for you. as well is so important to be able to just… Because it's confusing, and it's disorienting and lost. I think that it's really important to be able to have your personal support system. Do the things that are right for you as well, but also have that sort of professional area where you can get that support and guidance, and have that space for yourself is really important too.

Co-parenting

Dr. Lisa: Can I ask you a question? Have you ever seen… I haven't but I'm wondering if you have because you have more experience than I have in this area. If there is a dynamic where one parent is really highly negative about the other, “Your father is the devil!” And is really like using their kids and manipulating their kids emotionally in an unhealthy way. 

Have you ever seen the parent on the other side be able to make contact with the parent who is being really destructive in a way that is able to help that destructive parent understand what they're doing, or work through the anger and pain that may be at the root of the lashing out on the negativity? Is there anything you've seen that works? Because that's like the source, right? Or is it just?

Dr. Amy: I think then, it doesn't always hurt to try. Sometimes, it gets so complicated in these cases of is it just from the other parent? There's so many other people. It can happen from a step-parent bad-mouthing someone or a grandparent. Some of it's sort of where is it coming from. Some of it's the why is it coming from. Sometimes it's, “Do we not know? Is it intentional? Where's that?” 

I think every person probably knows their situation better than I can hypothesize right now for each person listening. Being able to say, “Does it feel like reaching out?” or even saying “I don't know that we're doing this co-parenting thing well. Can we get some help on how we do it better?” Navigating those systems. Sometimes works well, sometimes those… Maybe they didn't listen to the podcast, or they don't have those information. It's not an intentional thing to happen. 

Dr. Lisa: So, they don’t know how destructive it is. They don't know.

Dr. Amy: A lot of times when it's, I say, “I don't know” or “I'm coping poorly”, those cases, there could be a lot of potential for that. There are also cases that we go to that more extreme end, where it is more intentional in nature. Maybe not always intentional consciously, but we're really doing this, or I want that custody or different things that happen in those cases. Probably there'll be less success in those areas as someone's trying to do it. 

Say, again, it's very complex, and there's so much different layers or different ways, say, no two cases really look alike, the being able to kind of figure out what's your area, and what's the sort of step forward that's going to work for you and trying to understand that is so key to do. Trying to recognize that not everyone’s story… You can go onto Google, and you see all the horror stories, see all the great stories, and recognizing that that support is wonderful, and finding that support for yourself. 

Seeing like, just because that's what this person experienced doesn't mean it's going to be what I'm going to experience and kind of holding that balanced perspective for yourself as well.

Dr. Lisa: No, I hear what you're saying. We can certainly find the darkest of the dark corners: Power, and control, and narcissists intentionally manipulating things. The thing all of its… But maybe a note to end on. Certainly, if listening to podcasts like this around what is actually best for kids emotionally when you're going through this and just helping people become educated, and how to manage their own feelings in a way that helps their child even if they're hurting. That would be a start. 

On that note, do you have other books or resources that other people or people listening could kind of learn more about these topics — how to be safe emotionally for kids, any other information on the impact of… I want to say negativity on children and sort of healthy boundaries for people in these situations. You might even send to an ex in the mail or something. What are books or resources would you recommend?

Dr. Amy: I’ll send… they send you a list versus the ones that just popped into my mind can leave you with a little storybooks too. I think that often there's some good websites. Looking at sort of any of these. There's a lot of parenting data out there that's not really research-based. Going with the ones that are really rooted in research tends to be the best.

Dr. Lisa: A blogger with a strong opinion is not always okay.

Dr. Amy: I think that a lot that have developmental perspectives can be really helpful because the way you're going to talk to a four-year-old is going to look very different than an eight or nine-year-old versus a 13-year-old versus a 19-year-old. Divorce can impact kids very differently at different ages. When you're looking for those resources, really wanting to be, “I'm not reading a book about divorcing with an elementary school kid if I have high schoolers.” It's going to be different. 

If you have three different ages of kids, you might want to read three different books on how to support kids differently. A lot of that I'd say that the emotional intelligence parenting too or sort of looking into those resources are helpful for any parent, and being able to have these emotion conversations. But they tend to be really helpful in guiding it about how do we talk to kids about divorce. I can certainly send over a list of specific titles and things. If you want to link that to be great,

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful, I will put your reading list in the show notes of today's episode, and that will be on growingself.com. We're going to be calling this episode, Divorce and Children. It'll be growingself.com/divorce-and-children. I'll be sure to put links to your recommended books and articles. 

Dr. Amy, thank you so much again, just for taking the time to talk through all this with me. I know it's a complex subject, but you shared so much information in such a short amount of time. I know it was helpful for a lot of people listening, so thank you. 

Dr. Amy: Well, thank you so much for having me. To everyone listening, I just want to say I really commend you for even taking that first step to get the information and resources. The fact that you clicked on a podcast to listen to it says that you really want to be there for your kids and to do that. 

Hopefully, there's been some good advice or some good resources, or even food for thought about next steps. I think that even listening to the podcast, and wanting to get that resource says that you care a lot about your kids. I just want to share that too. Dr. Lisa, thank you so much for having me as well. It was an honor to be able to be here today.

Dr. Lisa: This was fun and ditto. “Yay” to you mom and dad for trying so hard. Dr. Amy, thank you so much for saying that so beautifully. Thank you.
Dr. Amy: Thank you

Feeling Emotionally Invalidated By Your Partner?

Emotional Invalidation

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Feeling Invalidated

Hi there. Are you reading this “advice from a marriage counselor” article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of attempting to communicate that you invalidate feelings or they feel emotional invalidation and that they would like this to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I'm the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before impulsively texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: we all invalidate our partners accidentally. I'll bet you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.

Emotional Invalidation

How do I know that you're feeling emotionally invalidated sometimes too? First of all, I've been a marriage counselor and relationship coach for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings and conflict. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has actually been a diagnosable sociopath and/or narcissist. But I will save that tale for another day.)

Secondly, I've also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I'm a marriage counselor! I should know better! And To. This. Day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad. More than once I have had to apologize for making him feel like I don't care, despite the fact that I love him very much. 

But I'm working on it and it's better than it used to be. You can do the same. On today's episode, I'm talking all about emotional invalidation and what to do when you're feeling invalidated to make it stop. Listen below or scroll down for show notes and a full transcript of today's episode.


Emotional Invalidation

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Emotional Invalidation: Episode Highlights

Step One: Let's Define “Invalidate”

First of all, let's talk a little about what “invalidation” means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you (a) don't understand them or their feelings or (b) if you do understand, you don't care. The impact of this original invalidation will then generally make your partner swing one of two ways, towards either hostility or withdrawal and emotional shut down. Neither of those are good.

In order to not invalidate feelings anymore you need to be self-aware of when it's happening, and what you're doing to cause it. This is the hard part, because almost nobody is intentionally trying to make their partner feel diminished or unimportant when it happens. If you call an invalidating person on it in the moment, they usually get really defensive and start sputtering about how “that's not what I meant” and protesting that their intentions were good. 

Again, except in the case of narcissists (see link above) this is true. Emotional invalidation is generally unintentional. So, no need to beat yourself up if you've been unintentionally hurting someone you love. But you do need to take responsibility for how our actions impact others. We all do.

So let's get familiar with what invalidation actually looks like so that you can become more self aware. Emotional invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. 

Let's review.

“It wasn't that bad. You're Overreacting.”

Types of Emotional Invalidation

Now, take a deep breath and non-defensively read through the following descriptions of “emotional invalidators” and see if you can spot yourself. 

See if you can spot the invalidating behaviors your partner uses. (They are in there, I'm sure). 

But again, the hard part is recognizing your own. Bonus points if you can think of other ways you might be invalidating sometimes that I haven't put down here. The possibilities are limitless!

But here are some of the “usual suspects.”

Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don't pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C'est moi! I totally do this.)

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”

You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. Newfoundland! What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices.]

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Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner's perspective.

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”

You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”

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Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. 

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

Them: “No, Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.”

You: “You need exercise, Timmy. Be back before dinner.”

