Feeling Emotionally Invalidated By Your Partner?

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.

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

Music Credits: “You Bring Me Home” by The Sudden Leaves

Love Language Quiz

As a marriage counselor, couples therapist, and relationship coach, I’m always working with couples who are seeking to make positive changes in their relationships. Sometimes, the reasons why couples have conflict go deep, but honestly, you’d be amazed at how often couples discover that the thing causing hurt feelings, emotional disconnection, or resentment in their relationship is actually NOT a difficult-to-resolve relationship issue. It’s the fact that they don’t understand each other’s love language and that, my friends, is a solvable problem.

Once couples connect the dots, gain an appreciation for each other’s love language, and start showing each other love and respect in different ways…everything changes: Toxic relationship patterns start to unwind, withdrawn partners start to open up, anger fades, and the path forward emerges. All by learning each other’s love language! 

Understanding Love Languages

I’ve seen couples come into counseling feeling very discouraged about their relationship, even to the point where they wonder if they’re in a compatible relationship or whether it’s time to call it quits. They talk about how frustrated they feel with their partner; how the walls between them feel insurmountable. So, when I invite them to take a love language quiz and think, “What’s my love language?” and “What is my partner’s love language?” they can feel skeptical at first. I mean, love languages? Aren’t our problems much more serious? Could it really be that easy? 

Actually, yes. A big piece of repairing a relationship is often that easy, but no one would fault you for dismissing the idea as superficial unless you really understood the significance of it. The idea of “love languages” has been batted around as a pop-psychology term to the point that the full power and significance behind these ideas is lost. When you actually take a deeper look into what love languages are, and what they’re attached to, you’ll understand that they are quite significant. 

Love Languages Go Deep

Much has been made about attachment styles in relationships: how we perceive others, how we show up in relationships, and what our patterns are. Less commonly discussed are more subtle realities around what we were taught about love: what love is, what it means, and what it looks like in action. These messages about what love “should” be are not taught to us explicitly, but we pick them up nonetheless — through every interaction we have with the people we’re attached to growing up.

These messages are subconscious and, as adults, we may not realize we carry a firmly established set of ideas about what love “should” look like. It’s even more difficult to realize that our partner carries their ideas about love as well – ideas that are different from ours (given the fact that they grew up in a different family, with different messages and relationship expectations). 

Virtually all couples who have not done intentional growth work in this area have subconscious expectations of what being loved and cared for should look like in action. Since we are not partnered with a clone of ourselves (thankfully!), it's incredibly easy to show each other love in the ways most natural and pleasing to us without fully realizing that these efforts are falling flat — or even causing painful conflict. This can lead to power struggles, a lack of emotional safety, blaming each other for relationship problems, and more.

Learn to Speak Each Other’s Love Language

We’ve all heard of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do for you.” However, when it comes to having great relationships, that’s actually not the whole truth. There’s a platinum rule of relationships, “Do unto others as they would like you to do.” Meaning that we need to sensitively show love, care, respect, and affection to our partners in the ways that are actually most meaningful to them, not necessarily to us. 

(More on the 12 biggest relationship mistakes, right here, if you’re interested.) 

But now we have a new problem: How to know your love language so that you can help your partner understand you better and show you love in the way that you can experience. Furthermore, it’s hard enough to get clarity around your own love language and ask for what you need. How do you figure out your partner’s love language and understand what they’re needing from you? 

Love Language Test For Couples!

That, my friend, is what we’re doing on today’s podcast: Love Languages Quiz. I’m going to be giving you insight into what the core needs are of the different “love language styles” so that you really understand yourself and your partner better. Then, I’ll be walking you through some questions (my informal “love language test” that will help you both know how to figure out your love language. With that understanding, it will be much easier to meet each other’s needs in a relationship, connect with your partner, have empathy for each other, communicate, and strengthen your relationship

Good stuff! You can listen to the Love Language Quiz podcast episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or on the handy-dandy podcast players on this page. I’m also including the episode highlights, plus a full transcript for you (below) if you’re more of a reader. 

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that this Love Language Quiz podcast helps you easily create positive change in your relationship. It’s powerful stuff!

Xoxo, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. If you’d like to do even more “learn and grow together” types of activities with your partner, another great resource is our free “How Healthy is Your Relationship Quiz.” You can both take it and use the results to spark a productive conversation about your strengths and growth opportunities as a couple. 

Love Language Quiz

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

Music Credits: “You Bring Me Home” by The Sudden Leaves

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Love Languages Quiz: Episode Highlights 

Relationship Compatibility and Love Languages

Love languages refer to the different ways that people experience love. Some therapists don’t think they matter. However, learning about your and your partner’s love language can be a powerful and effective way to understand relationships and make them work. They even explain:

  • why we feel disconnected or unloved
  • why there is no positive relational energy in our relationship
  • why we think we’re not compatible
  • why our relationships don’t work

Often, the simpler explanation to these seemingly dire scenarios is that you and your partner have different love languages. Once you begin to understand these differences, you can work on how to get your needs met in a relationship and satisfy your partner’s too.

Love Languages, Explained.

We often hold this false belief that all people are the same and what is true for us is true for others. Unfortunately, this notion is highly problematic. This way of thinking can lead to hurt, anger, resentment, and feeling unloved. 

Love languages help you identify what you and your partner need in a relationship to make it work. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Never assume what your partner’s love language may be or think that you are the same.
  • Respect the things that matter to your partner even if you don’t agree or like them.

Remember: “The key to compatibility is not twinship; it is not being the same. It is respecting and appreciating each other for your differences.”

The Different Love Languages

People feel loved in different ways. We are all individuals with unique experiences, cultures, and upbringings that shape how we think and feel. And this individuality can extend to our love languages.

Gary Chapman coined the term “love languages” in the 90s. He originally proposed that there were primarily five love languages in his book. These are:

  • Quality time
  • Physical touch
  • Gift-giving
  • Acts of service
  • Words of affirmation

I think there are two more love languages: building together and emotional intimacy. We’ll discuss each one so that you can identify what’s your love language.

Words of Affirmation Love Language

People with this love language need a verbal expression of affection. This includes saying:

  • A simple “I love you.”
  • Compliments like, “You look good today.”
  • Appreciative statements like, “This is an amazing dinner.” Or “Thank you for making this.”

Use the power of praise, compliments, and love often. If you find it hard to express your affection aloud, try sending letters, text messages, or cards. The key here is that you put what you feel for your partner in words.

Gift-Giving Love Language

If your partner’s love language is gift-giving, they feel loved when they receive tokens of your affection. They may also love to shower you with well-thought-of presents.

An example of a thoughtful anniversary gift for someone with this love language is a framed ticket of the first movie or concert you went to as a couple. Remember, gifts don’t have to be expensive to be thoughtful. Although, this does not apply to everybody because, for some cultures, the price matters. So, it really takes getting to know your partner to find the balance.

Acts of Service Love Language

As a love language, acts of service stems from the feeling of being together as a team. You’re both working on a shared life with shared responsibilities. People with this type of love language feel valued if you help them out.

This love language evolves as you grow older because your priorities change as more responsibilities come into your life. For example, in your 20s, acts of service may involve very different activities than when you’re in a different phase of life. For example, when you have children, taking care of the kids may be serving to take care of your partner too. 

Acts of service are more valuable when you do things for your partner without them asking. It makes them feel noticed, respected, and loved. In addition, research shows that “there is a direct correlation between the level of egalitarianism in a relationship, meaning that men and women share the burden of childcare, housework stuff, sexual intimacy and relationship satisfaction.”

Quality Time Love Language

People who prefer quality time love being with their partners and doing things together. It is “this sense that you’re partners in crime. And that there are things that they like to do that are important to them. To be able to share them with you, their number one person, is very, very meaningful.”

The type of meaningful activity you do with your loved ones depends on their personality or preferences and can take many forms. Sometimes quality time involves doing something very special together like a fun evening out, or taking a trip. However there are many small, day-to-day opportunities for spending quality time together that are easy to overlook, such as making it a priority to have meals together, tag along while running errands, or even watching the same series together. Small things count too!

Physical Touch Love Language

For some people, physical touch is how they feel loved. They need to literally feel and touch their partner through a big hug, a kiss, or an intimate evening together.

Sexual intimacy is essential for people with this love language, but it doesn’t always have to be the goal. Instead, “practice having a lot of non-sexual touching and physical intimacy built into your relationship.”

Another manifestation of the physical touch love language is being environmentally sensitive. For example, your partner may always want to be in beautiful places or enjoy food. So, you can also show them love through a variety of “creature comforts” in addition to literally touching them affectionately. 

Emotional Intimacy Love Language

Emotional intimacy is an experience of having emotional safety with your partner. You feel as if they’re not only your partner, they’re also a cherished friend who knows you inside and out.