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Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer's market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”

You: “Pfft. NO. That is so boring, why would anyone want to do that? Personally, I'm busy anyway. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

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Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people's feelings, or argue that other's feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

You: “You shouldn't be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”

You some more: “….That's not what I meant. We can try again next month. The doctor said that this could happen for the first time….”

If this conversation sounds even remotely familiar… I'm glad we're here right now!

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Fixit Invalidators: Then, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions — having zero idea they are making things infinitely worse by doing so.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”

You: “She's just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I'll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”

Does this sound like something you might say?

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Owner of the Truth Invalidators: Lastly, there are the reflexive “that's not what happened” invalidators who pride themselves on being rational and who sincerely believe that their subjective experience is the yardstick of all others. If it didn't happen to them, it is not a thing. A kissing-cousin of codependency, this type of invalidator will often follow up their original invalidation by explaining to you how you, actually, are the one with the problem.

Example of a Truth Owner in Action:

Them: “I am feeling really invalidated by you right now.”

You: “I am not invalidating you. You were just telling me that your day was hard and you're feeling overwhelmed, and I know for a fact that you shouldn't be feeling that way because it wasn't that bad. You just need to get more organized. You're overreacting.”

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Good times, right? Yes, there are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. This is just a small sample of the many ways, shapes, and forms emotional invalidation shows up in relationships. There are many more. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you.

Next, now that we've “cultivated self awareness,” as we say in the shrink-biz, we're going to talk about how to stop doing that, and start helping your partner feel validated instead.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of emotional invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it's so important.

What is “Validation” Anyway?

So, what is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. It requires empathy. Empathy happens when you really get how others see things, and that you support them in their perspective — even if you do not share their perspective. 

Because empathy is such a foundational skill in so many areas of Love, Happiness and Success, the development of empathy is often a big part of what is happening in emotional intelligence coaching, personal growth work, as well as couples counseling. Empathy requires intention, but it's incredibly powerful when you start really getting it.

This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts, feelings, and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a happy, healthy relationship.

Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what's going on, when you hear that it feels like you're accepted by the person you're with and that it's okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).

Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. 

As I'm sure you know. Incidentally, if you have been feeling like your partner is emotionally reactive and unnecessarily hostile towards you, it can actually be an important clue that you've been making them feel invalidated without realizing it. (Read, “Twelve Effective Ways to Destroy Your Relationship” for more on this and other common relationship mistakes.)

So if you work towards being more validating, you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks but your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.

Step Three: Validate Feelings Intentionally, Through Practice

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. 

In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner's perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.

The good news is that it's not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it's important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.

Here's what my perspective of me being invalidating (and then trying to practice validation) looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I'm not really connecting with what he is saying. He's talking about his day at work, and how he's not feeling great. And now he's going on and on about this guy he works with who's super annoying, and incompetent, and how he's thinking about taking the day off tomorrow to go take photos and how he might drive out towards the mountains, and now he's talking about this new video game that he started playing with our son, and how there are these avatars that build sawmills and jump over sharks and there are dances (or something) and …

….I've now officially zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Mountains…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He's still talking but I'm now having an entirely internal experience. I know he's still there, but it's the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons. I am now entirely absorbed by my own thoughts rather than what he is saying, but not on purpose.

Sometimes he can tell when I'm not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I'm saying?” Only then do I realize that what he was talking about felt important to him, and I made him feel bad. He's annoyed. He should be.

Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn't important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.

But like you, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn't making him a priority at that moment, but indulging my own self-absorbed thoughts instead of really deliberately tracking what he was saying to me. (If you, too, have a tendency towards adult ADHD, I'm sure you can relate.)

In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it's a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. I think about how he might be feeling and ask about that. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged. In short, I am using communication skills and empathy to help him feel validated.

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps. So does managing your expectations that your partner can or should be perfectly perfect at validating your feelings all of the time.

But truthfully, if you want to stop making someone else feel invalidated it requires a certain level of courage and humility. It's hard to think about, “What's it like to live with me” and really allow yourself to understand, deeply, what you do and how it makes your partner feel. I think that embracing personal responsibility without being defensive is one of the hardest things to do in a marriage, and helping other people move into this receptive, honestly reflective space is often the hardest thing for me to do as a marriage counselor. That's why I wanted to model this for you.

How to Validate Someone's Feelings

Every flavor of invalidation has an antidote that's a little different. Just as there are infinite ways to invalidate feelings, there are many strategies for how to validate someone's feelings too. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly, here are some pointers:

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner's feelings and perspective as important to you as your own. Not easy to do. It requires emotional strength, the ability to be honest with yourself, and the willingness to grow in service of your relationship. But it is so worth it.

Now, please send this post and episode back to your partner so they can think about what THEY need to be working on in order to help you feel more heard, valued, and understood by them. 

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

The music in this episode is “Dive” by Beach House from their album “7”. You can support them and their work by visiting their website or on Bandcamp. Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.

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[Intro music: “Dive” by Beach House, from their album “7”]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hey friends. Today, on the show, we're going to be talking about something that we need to talk about. It is a silent killer of many relationships. You may be experiencing this on your own. It's feeling invalidated. Either you might be listening to this because you are feeling routinely invalidated by your partner, which is hard, or perhaps you are listening to this because your partner is telling you that you are making them feel invalidated. 

This is a really significant issue and one that we need to address together. So that's going to be the focus of our time together today, is talking about what invalidation is, why it happens, and most importantly, what you can do to either feel heard and understood by your partner in your relationship or potentially do a better job of helping your partner feel validated and respected by you. 

If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you found us. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am your host. I am also the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. But what I love doing more than anything else is helping people improve their relationships. I am very married. I've been married for a long time. I've also just worked as a counselor and a coach for so many years. 

Just one of, I think, my main takeaways from all of this life experience is that truly, our wellness, our happiness, our health comes from the quality of our relationships largely. That's why so often on this podcast, I want to talk about things that can help you improve your relationships. Because when our relationships feel strong and successful, everything just feels so much easier in our lives. We feel better emotionally. We have more fun. We have a nicer time. We have a strong foundation from which to launch off and do amazing things. So I am a relationship person. 

That's what we're talking about today is in the love quadrant: what you can do to increase the emotional safety in your relationship. I think that that's one of the things that happens when invalidation is present in a relationship is that it really erodes the emotional safety between you and your partner. And ugly things can start happening in a relationship when people aren't feeling safe, and respected, and heard, and understood. That's what happens when invalidation is a frequent issue in a relationship. 

What Is Validation?

To just dive into our topic today, first of all, allow me to just take a couple of minutes to orient you to validation, what it means, why it's important, to set the stage. When I am talking about either validation or invalidation, to validate someone, it means that you're helping them feel understood by you, that you get whatever they're sharing, you are accepting what they are telling you about how they feel. In that space, also, helping them feel cared for by you, that they're not just saying something and dropping a stone into a well. 

There's this response. You get them. You understand how they see things. You can see the situation through their eyes. Also, there's the sense that their perspective is supported by you. I also want to say that in a truly healthy, vibrant relationship, there is always some diversity of thought. We're not partnered with clones of ourselves, right? People can have different perspectives, different opinions. But there's this sense of fundamental respect for each other's perspectives, even if it is different from yours. It's like this: “Yeah, you know when I look at it that way, I can see why that makes sense.” 

Just think about it. When somebody says that to you, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” I've had friends in my life just naturally say things like that to me in conversation, and it's the relational equivalent of somebody just walking up to you and just folding a warm, soft blanket around your shoulders. “Yes, that makes sense. You make sense. Your feelings make sense. I can see why you feel that way. I would feel that way too if I were in that situation.” It's just like this, “Ah, thank you so much for saying that.” It's just such a nice experience to have.

I think that we all crave that from our partners from time to time. Again, that's a cornerstone of emotional safety. Now, if the phrase emotional safety is a new one for you, I would encourage you to scroll back through my podcast archive. I have done a podcast episode on emotional safety, specifically, where I talked a lot about that concept and how important it is in healthy relationships, and would encourage you to check out that episode if you'd like to explore more about all the different elements of emotional safety. Keep in mind that to be able to validate someone's feelings is an incredibly important part of that. 