Emotional intimacy can be confused with quality time. The main difference is it must involve meaningful conversations or things that you can only tell your partner. If your partner has this love language and you fulfill it, they will start to feel safe with you. The key is to listen to your partner with empathy.

Building Together Love Language

Building together is sometimes confused with acts of service because they both require doing things for someone. However, this is more concerned with your future together and not the feeling of being understood and respected. 

An example is planning your financial future. You, as a couple, have shared hopes about your finances, so you have plans to achieve it. This love language signifies a commitment to building a life together. 

What’s Your Love Language?

Time to take the Love Language Quiz! 

In this podcast, I’m going through a short love language quiz designed to get to know your love language, as well as your partner’s. You can also share this episode with your partner so they can understand themselves and learn your love language too. Here are some of the questions to think about: 

  • On a beautiful Saturday morning, what do you want to do?
  • What do you want your partner to do for your birthday?
  • After a long and tiring day of work, what do you need from your partner?
  • What is your most favorite thing about your partner?
  • What is one thing that you wish you had more of in your relationship with your partner?
  • What is most likely to trigger an IKEA fight?

In this podcast, I’m helping you think about these answers from a variety of different “love language perspectives.” This love language test for couples is not scientific nor score–based, yet still really helpful in assisting you in uncovering your truth. The patterns in your answers may reveal what really matters to you. The frequency of your choices can explain what your love language is.

As you think, “what is my love language?” during this exercise, you’ll likely find out that you have more than one love language. That is valid, many people do! But you also need to know what matters most to you, because having that clarity is what allows you to express love meaningfully to each other. The key here is for you to understand the needs of your relationship based on the love languages you and your partner have. That’s what makes a relationship work!

Love Language Activity For Couples

Let’s put these love language ideas to work!

Once you listen to my “love language quiz” and think about your answers, I hope that you forward this episode to your partner so that they, too, can identify their own love language. Then, come back together to share your results and talk about the positive changes you can each make to show each other love, respect, and affection in the way that matters most to both of you. 

What’s next? 

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about yourself, your partner, and your love languages? How do you think love languages affect how you understand relationships? Share your insights in the comments below? And don’t forget to subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to keep helpful, pro-relationship, positive ideas and activities in your life every single week!  

[Intro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Isn’t that a beautiful song? The band is called The Sudden Leaves and the song is You Bring Me Home. I thought that was a nice intro for us today because today, we’re talking about how to create an emotional home base in your relationship through using love languages. Yes, everyone, it is time to talk about love languages. The term love languages refers to how you feel love, how you show love. It’s kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, but I think not the level of respect that it truly deserves. Because I think it’s emerged as this fluffy pop psych concept that sometimes gotten played down by real therapists who are much more interested in talking about mental illness and psychopathology. But that’s not what we’re doing here. 

The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast is all about helping you be happy, and have great relationships, and feel good about yourself and your life. Although I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, analyst, and psychologist. I’m also a board-certified life coach, which means that I want to do what works and bring that to you. 

Relationship Compatibility and Love Languages

Love languages are incredibly powerful and effective when you learn how to deploy them for forces of good in your own relationship. It’s really incredibly important to know how to do this. Because as a marriage counselor, here at Growing Self counseling and coaching, I am often working with couples, who, at least when they start with me for couples counseling or relationship coaching, they’re not feeling good about their relationship. Neither of them, often, are feeling really loved, or respected, or understood, or appreciated by their partner. 

Unfortunately, in the absence of that positive relational energy, people can start to develop this narrative as to why that helps them make sense of what’s going on in their relationship. It turns into thoughts about: “Well, my partner is avoidant.” “They’re emotionally stunted.” “They can’t communicate.” “They had a critical mother; therefore, x, y, z.” Or even worse. If it’s been going on for a long time, they might begin to really genuinely believe: “My partner is a fundamentally uncaring person, and we are incompatible. Maybe they’re on the autism spectrum.” 

I literally have heard people in garden variety relationships with partners who are objectively not autistic. But they are feeling so unloved and disconnected in their relationship that they’re trying to find reasons why it feels so hard between them. They can go into all kinds of places. Big sweeping statements about their partner’s fundamental character flaws can obscure this much, much simpler, and much more manageable idea. 

Perhaps, your partner and you have different love languages. That my friends is a solvable problem as soon as you can figure that out. There are very specific and relatively easy things that you can both do to completely transform the way that you both feel in your relationship through intentionally using different love languages. This is really important. I’m going to spend some time, first, talking about love languages. There are several different kinds of love languages. 

Then, I am going to give you a love language quiz so that you can answer a few simple questions and think through them. Through that exercise, get a fair amount of clarity around what your most important love language or love languages—there can be more than one—what those are for yourself and, moment of truth, also what your partner’s love languages are. With that clarity, you can then begin using these ideas in your relationship as soon as today. By the end of this episode, I hope that you have more insight into this and some ideas about how to use it. Let’s just dive right in. 

How Love Languages Help You Understand Relationships

First of all, I’m going to briefly talk about the different types of love languages, just to give you an overview. Also, just talk about how differences between them can create hurt feelings, let’s say, or disappointment and expectations in a relationship because this happens all the time. I think we can agree that we all have ways of feeling loved that are meaningful to us, specifically. 

For example, some people experience love and connection the most when they’re engaged in activities with their partner. Even more interestingly, some kinds of activities elicit more feelings of love and connection because of the activity itself. For other people, that doesn’t mean a thing. Others may feel really loved and appreciated when their partners are telling them that they are loved and appreciated: saying complimentary things or letting them know that they are attractive to them, which is very different. Then, other people, they don’t feel loved unless it is a thoughtful gift that someone has shown them, that they were thinking about them very thoughtfully, turning their understanding of the most important things into a gift or an experience that was designed and curated just for them. That is how they feel loved. Many different ways of doing this. 

Who is right? What’s the right way to give and receive love? The fact is that they’re all the right way. But couples can get into very vicious and painful fights about whose way is the right way when they are different within a relationship. That just boils down to the fact that we’re all individuals. We all have a set of life experiences, family of origin cultures that shaped us, and particularly, how we relate to others. Depending on the way you learned what “being loved” means in action, you won’t feel deeply loved and cared for unless love is being spoken to you and shown to you in your language. Hence, the term love language. 

This phrase was coined by a guy named Gary Chapman in the ’90s. He wrote a book, The Five Love Languages. He proposed in his original work that there were primarily five love languages. There was quality time, which is doing things together; physical touch, which can range from hand holding to hugs to sexual intimacy; gift-giving; acts of service, meaning doing things that need to be done without being asked; also, words of affirmation, so praise, affectionate statements, compliments. He found five. 

Actually, in my experience, I think that there are two others. I think that there’s this planning and building component that’s important in many relationships. There is also emotional intimacy, which is incredibly important for many people. I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t in Gary Chapman’s book. Maybe emotional intimacy was so far away from his own personal love languages that it wasn’t even on his radar, perhaps. But it’s very true for many people. We’re going to be talking about it on today’s show, just in case it’s yours. 

The first thing to know about love languages, this is going to change everything, is this central idea that all humans are vulnerable to believing that other people are pretty much the same as we are. We have things going on in our own minds, in our own emotions that make sense to us; and therefore, we project onto others that the same things are true for them. This causes all kinds of problems in many different aspects of human relationships. 

Certainly, with couples is when people assume that love means the same thing to both of you, that if you love having sex with your partner, and you feel so connected, and close to them, and they don’t always want to do that with you, if you don’t understand that they have different ways of experiencing sexuality or feeling loved, it’s like, “Why? Why don’t they want to do that? Do they not love me anymore? They’re not attracted to me anymore? Why don’t they want to be emotionally close to me?” It’s because it doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to you. But the risk here is that there’s a lot of personalization that goes into that assumption and a lot of hurt feelings. 

In contrast, if one person feels that sexuality and romantic evenings are the pinnacle of connection, and they are partnered with someone whose number one love language is acts of service and is really wanting material help in getting things done around home improvement projects, or child care, or just taking care of business, that you’re both going to feel really annoyed and disappointed with each other because you’re wanting things from each other that almost don’t compute. 

Yes, you might understand that your partner would really like to be intimate with you, but you don’t understand why and vice versa that your partner really wants to clean the garage all day on Saturday, and they want you to be excited, and show up, and proactive. They may not understand that that act of service is the third ring of hell for you. It is not something that you enjoy. And it’s certainly not something that you associate with love, and respect, and the fabric of your relationship. 

When there’s conflict around that or push-back or like, “Do we have to?”, you or your partner might feel like, “What do you mean ‘do we have to’? Am I alone in this life? Where are you? What are we doing together?” It turns into this big existential relationship threat that you will have no idea about. There’s this ferocious anger coming at you all of a sudden. They’re like, “Well, why are we even doing this together?” That can be really surprising unless you understand how deeply these roots go into attachment, and love, and what love means. 