When we're creating emotionally safe relationships, and when we are validating people that we love, it is, again, it's like this experience that people are having with us, that we accept them, that we value them, we respect them for who they are. We think that their thoughts, and feelings, and preferences are important. They're important to us, right? In that context, over communicating that regularly, through the way we're communicating and the way that we're interacting with our loved ones, it just creates this very loving and supportive relationship. That's a foundational component. 

How Does Emotional Invalidation Happen?

I have to tell you, as a marriage counselor, 95% of the time, when a new couple drops into the practice, and they’re, “We'd like to work on our relationship.” “Okay, great. What's going on?” 95% of the time, it is some variation of communication. “We're not communicating as well as we'd like to. Communication feels hard.” When you dig into that, like, “Okay, what about communication is feeling hard right now,” invariably, one, often both partners are not feeling validated. It's not that the words coming out of each other's mouths are not terribly problematic in and of themselves. 

It's that they're not getting a validating response from their partner. The problem with communication is that they are not feeling like their partner hears them or understands them. They're feeling like their partner is misinterpreting their intentions. They say something well-intentioned, well-meaning, their partner takes it the wrong way. Here's something that they are trying to say that is interpreted very negatively, that is responded to in an angry way. Or they're feeling like their partner just doesn't have empathy for their perspective, or slaps whatever they're trying to share out of their hands, or making them feel uncared for, or that their feelings or perspectives aren't important in that moment. 

That is very much about a validation issue. Because validation, really, at its core, is around having empathy for the other person. Being able to accurately understand their feelings, understand their intentions, and then reflecting back to that person: “Yeah, I can understand that. I'm not sure that I see it exactly the same way. But when I look through it, at the situation through your lens, I can understand that. Also, I understand that this is important to you. And I understand that you are actually feeling this way.” 

I think the other big meta message within that is “I love you, and this, whatever this is, is important to you. You care a lot about this. This is making you feel a certain way. Because you are important to me, I care about it too because I care about you.” Again, it's just this whole experience of being cherished when we're talking about validation and how impactful it is. So many arguments, again, start this way. If we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, almost all of the time, these arguments begin with one person feeling invalidated by the other. 

When that happens, when anyone feels invalidated, the natural response to this is to escalate your efforts to be understood, which often sounds like yelling, am I right? If you say, “Yeah, I feel this way,” and the response you get from your partner's like, “That's wrong.” Right? “That didn't happen, or no, it's not that big of a deal.” That, I think, makes all of us say, “No, you don't understand. No, this is true. This is happening.” All of a sudden, we're really fighting to be understood, aren't we? We are not fighting to win. We are not fighting to control. We are fighting to be heard and to feel like we're cared about, to feel like we're important. 

So the other thing that happens, so one person feels invalidated, and then they escalate, “No, I really need you to understand this.” Then, what also happens is that the invalidator, the person who originally came out with a less than ideal response, will double down on defending their position and will defend their invalidating behaviors. “No, that's not what I said. That's not what I meant. Why are you making such a big deal out of this? This always happens when we talk about your mom or your job,” or whatever it is, right? 

How Fighting to be Heard is Invalidation

When this starts to happen, one person is like, “No, I really need you to understand how I'm feeling right now.” The other person is like, “That's dumb.” It can get extremely ugly, so fast. I think everybody within the sound of my voice right now has had this experience at one point or another in their relationship. I know that I certainly have. Truth be told, if we're all going to move towards healthy humility here, I think that our partners have probably felt this way with us from time to time. 

I think that when we are fighting to be heard, we are experiencing invalidation. We're not getting the response that we want. We are really looking for comfort, or connection, or reassurance, and when that isn't what we're getting, right? It feels bad. I think it is very, very easy to miss the moments that we are accidentally and unintentionally making other people feel that way with us. Because I have to tell you, it is so easy to do. When I sit with a couple in marriage counseling, or couples therapy, or whatever it is, and unpack all of this at the core, I do not find narcissists. I do not find sociopaths. I do not find people who are irredeemable and incapable of having healthy relationships. 

What I find are people who are simply unaware of the impact that they are having on others just because they're in a different place, or they're not fully understanding how important that particular moment is. It's just all these missed opportunities to connect. I have been so guilty of that in my own life. I think that chances are, if we are going to be humble and with healthy humility here together, you could probably reflect on some moments in your own life when you have unintentionally done the same. 

The reason why I want to talk about this part for a second is because one of the easiest ways to just melt away all that defensiveness, and restore emotional safety, and increase love and validation all around, is when we can be humble and reflect on our own process because it helps us be more emotionally safe. It helps us be more validating and responsive to our partners, and I think it also helps us handle the moments when we are feeling invalidated by someone else. 

It helps us handle those moments so much more effectively because we can shift away from that automatic response of, “You just totally invalidated me. I'm going to be mad at you.” “No, that's not what I said. I'm going to start fighting to be heard.” We can shift out of that and into a much more helpful and respectful way of getting our emotional needs met in that moment when we are able to stay soft, and empathetic, and emotionally generous with our partners, and make an effective repair attempt, which is, “You know, let me try that again. I feel like maybe you didn't fully understand what I was trying to communicate to you in this moment and how important it is for me right now just to feel heard by you, and respected by you, and understood by you. So I'm going to have a redo.”

Particularly, if you and your partner have had the opportunity to work on some of this stuff together in couples counseling, or relationship coaching, like it's not the first time they've had this conversation with you, it immediately orients them back to, “Oh, this is one of those moments when you're not looking for me to do anything. You are not attacking me. You are not presenting me with a problem that I need to solve. I don't have to be defensive right now. This is one of these moments when you're just trying to connect with me emotionally. I can do that. So thank you for giving me another go at this so that I can be a better partner for you right now. Because I love you, and you're important to me, and that is what I want to do. Okay? Okay, so let's do this again.”

Then, you can literally have a redo with your partner, where there is a different outcome. That outcome is one where you feel loved, and cared for, and respected, and supportive, and have had the opportunity to share your feelings about something that's on your mind, and not have it turned into an argument. It turns into a conversation where you just get to share and be heard. Maybe that is 100% the goal. That's fantastic. No other action is required. We do not have to change anything. We do not have to fix anything. You got to say it. It was received, and we're done. That's fantastic. 

Other times, I think another component of validation can be attached to, “I'm feeling this way, and I would like to find a solution to this problem because I'm feeling bothered by the situation. I'd like to have a productive conversation with you where we could maybe just talk about different ways of handling this because I don't like feeling the way that I'm feeling right now. So I'm just hoping that we can sort through this.” When there is validation happening on both sides, it isn't just you saying, “I have a problem, and we need to fix that because I'm not okay, right now.” 

It turns into, “Let me tell you about how I'm experiencing this situation and help me feel like you understand what I'm saying. Now tell me how you are feeling in this situation and what you see is the ideal outcome or different options here.” Because when you are being intentionally validating, and respectful, and supportive, you start asking your partner questions like that. “I'm not the only one in this relationship. You might have a totally different perspective here. Tell me more about how you see this, or how you've been feeling in these situations. How are you experiencing me when this stuff happens?”

Because in that space of emotional safety, when you are able to validate your partner and help them feel really understood and cared for by you, they will tell you how they're feeling because they trust you. You're not going to freak out when they tell you how they're actually feeling. But if there isn't that trust in your relationship, they won't tell you. The trust has been broken to the point that people do not feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling with each other. 

Overcoming Emotional Invalidation

We think of trust many times as something that is broken through betrayal. There's an affair or there's some catastrophic lying going on in a relationship, and that can certainly damage trust. But there are many more subtle kinds of betrayals of trust that I think people don't fully recognize or understand the significance of because they're subtle, and a betrayal of trust that happens all the time. 

Unintentionally, nobody's doing this on purpose. But when someone tells you how they really feel, or what they need, or what their hopes are, or what is upsetting them even, and when that is invalidated, or dismissed, or rejected, or reacted to with hostility or contempt, it is a betrayal of trust. The message that people receive is, “I don't care about how you feel. I disrespect your experience right now. I reject this.” What happens is, they're like, “Okay, cool, noted. I am never doing that again. The next time you ask me how I'm feeling, I don't think I want to enter into that ring of emotional intimacy with you because I don't trust you enough to tell you how I really feel right now.” 

This is hard. This is, I think, a place where I find with many couples, I often need to stay for a fairly significant period of time in couples counseling or in relationship coaching, because people really do not understand the impact that they are having on each other. Again, and I say this as someone who has done exactly the same thing, we all get so focused on our own perspective, our own needs, and whether or not they are being met in a relationship, and whether or not we are feeling validated, or getting the response that we want. 

We get very hyper-focused on what is happening in that regard and really miss the systemic nature of relationships, which is, “When I'm feeling that way, what do I do? How do I approach my partner? How do I engage with them?” Because especially people who perceive themselves as really fighting for their relationships, fighting to have greater emotional intimacy or greater connection, have no idea how scary or emotionally unsafe or even threatening they themselves are being in these moments when they feel like they're seeking emotional intimacy. 

I'm going to do a whole other podcast on that topic, that concept, specifically, around emotional intimacy and what to do when we're feeling lonely and disconnected in a relationship. So more on that topic to come soon. Just that one takeaway from today would be to ask yourself: Are you validating your partner? Are they feeling invalidated by you in those moments? Or has trust been broken in the past that accidentally trained them to hide from you, and to not communicate with you, and to not tell you how they're really, really feeling even though you want them to, but something has happened, where they feel like they can't? 

That's a really, really common thing that happens in relationships. It is frequently due to that primary issue of people feeling invalidated or rejected by each other in these potentially tender moments of connection. 

What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like in Action?

With that in mind, I would really like to turn this conversation to talking a little bit about understanding what invalidation looks like in action so that we ourselves can be more conscious of the times that we're doing it and then, also have a little bit more empathy or understanding for the times when our partners may be doing that to us without fully realizing it. Because empathy is so key. 

To begin, when invalidation is happening, what we are communicating, what is happening is that people feel like we don't understand them. We are misinterpreting them. We are taking what they are saying, and then running it through our own filter of meaning, and coming up with something different than what they were trying to communicate to us that they don't feel understood. Or that if we do understand what they're saying conceptually, we don't care about their feelings. Not that we don't care, but that we are rejecting it, and it can be very, very subtle, you guys.

It could be like, “I'm sure they didn't mean that when they said X, Y, Z. You're probably just overreacting.” Those kinds of things, which might be true. I don't know. But the truth of what is happening or not happening is so insignificant that the truth of what's happening is that your partner is actually trying to tell you how they are feeling, emotionally, in this present moment. You have just been offered the gift of trust and emotional intimacy. What are you going to do with that? 

Are you going to make them feel like you don't understand, or they're stupid, or their feelings are ridiculous or not important, or they're being overreactive, or they're just not thinking about this the right way? Because that doesn't feel good. We all know how that feels, right? It is not good. Or are they going to be leaving whatever interaction they just had with you feeling like, “I love them so much because they love me.” Just feeling loved. In order to improve this experience, we need to be self-aware of when it's happening and what we are potentially doing to cause it.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

There are different flavors of invalidation. We all have our unique styles, I think. When I am being invalidating to my husband, I'm usually doing it in one of a couple of ways. So let me just run through these types of invalidating behaviors. See if you can see yourself in any of these and maybe if some of these are true for your partner. 

Inattentive Invalidators

One, and I think this is probably the most common, and this is the one that I am so guilty of, is an inattentive invalidator. These types of invalidators, they're just not paying attention when their partner is talking about something important. Oh my gosh, I can so easily do this, because I don't know what you're like. Me, I'm just kind of usually zooming along at 900 miles an hour. I am a habitual multitasker. I know it's not good to do that. But I am doing the dishes while I'm on the phone with somebody, and I'm thinking about five things that are happening.

Sometimes in these moments, this is when my husband wants to tell me about something. What happens is, they will say, “Oh, I had such a day. I'm not feeling good. I think I might be getting sick.” Then, you might say — by you I mean me — you’d be like, “You know what, I was just thinking that we should go on a trip to Canada.” Or, “Oh did I tell you that Julie called. She was thinking that we might go camping this… Would you want to do that?” So, I am now picking up my phone and researching campsites or travel reservations. 

My husband just said something totally unrelated to that. He was trying to tell me something about how he felt. It triggered an idea in my mind, or I wasn't really paying attention to the impact of what he was trying to say. Because there can be emotional connotations to certain things that people say. They're very easy to miss unless we're really paying attention. So he, in that moment, felt like I was totally disconnected from what he was trying to communicate, which I was. It's just because I wasn't fully present. 

I was kind of thinking about something, and he said something, and I had a random thought in my head and just sort of impulsively acted on it. I'm nowhere near where he is in terms of what he's trying to communicate or what he is needing for me in that moment. It’s not intentional. It’s not like I'm trying to harm him in those moments. I'm not mad at him. It's just really a simple lack of attention. I, in order to be a better partner, need to slow down sometimes. Also, one of the things that I have found over the years, and I see this routinely with the couples that I work with too, is to be able to set some boundaries or guidelines around these conversations. 

When I can tell that he is trying to communicate about something that might be more important, and I am not in a headspace where I can do that. I have a crisis situation at work that I'm thinking about or needing to deal with and that maybe he doesn't know about that, right? So he's trying to talk to me all of a sudden, and I have learned to say, “I want to hear all about this. Can you give me 15 minutes? I need to take care of this. I need to X, Y, Z or whatever.” Then, 15 minutes later, I am like, “Tell me more,” blink, blink, and I’m looking in his eyes asking appropriate questions. I'm all there. 

But I need to communicate to him when I can't be present. Because if he doesn't know that, he's going to try to communicate with me and not have a good experience. I think we've learned a lot about each other over the years. He's like, “I would like to talk to you about something important. Is now a good time? Or when can we talk about this?” That conversation right there has been a game-changer, I think, in our relationship. But for so many couples that I work with, particularly, in relationship coaching, people come in, and they have been feeling so badly with each other, and it's just felt so hard. 

When we unpack it and when we dial down into it, sometimes, you guys, the answer is as easy as that. “Tell me what is going on in the moments that you're trying to communicate, and it's not going well, or it's feeling frustrating. Literally, where are you?” It could be, sometimes, people are telling me, “It was during dinner, and our three-year-old was having a meltdown, and X, Y, Z.” They start talking about all of these different circumstances. When we're able to identify the practices that people are using, the boundaries that they're setting around their communication, and how they are communicating their needs in those moments to each other, it's so much easier. 

It was actually not this big, horrible, catastrophic thing. We don't have to spend nine months in therapy talking about, “Yes, your mother was an alcoholic, and all of these big things about why you can't communicate.” No, it's actually learning how to say, “Is this a good time to talk?” to your partner. Not always. Sometimes, there are old things, and it goes deeper. But, you'd be amazed at the impact of making these small procedural changes can make on the way that everything unfolds. So I just wanted to share that. If inattentive invalidation is a thing at your house, just try it. Let me know what happens. 

Belligerent Invalidators

Now, there are other kinds of invalidating behaviors that we should talk about. Another common one is a belligerent invalidator. The MO of a belligerent invalidator is to rebut rather than listen and put their energy into making their own case, instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective. 

Example, somebody, either you or your partner, is talking about, “I didn't feel good about that situation. That person was being rude, or that felt uncomfortable.” A belligerent invalidator will basically tell you why you're wrong for feeling that way. Or say, “Yeah, well, this is what was actually going on.” 

What's happening in those moments, and again, it's not on purpose. It's not intentional. But it's like they are replacing your perspective or whatever you just shared with their own perspective. They are not trying to be hostile or belligerent. But it really feels that way. Because it was like you just put something out there, and then, they just steamrolled over it with their concept of reality. 