In contrast, if couples don’t understand what’s going on, they will be blindsided all the time by these weird reactions and people getting extremely upset about things that seem mysterious. Like, “What? I just said I didn’t feel like going on a hike today. Why are you crying all of a sudden?” They don’t really know. But if you understand that your partner’s love language is something and they were just reaching out to you in a very vulnerable way like it felt to them, this moment of connection, if you understand that that’s what’s going on, you will know how to handle these things completely differently. And you will begin knowing how to really give your partner that love and affection in the way that is most meaningful to them, not only will you stop having these surprising fights that seem to come out of nowhere, your relationship will feel so much stronger and better for both of you. Because let’s face it, we’re all really craving love. We all just want to feel cared for, and understood, and loved, and respected. Knowing what that means to your partner is the path to create the kind of relationship that you want

First of all, my first tip is don’t assume that you know what your partner’s love language is or that it is, or that it should be similar to yours. Just if you take one thing away from this podcast, let it be this idea that what is important and meaningful to you does not have to be important or meaningful to someone else. But in a loving committed relationship, even if your partner doesn’t experience things in exactly the same way that you do, if it’s important to you, they need to at least respect that it is important to you and be willing to go along with it because it is important to you. It does not have to be as personally important to them. It’s absolutely okay for you guys to be different individuals with complementary strengths in a vibrant relationship. The key to compatibility is not twinship. It is not being the same. It is respecting and appreciating each other for your differences, right? 

The Different Love Languages

Let’s do a quick run-through of the main types of love languages, just to give you an overview.

Words of Affirmation

First of all, there are words of affirmation. This means that people really feel loved when there is verbal acknowledgment of feelings. They feel loved when you say “I love you,” literally. Or “Hey, you look great today.” Compliments, appreciative statements. “Oh, my gosh. This was the most amazing dinner I’ve ever had. Thank you so much for making this. I really appreciate this.” For your partner to feel loved by you, they need to be hearing this. If it is hard for you to say these kinds of things out loud, you might consider a little card, or a letter, or a text message even counts. But it’s like, “How do I make my feelings for them, my appreciation for them overt in language, verbal language?”If it doesn’t happen in verbal language, it doesn’t mean the same thing because it’s their love language. 

If over the course of this podcast you learn that this is your partner’s main love language, you can’t also just do it one time and then think “Oh, yeah, I told them that I loved them in 2017, so they know.” It has to be frequent. Daily. Multiple times a day. They need to be hearing from you how great you think they are. Let that idea sink in, especially if you’re not naturally a verbally expressive person. That one can be a little challenging. But again, lots of things can change if you learn how to do that well. 

Gift-Giving

Another love language is gift-giving. If your partner’s love orientation is built around gifts, you will probably have experienced from them what it feels like to be presented with something from them. Because the other thing about love languages is that people, your partner, is probably showing you what their love language is by the way they treat you. Going back to the first one, if your partner is following you around all the time, telling you how great you are and how much they love you, there’s a good chance that their love language are words of affirmation. 

If your partner gives you presents or is doing amazing things, jumping out of a cake on your birthday, their primary love orientation is probably gift-giving. Think about if your partner is doing this, what it feels like to get a present for them? It’s probably very nicely wrapped. It is probably thoughtful. They have probably spent a lot of time thinking about what you might like that would signify something special between the two of you—framing the concert tickets from your first date, and wrapping it up, and giving it to you on your anniversary. That is the kind of thing that a gift-giving person would do. It is going to be important for you to do some of that for them. 

I also just want to say out loud right here, don’t confuse gift with expense. There does not need to necessarily be a monetary component to gift-giving. Although, for some people that come from some families of origin, the expense of the gift actually does matter. I’ll leave it to you to think through whether or not that might be true for your partner. But generally speaking, the gifts that are most meaningful and valued are the ones that come through your thought and from your effort, not from your wallet. 

This one can be a tough one because if your partner has a strong gift-giving orientation, and you don’t, this can be a big step. For example, thankfully, neither my husband and I are hugely gift-giving people. I am anti-gift-giving. I do not like it when people give me presents. I don’t know what it is. I always just feel uncomfortable and like, “Okay, thank you.” But I don’t love it. If I were partnered with somebody who really needed gifts and thoughtful curated things for me, I would have to spend a lot of time and energy on that and be very intentional with how I do that. I just say that out loud to highlight the fact that sometimes, it’s a stretch if your partner has a way of feeling loved that’s very, very different from yours. 