This, again, is super common. I think it is very easy to identify people or situations when we have felt that way. Less easy to identify when we ourselves are accidentally doing that. Somebody shares something, and it's very easy to say, “Oh, no, that's not what happened. Let me tell you what really happened.” Sometimes, when you do that to people, they'll fight back and it'll turn into an argument, which in some ways is great. It's healthier in some ways, and it’s like, “ No, I need you to listen to me right now.” 

Other times, you will do that to someone. You'll say, “No, no, no. That's not what happened. Let me tell you what actually happened.” People will just take it, and you will have made them feel really bad, and uncared for, and disrespected. They just kind of go inwards. You just steamrolled right over them and broke their trust in you. You're not emotionally safe. But they're like, “Okay.” We'll exit that. You might not ever know what just happened. You'll feel fine because you were just telling them what you thought. What's the harm? You're just calling it like you see it right? You’ll never know that that was actually a real wound. 

That's another thing about relationships. We've all heard that saying, “Death by a thousand cuts.” These micro-moments? Those are cuts, and if you're with someone who isn't real assertive in telling you how you're making them feel, you can just keep cutting, and cutting, and cutting, and they'll just eventually be done with you, and you will not have known why. That is a terrible thing to consider, and it is a reality of relationships. So, belligerent invalidation. Please keep that one on your radar. 

The next time somebody tells you something, particularly, if it has anything to do with how they felt, or perceived something, or reacted to something, is just to keep in mind, they are telling you how they feel right now. Their truth is how they feel. Your job as a partner, or a friend, is to help them feel understood by you, not corrected by you. Nobody's asking you for that. So, again, I'm being direct. I am being your friend right now. Because the alternative when you're doing that to people and not fully aware of it can be really bad for relationships, and it's very easy to do. 

Controlling Invalidators

Another very common kind of invalidating behavior are the controlling invalidators. These types of invalidators are often extremely confident, which is a good thing in many situations. But they are very confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct it. 

Now, I have also been guilty of this in my relationship. Again, I think it's more due to impulsivity than ill will, right? When someone is invalidating in a controlling way, they often feel like they're helping. They are stepping in. They're going to manage something. They're going to prevent a possible problem that they foresee in the future and that maybe their partner doesn't. But this happens in so many situations, including parenting, housekeeping, social situations around finances. 

One example would be, one partner saying, “No little Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.” The other partner is, “Oh, yeah, Jim's mom called and wants you to play. Just be back before dinner.” So it's this really subtle and common kind of invalidation that happens when one person's preferences or things that they are trying to create or do are, again, just undone by someone else. 

This can happen in very small ways, too, around someone's preferences for how you do things. I think, for many couples, teamwork can feel hard. One aspect of every successful relationship is just being able to work together as a team, right? Like the most banal things. Who does laundry? Who folds the laundry? Does laundry get put away in the drawer? Or does it stay in the laundry basket even if it's clean? Who gets the mail? Who opens the mail? How often does this happen? Who pays the bills? 

These little procedural things, even around cleaning, cleaning the house, or making the bed, or cooking a meal that people who have a tendency towards this controlling kind of invalidation, they wind up taking over for a lot of different things because they have stronger opinions about the way that things should be done. The message that is sent to their partner is, “You're not doing it right. Your way of doing things is wrong, and I am taking this away from you.” 

The experience on the other side, again, can be very subtle. People may or may not be talking about this, but it leads to a lot of withdrawal in relationships. It's like this: “Okay, I tried. It wasn't good enough. Fine. You do it.” It is this sense of being, sometimes micromanaged, but just disrespected. “My preferences, my ways of doing things, my feelings in the situation are not important to you.” It's like, “This is your show. This isn't my show.” 

It comes through these small interactions and through these very subtle and seemingly insignificant, controlling kinds of invalidating behaviors that many of us are not aware of. Because, again, our intentions are not bad. We're not trying to make our partners feel micromanaged or disrespected. It's that we maybe have done this before, maybe we have our preferences; we already have a system. “No, the bread goes here,” that kind of thing. But again, what it leads to, particularly, if it's a pattern in the relationship is the other person withdrawing and just feeling like there's not space for them. 

I do not want to genderify this because these patterns can exist for both men and women and in same-sex relationships, certainly. But usually, controlling invalidators, in my experience, tend to be women. Not always, but many, many times. So just check in with yourself. “Am I doing this?” See if you can notice it in yourself. Again, notice, too, that when this is happening, you're not trying to be disrespectful. You're not trying to be damaging. You are not trying to communicate contempt. But that's how it can still be received. 

Again, I'm not saying these things to make you feel bad. When we shine the light on ourselves and understand how easy it is to accidentally make other people feel this way, we can become much more gentle and compassionate when we are experiencing invalidation from others. We can see the other person not as this invalidating enemy who is trying to hurt me emotionally. It's, “Oh, they don't understand what's happening right now.” Because I, sometimes, don't understand the small things that I do make other people feel a certain way. 

When we can move into that space of compassion and collaborative understanding. It's so much easier to talk about that authentically and have grace for the other person to say, “Let's have a redo. This is one of the things that we've been working on. We've been talking to Lisa about this or whatever.” It softens it. It makes it much more likely to have your needs met when you can have empathy for the noble intentions of your partner, noble intentions much of the time. 

Judgmental Invalidators

One other thing, a couple other kinds of invalidating behaviors, there is also such a thing as a judgmental invalidator. These kinds of validators, again, in my experience, they are truly trying to be helpful. But what they do in action is that they are minimizing the importance of things that they don't personally feel are interesting, or important, or significant that their other person sees. They do so in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships. 

An example of judgmental invalidation would be somebody saying, “What should we do this weekend? There are so many fun things. Do you want to go to the farmers market? Do you want to go to the RV show, rodeo, anything? It could literally be brunch with my friends.” The judgmental invalidator would say, “No, that's boring. I want to spend this time playing video games with my friend. Or I am not even remotely interested in brunch or your friends. Why would I want to do that?” 

Again, they probably feel like they're being authentic, right? They're telling you how they really feel. Also, a judgmental invalidator can also communicate this way about emotionally laden things. “That's, again, the wrong way of looking at it.” Or “Why would you think that?” What they're doing is, they're so entrenched in their little perspective of the world, their own little fiefdom of reality, that it is very difficult for them to look over the wall and understand that other people have other interests. 

They have other cognitive filters. They have other expectations of relationshipse. They are interpreting the world differently. They have different motivations. They have different tastes. They're just, again, so stuck in their own one worldview. It's like they're just looking down at their feet. This is the way things are. To have that acknowledgment of the diversity of all humans, they struggle with that. But again, they're not doing it out of maliciousness. They are simply being authentic. 

They’re like, “Why would I do that? I've never gone to a rodeo. I don't really get it. No, I don't want to do that.” Again, what happens is that it sends this message of what you are interested in doing, what you like, what you might want to try, “First of all, I don't understand that, and I will not participate in that with you. That isn't important to me, so I won't do it.” 

Again, it can be very subtle. But I tell you what, I have seen so many relationships break apart on those rocks, I can't even tell you. Because what happens is that the person on the other side feels like if they want to maintain a connection with this individual, they have to enter their world. They have to be into what they are into. They need to hang out with their friends. They need to participate in their interests because their partner is not coming over the line onto their side of things. 

Now, just to state this very plainly, and clearly, it is also true that in vibrant, healthy relationships, partners have different interests. It is 100%, okay, to have hobbies, or sports, or activities that you are into that your partner is not into. You don't have to be doing all the same things together all of the time. I think, in some ways, to have that kind of diversity in a relationship is quite healthy because you have this sort of interdependence. You can have your separate lives and separate friend groups. 

I think that makes for a more interesting relationship, right? You can go do something fun with your friends, and your partner can go through a different thing. Then, you can come back together and have an interesting conversation because you have stories to tell and things to share. It's great, right? So that's how people grow and evolve. All of those things are healthy. 

But I think when there is this, almost absolute refusal to enter into someone's worldview ever, what is experienced is a lot of judgment. Because, again, I think people are not intended to come across this way. But the meta-message is that “Well, that's dumb. Why would you want to do that? Ew, no, that's boring.” For whatever it is. That feels really bad. It feels really bad to be partnered with someone who is judgmental of who you are and what you're into. 

I think that the lesson we can take here is that even if you are not into the things that your partner is into, it is okay to help support their interests by talking to them about it or doing things with them sometimes. You don't have to spend every weekend of your life doing the thing. But, what we want to communicate is that “Your interests are important to you. Therefore, they are important to me.” 

Listen, you guys, I have a 13-year-old who is super into video games right now. Candy Crush stresses me out. That's all I can take, right? Not only am I not interested in playing video games, I do not really care that much. But my 13-year-old is super interested in this. So, I will be a video-game spectator. I will watch him play. He's telling me about all these different missiles, and guns, and squads, and things, and whatever. He is so excited. 

To connect with him, I am not being judgmental and rejecting of the things that are important to him because it would be so easy for me to do that. Because inside my head sometimes I'm like, “Why would you want to, anyway?” But in those moments, my role is to like, “Tell me more. What do you like about this game? Or tell me about what happened when X, Y, Z. Or who's your favorite character? Or what do you like about? Tell me about the plotline.” 

Asking questions being engaged, because the alternative is to subtly communicate judgment, and rejection, and invalidation in a way that can create a lot of disconnection in a relationship and sends a message, “You're not important to me. What you're into is dumb. I think you're dumb. I don't care about this.” It feels like “I don't care about you.” We don't want to do that for the people that we love. Again, easy to do. Easy to do. 

Emotional Invalidators

Now, there are a couple of other kinds of invalidators that I'm going to talk about really briefly. One of the most important, and this, oftentimes, I think, is a very obvious one is the emotional invalidator. How many times have we encountered these people in our lives? This is the stereotypical garden-variety emotional invalidator who disagrees with other people's feelings, or argues that other people's feelings are not reasonable, or tries to talk them out of their feelings.

For example, if you have ever been crying for some random reason, and your partner wanders in and says, “You shouldn't be sad about that.” Or “It wasn't that big of a deal.” Or doesn't even acknowledge the fact that you are in the grips of a big emotion, or tries to cheer you up. Again, these responses to emotion often come from — this is hard to even say out loud, but it's so true — they are honestly well-intentioned. 

Somebody thinks that they're trying to make you feel better. “Look on the bright side. Or at least, X, Y, Z.” Or, “You know? Forget about that. Let's go do something fun. Let me distract you from your feelings.” Oftentimes, people are trying to help you because they perceive emotions as being problematic, dark emotions as being something negative that need to be avoided. They themselves are often not that great in noticing how they feel or being able to stay engaged with their own negative emotions, which is a core component of emotional intelligence. It's hard to do. 

Again, not to genderify, but many men, as we've talked about on this podcast previously, are not socialized to have a really deep relationship with their own feelings. So many little boys to this day get yelled at for crying or punished for having “negative,” I prefer to call them, dark emotions. There's a lot of negative connotations around those. Emotional invalidators often will see someone in the grips of a negative emotion and be like, “Oh, no, I have to get them out of there because that's not good,” not recognizing that it is so positive and so important for all of us to really be in those fully present spaces sometimes. 

Like, “I am having an authentic experience right now. I am feeling really, really sad about this situation.” Or “My feelings were hurt.” Or “I just feel really bad about this situation that happened at work. I don't know what to do.” Or “I'm feeling so overwhelmed” Or… Whatever it is, in order for us to grow and to be genuinely healthy, we need to go into those spaces, and stay there, and process our feelings, and take wisdom from those feelings. 

The best thing that any of us can do when our partner is in that space is to say, “Tell me more about what's going on.” Open-ended questions. “When did you start feeling this way? What were the triggers? What happens to you in these moments?” Or to say nothing at all, just to sit there with somebody and allow them the luxury of having their feelings validated in your presence. Because just to simply be present with someone when they're not okay is such a gift. It's so emotionally intimate. We don't show everyone in the world that side of us. 

But in our most intimate relationships, we are extending this treasure of, “This is how I really feel. This is who I really am. This is what is true for me.” To simply have that be acknowledged, and accepted, and not argued with, and not to have someone try to change it or do something about it, is the greatest gift that we can ever give. That really is how to connect with someone. Anything else leads them to feel like, “They don't care about how I'm feeling. My feelings are not important to them. My feelings are making them uncomfortable. So I need to fix myself back up again because they can't handle it.” 

Do you want somebody to feel that way with you? I don't. So just to be aware of that in those moments. Even just a hug, or “I hear you,” or “Yeah, that is a really hard situation. That is legitimately so hard. I'm so sorry that that is happening. I know that there is nothing that I can do, and I'm just so grateful that you're sharing these feelings with me right now. Because I appreciate that we have that kind of relationship where you let me into this.” Just even saying simple things like that can be just the most amazing thing you could possibly do.

Mr./Ms. Fix-It 

A close cousin of this emotional invalidation, somebody who's very uncomfortable with dark emotions, is the other well-intentioned person that is a Mr. Fix It or Ms. Fix It in those moments of, somebody is struggling with something hard and what they're trying to do, honestly and legitimately, is saying, “I love you so much. I'm going to solve this problem. Let's fix it because I don't want you to feel bad about this. Let's fix it.” So it is, “I'll pick the kids up tomorrow.” Or “Let me. It's okay. Here's what we should do instead,” and jumping right into solutions.”

Hey, I am all about solutions. Yes, all couples need to solve actual problems together. There are so many moments of opportunity for productive, collaborative problem solving that do actually make changes in the way you do things, where you talk to each other, the way you handle things, related to parenting, or finances, or boundaries. So much stuff. There is a time and place to actually focus on making specific changes. 

What often happens to the detriment of relationships is when people jump into that problem-solving space at the expense of the emotional-connection space. Again, it is so well-intentioned, but I can't even tell you how many couples I've worked with in couples therapy or relationship coaching, where we had to stay awhile on helping people understand how those efforts are actually received on an emotional level by their partner. 

Because when someone says, “I'm just feeling so overwhelmed by the situation, right now. I'm feeling so frustrated.” And somebody is like, “Okay, well, let's just do this. And then, it'll never happen again,” they don't experience that as being helpful. The message it sends is, “I don't want to hear about it. We need to just fix this immediately, stop talking about this. I don't want to know how you're feeling about it. I am going to shut the door of emotion. We'll fix this, so we can never talk about it again.” It's kind of how it's experienced.

Again, noble intentions, problem-solving is good. But without the space of being able to connect and really talk about the feelings and help your partner feel genuinely validated in that moment, it does the opposite of what is often intended, which is to fix something. What it actually does is create emotional disconnection in the relationship. It turns into, “Well, she doesn't want to hear about it, or she's just going to tell me to do this thing differently. So, whatever.” It creates withdrawal. It makes people feel uncared for and they're not truly known by their partner, which over time leads to serious disconnection in a relationship. 

Again, we'll talk more about that emotional intimacy in upcoming podcast episodes. But be aware if this is something that you tend to do in relationships is that rushing in to fix or trying to talk people out of their feelings. I will bet you a cookie that subjectively, you feel in those moments like you're trying to be helpful. You're trying to make them feel better. You're trying to look for solutions, all positive things. But there is a whole other dimension of relationships. 

We must make space for the authentic emotional experience of our partners, and help them feel understood, and respected, and affirmed, and validated by us. Because even if we're fixing things, and trying to keep things positive, our relationships, over time, become really hollowed out when that emotional connection, emotional safety, emotional trust, emotional intimacy is eroded. That is what happens when people are invalidating each other. 

The Arc of Change is Experiential

Lastly, just want to share that these patterns are often entrenched in relationships. They can be difficult for all of us to see when we are doing them because our intentions are often good in those moments. I would just like to float the idea that your partner probably experiences those moments similarly. They struggle to understand how their responses may be impacting you. So, certainly, would invite you to get them to listen to this podcast if that would be helpful, just to raise some awareness. 

Also, these things are hard. I spend, easily, several sessions with couples, helping them gain self-awareness about these interactions, in these small moments that invalidation is happening in order to help them recognize them and do something different instead. So I always feel bad in some ways. I love making these podcasts for you. I hope that you find the information in them to be helpful. But I also just want to say out loud that the process of creating change in these areas is not just about getting information, listening to a podcast, and being like, “Okay, cool, I'm gonna do this instead.” 

The actual arc of change is experiential. It occurs over time. So I just want to say that because I always worry that people will hear one of these podcasts and then assume that they should be able to do all of this stuff now that they've heard this, or even worse, that their partner listens to this podcast and should be able to do this stuff differently because of having benefited from this information. Personal growth does not work that way. Personal growth is never an event. It is a process that starts with maybe information. But then, it has to turn into self-awareness and recognition. That is very experiential in nature. 

I just wanted to offer that so that you are gentle with yourself if this is a growth opportunity for you. Also, so that you are gentle with your partner. I hope that if you take nothing else away from our discussion today, please do take away this idea that if you are feeling invalidated in your relationship, as is so common, to take away that the fact that when people are engaging in behaviors that are experienced as invalidating, they are not intending to hurt you. There is a huge lack of awareness around the impact of these behaviors. 

To be gentle and compassionate with your partner, and shift into a more effective stance of “Let's work on this. Let me help you understand what's happening in these moments. Let's try this again. Here's what I'm looking for you. I'm looking for emotional intimacy right now. I'd love to feel more of this with you. When these things happen, I don't feel emotionally connected to you. I'd like that to change.” 

Having those kinds of conversations are just so much more helpful in the long run than having it just turn into a fight or being really critical with your partner because they maybe don't have the self-awareness or the skills yet to help you feel validated in those moments. Because we all engage in invalidating behaviors, sometimes, it's so easy to do, and I hope that we can all have grace with each other and help each other grow and evolve. That is my intention for us today. 

I hope that you took something away from this podcast. Hey, if you did, as a favor to me and your fellow travelers on this journey of growth, if you could, trot over to wherever you're listening to this podcast, and leave a review. That helps this podcast reach more people. As you probably know, we don't do any advertising. This is not a mercenary thing. 

This is me trying to help people who are probably never going to be my clients but to take hopefully valuable little bits of information away that will help them have more happy, and loving, and stable, honestly, relationships, and marriages, and families, and homes that can improve their lives, also the lives of their children, for kids to grow up in a home where there is an emotionally safe relationship happening with them, and their parents. To witness that in their partners, that is what lasts for generations. 

So help other people find this show. Review it. Share it on social media, this episode and others. I would really appreciate it not just for myself, but for everybody that can benefit from hearing this message, too. So thank you again for being here today. I will be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Bye-bye.

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Has Your Breakup or Divorce Shattered Your Self Esteem?

Hands down, one of the most horrible parts about going through a bad breakup or divorce is the way it mangles your self-esteem. I know from so many years as a therapist and life coach, that many people experience post-divorce depression (or post-breakup depression). There are many parts to this experience: Grief and loss, or feeling overwhelmed by all the practical aspects of putting your life back together.

However, for most people, the most terrible depression after a breakup comes when it damages your self-esteem and makes you start to feel bad about yourself.

If you've been feeling down on yourself since your relationship ended I want you to know something right off the bat, feeling this way does not mean that you're actually “less than.”

I talk to a LOT of people about the most vulnerable parts of their life. I know for a fact that even the most gorgeous, amazing, successful people second-guess themselves after a divorce or breakup. Even the most naturally confident, strong, and reasonable among us — in the throes of a devastating break up — still have these types of horrible, torturous conversations with themselves in their darkest moments:

  • Anxious Thought: “Why did this relationship fail?” Self-Esteem Crushing Answer: Because of all your personal shortcomings and the mistakes you made in this marriage or relationship.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why doesn't the person I love more than anything want to be with me anymore?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because you aren't interesting / fun / sexy / smart / successful enough.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why didn't my Ex care enough about me to treat me better while we were together?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because you're just not that worthy or lovable.
  • Anxious Thought: “Why did my Ex cheat on me or get together with someone new?” Self Esteem Crushing Answer: Because that someone new is much more interesting, attractive, worthy of love and respect. Basically, they're just a better person than you.

If you're going through a bad breakup, chances are you're probably nodding to yourself as you see this self-destructive internal dialogue put to paper. You've probably been being tortured by these ideas too.

And it's making you feel terrible about yourself.

But, believe it or not, as bad as that is…. that's not even the most toxic, ruinous thing that can happen to your already fragile self-esteem in the aftermath of a traumatic break-up.

The most terrible thing is not when your Ex betrays you or mistreats you. It's not even when you blame yourself for why it didn't work out, or torture yourself with ongoing commentary about all of your shortcomings and failures.

The Most Destructive Part of a Breakup: Breaking Your Trust in Yourself

Yes, your self-esteem gets throttled when you feel rejected, or blame yourself for what went wrong. But it gets ground up into sausage and squished into the dirt when you betray or mistreat yourself in the aftermath of a terrible breakup:

  • When you fail to protect yourself from a toxic or abusive Ex.
  • When you do things that you're ashamed of… all in desperate efforts to even briefly escape the pain of heartbreak, and reconnect with your Ex.
  • When you keep contacting or spying on your Ex through social media, even when you know you shouldn't.
  • When you are still sleeping or hooking up with your Ex, even when you feel more devastated afterward.
  • When your mental and emotional energy is still completely focused on your Ex, and your mood for the entire day (not to mention your worth as a person) depends on what they are doing or not doing.
  • When you are compromising your ethics, morals, and self-respect in efforts to regain the love and approval of your Ex.

This darkness is not something that usually gets discussed openly. But it's very real and very destructive to your long term health, your happiness, and your self-worth. And as you know only too well if you're going through it, you need support and compassion on your path of healing and recovery.

I have spent years helping broken-hearted people with divorce and break-up recovery counseling and coaching, and poured through oceans of research to write my book, “Exaholics: Breaking your addiction to an Ex Love.” I've spent years helping my private clients heal their self-esteem in the aftermath of a bad breakup, and now we're addressing it today on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

On today's show, I'm going to help you understand how your self-esteem was damaged, and how to develop new compassion and empathy for yourself. We're also going to discuss the five steps to healing your self-esteem after a breakup so that you can start putting yourself back together again.

I hope that this helps support you on your journey of growth and healing.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: In this podcast, we discuss a number of resources. Here are links to all the breakup recovery resources I shared:

My private Online Breakup Support Group on Facebook. (It's a hidden group, so you have to request access).
Exaholics.com
Online Breakup Recovery Program: www.breakup-recovery.com
Book: Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love

PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love, and book (poetry collection) The Hollow Of The Hand

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How To Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

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Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Are you trying to have a relationship with a partner who avoids, defends or worse… refuses to talk at all?

Few things are as frustrating, or as hurtful as trying to engage a disengaged partner. It's hard NOT to get upset and angry when you're feeling rejected, unloved, or uncared for. The problem is that many people who clam up as a defensive strategy when things get tense don't understand how destructive their behaviors can be to your relationship.

But there is help, and there is hope. Because these types of communication problems are so common, I thought it might be helpful to you if I put together a “Communication Problems” podcast-mini series.

“Communication Issues” is the single most common presenting issue that brings couples to marriage counseling. The first thing to know about communication problems: Absolutely ALL couples struggle to communicate with each other from time to time. Just because it's happening in your relationship does not spell doom. Truthfully, by making a few positive changes in the way you interact with each other, you can avoid many communication problems — and start enjoying each other again.

In episode 1, “Communication Problems and How To Fix Them” we discussed the most important and empowering things you can remain mindful of if you want to improve the communication in your relationship: Systems theory, and your own empowerment to affect positive change.

In episode 2, “Dealing With an Angry Partner” we addressed the oh-so-common “pursue / withdraw” dynamic that so many couples can fall in to. This idea is at the core of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy — one of the most well researched and scientifically supported approaches to couples counseling. (And what we practice here at Growing Self!)

Specifically in episode 2, we looked at this communication pattern from the perspective of the “withdrawer” (i.e. the person in the relationship who might be perceiving their “pursuing partner” as angry or even hostile). In that episode I gave you some tips to help get back into the ring with your partner, some insight into why they may be so angry, and things that you can do to help soothe their anger and bring the peace back into your home.

In the third and final episode of our “Communication Problems” series, “Dealing With a Withdrawn Partner” we'll be looking at this from the perspective of the partner who pursues — the one who is attempting to engage with a partner who seems emotionally distant, avoidant, and unresponsive.

If you've been feeling frustrated or angry because your partner refuses to talk to you, this one is for you. In this episode I'm talking about what may be leading your partner to seem emotionally withdrawn, as well as things that you can do to help your partner come closer to you emotionally, and start opening up again.

We're discussing:

I sincerely hope that this series helps you understand what may be happening at the root of your communication problems, as well as some real-world tips for things that can help you improve your relationship.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

www.growingself.com

 

P.S. One fantastic, low-key strategy to start a dialogue with your partner is by taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz together. You can send your results to each other, which opens the door to talk about how you're both feeling — with out an anxiety-provoking conversation for your conflict-avoidant partner. Just be ready to learn some things you didn't know! Here's the link to get the relationship quiz. xoxo, LMB

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Communication Problems and How To Fix Them, Part 3: When Your Partner Refuses to Talk

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Nick Drake, “The Time of No Reply”

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Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

Long-Distance Relationship Breakup

Long-Distance Relationship Breakup

Should We Breakup?

As a couples therapist and relationship coach who provides services online, I frequently work with couples who find themselves in long-distance relationships. Long-distance relationships are more popular than ever these days, especially as more and more people are finding love through apps or websites that expand their pool of potential partners beyond their own towns and cities. 

Lots of great articles and podcasts exist for people in long-distance relationships about how to improve their relationships or maintain their connections. However, today, I want to talk about a side of long-distance relationships that usually gets less attention–how to know when it’s time to let go, and how to move on once you’ve made that decision.

What’s The Real Problem–the Relationship Or The Distance?

When working with couples or individuals who are going through a hard time in their long-distance relationship, one of the most common questions I receive is whether the problems they are experiencing are just being caused by the distance or whether it’s the relationship itself that isn’t working. 

In my experience, the answer to this question is most often that the challenges at hand are from a combination of the two. For example, I often meet with couples who experience some communication difficulties when they’re together that then are exacerbated into something larger when they are long distance. 

In these kinds of situations, I recommend that couples work with an experienced couples therapist or relationship coach who can help them determine the root cause of their challenges and give them tools to help address them.

Here are a few of the questions that I usually walkthrough as I help my clients determine an answer to whether their challenges are being caused by being long distance or by deeper issues within the relationship:

  • What is your relationship like when you are physically together?
  • Have you been physically together for extended periods of time before?
  • Have you been physically together when real-life stressors are present? (Or in other words, not just on vacation?)
  • In thinking about your relationship’s challenging areas, what are those areas like when you are physically together?

A final point about this common question: If your relationship is likely to remain long-distance for months or years to come, differentiating between problems caused by the distance and problems caused by the relationship may not matter all that much.

When clients ask me this question in our work together, they’re often assuming that if the relationship is all good when they’re together and it’s really just the distance that’s causing difficulties, they can discount the problems caused by physical separation as somehow less real. However, if being long-distance is a standard part of your relationship, the problems that come along deserve serious consideration as you decide whether to continue in the relationship.

What If You Can’t Make A Long-Distance Relationship Work? 

There are lots of valid reasons why partners might choose to end a relationship, and when it comes to couples who are long-distance, physical separation also often plays a role. While there are absolutely couples who are able to have healthy and happy long-distance relationships, not being able to consistently share physical space with your partner can be a legitimate challenge.

One reason for this is that being in a long-distance relationship requires more intentionality to help each partner feel loved and cherished. When you live with or in the same city as your significant other, it’s relatively easy to share little moments that build your connection, such as doing small acts of service for each other or holding hands as you talk about your day. In a long-distance relationship, it often takes more planning and forethought to show these small gestures of love, which means that it’s easier for them to fall to the wayside.

If you come to the conclusion that a long-distance relationship and the intentionality necessary to maintain it is not right for you, but still want to maintain your relationship with your partner, it may be worth exploring if you or your partner relocating to either live together or in the same city is a feasible option.

What Are Some Of The Signs That It’s Time To Let Go Of A Long Distance Relationship?

How to know when it’s time to let go of a relationship, regardless of whether it’s long-distance or not, is one of the most common questions that I get asked by my clients. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that no one knows your relationship like you do, and only you and your partner can make the final decision of when to end things. With that in mind, here are some of the signs specific to long-distance couples that I often discuss with my clients about when it may be time to consider letting go of your relationship:

  • You realize that you or your partner has needs that are too difficult to meet when you are long-distance, and these unmet needs are leading to resentment.
  • You or your partner don’t have the energy or time to exercise the intentionality that’s necessary to have a healthy and thriving long-distance relationship.
  • You don’t want to be long-distance anymore, but there is no feasible way for you and your partner to live together or in the same city in the near future.

What Is The Best Way To Initiate A Long-Distance Breakup?

Just like with all breakups, showing your partner respect is a key part of ending your long-distance relationship. Here are a few things that are helpful to consider when trying to figure out the best way to break up with your long-distance partner: 

The Medium. A good rule of thumb when breaking up with your partner is to choose a medium as close as possible to speaking in person, like a video chat or a phone call. Because long-distance relationships often rely a lot on text messaging or email as a means of communication, it can be tempting to break up through these means of communication as well, especially if you’re a person who hates conflict. Resist that urge! 

Unless there were extenuating circumstances in the relationship that could endanger your emotional safety during a phone or video conversation (like emotional abuse or gaslighting), it’s always better to go with a phone or video call if possible. 

The Timing. Another important factor to consider when initiating a breakup with your long-distance partner is timing. Ideally, try to choose a time when you know they won’t be busy, like in the middle of their workday, or preoccupied, like right before an interview or large presentation.

A Head’s Up. It can be helpful to your partner (and help get the ball rolling in the actual breakup conversation) if you give them a head’s up about having something important to talk about with them when you schedule a time for your phone or video conversation. 

There’s no need to go into too much detail (after all, you don’t want to do the actual breaking up here), but simply letting them know that when you have this conversation, there’s something important you need to talk with them about regarding the relationship will give them some time to mentally prepare for what’s to come.

How Can I Begin To Heal From The End Of My Long-Distance Relationship?

In my work as a breakup recovery therapist and coach, one of the ways that I have seen a long-distance breakup be different from typical breakups is that, at first, your life may not seem to change all that much. 

In a typical relationship, a breakup often involves moving out from the living space you share with your partner or finding new things to do during your evenings and weekends. However, when your long-distance relationship ends, your living space will usually not change, and your day-to-day life will likely remain largely the same, minus some messages and calls from your ex.

Because long-distance breakups tend to change people’s daily lives less dramatically, it may take longer for the reality of your breakup and the typical grieving process to set in. Once it does, however, healing from the end of your relationship is much like healing from the end of any relationship. Grieving your relationship, experiencing a range of emotions, and eventually, growth, are all normal and to be expected. To learn about the stages of a breakup in more detail, I recommend checking out Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby’s podcast episode specifically on this topic: Long Distance Relationship Questions.

As you heal from the end of your relationship, should you feel that additional support beyond what your friends and family can provide would be helpful, I would also recommend meeting with a therapist or coach who specializes in breakup recovery for private meetings or group sessions (like my online Breakup Support Group). 

Gaining professional guidance can help you make sure that you are on the right path to healing, and, if you decide to attend a group, hearing from others in similar situations can help you to know that you’re not alone.

If you find yourself in a long-distance relationship that doesn’t seem to be working, I hope that some of the perspectives I’ve shared here can be helpful to you.

Warmly,
Kensington

Utah online marriage counseling Denver online breakup recovery group

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington O., M.S., LAMFT, MFTC helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

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