Acts of Service

Another important and, I think, under-noticed love language for many people are acts of service. I think what that stems from is this feeling that you’re together on the same team. You’re working together on this shared life and there are a set of responsibilities that have to be managed for that. When they feel helped by you in material ways, it is very loving for them. I think that this is an interesting one because it can evolve over time. 

For example, and this is super stereotypical, but for a couple to meet and connect in their early 20s, and they’re off going and doing fun things together, and concerts, and motorcycle rides, and having a good time, that feels like what the fabric of a relationship is built on—having a good time together, having experiences because that’s really what fits for that phase of life. As relationships evolve over time, and mature, and the circumstances of life become different, particularly, as people get older and maybe their relationship expands to include a family, and a house to maintain, and jobs to juggle, to pay for the family in the house, just mountains of stuff and a social life, now, the kid is in T-ball, there’s just so much stuff that feels legitimately overwhelming for many people. 

In this new context, acts of service can become the most significant way that people feel loved, and respected, and appreciated by each other. It’s almost being seen like, “Oh, my God. I’m drowning.” For a partner to take the initiative to notice that the windshield wiper blades need to be replaced, and without asking anybody, just go ahead and do that. Order them on Amazon. They come to the house. They’re now on the car without somebody having to say, “Oh, my God, the windshield wiper blades.” It’s amazing. That is very, very meaningful for a lot of people. 

But this is also a very humble love language. It is easily missed because it might not seem directly related to your partner’s heart. But for an overwhelmed eight-armed dervish overworking parent, to have somebody else just notice like, “Oh, you know what? That laundry needs to be folded and put away. I’m just going to go ahead and do it,” they could fall into your arms weeping with gratitude. I will also just say that research backs this one up. There is now research that shows. This is, again, my apologies for any of my same-sex couple friends, but in heterosexual relationships, there is a direct correlation between the level of egalitarianism in a relationship, meaning that men and women share the burden of childcare, housework, stuff together, direct correlation between that and sexual intimacy and relationship satisfaction. 

What that means in layperson’s terms is that when men vacuum, there is more sex. I want to just remove this idea that there’s sort of a reward-punishment thing going on. Like, “Oh, you’re a good boy. I’m going to have sex with you now. That is not it, and I don’t want you to think it is. What is true is that when men are more deeply involved and equivalent partners when it comes to running a life, there is this natural feeling of love, and feeling respected and appreciated. Also, in practical terms, more energy to be intimate, compared to, say, a stereotypical again, my apologies, working mom who comes home, and does a second shift, and now has to vacuum, and fold the laundry, and is falling into bed at 11 o’clock at night, just exhausted. There isn’t any margin left for sexual intimacy compared to a relationship with a partner who did all the stuff and now, they can both go to bed together at night. There’s very real aspects of this that can strengthen a relationship enormously for both people. I just want you to think about that. 

Quality Time

Another important love language is that of quality time. Quality time people feel loved by you when you are together out in the world and doing fun things. Also, fun things that are fun for them, many times. They are probably craving magical moments with you where you’re doing something, and there’s shared enjoyment. For some couples, and this is going to be a little bit different depending on the personality and the culture of your relationship, but for some, and particularly if you have a partner who likes adventure and travel, doing something interesting or fun or new, it will be very, very meaningful for them when you’re their adventure buddy. 

I think it’s partly a shared experience that feels like a bonding moment, but also opportunities to have conversations or learn about something new together. Or make a memory, a memorable memory together. It feels connecting to them. I think it touches this kind of deep level. This sense that you’re partners in crime, and that you get them, and that there are things that they like to do that are important to them. To be able to share them with you, their number one person, is very, very meaningful. 

If your partner is one of those active people who really likes doing special things, it’s important for you to take the initiative and make some plans that are in alignment with their interests. While it’s always helpful to make it fun, I think that there’s also opportunity to have those points of connection in more of the null day-to-day activities. Some people go to the grocery store together or watching a show together. That’s a very small subtle thing, but you’re still sharing the experience, and having the opportunity to talk about things, and ride in the car on the way there and back. 

For some very efficient families, that turns into this divide and conquer. Like, “Okay, I’ll watch the kids. You go to Target. We’re going to do this.” But it creates a lot of separation. While it can be efficient and get things done, it misses these natural opportunities for time together on just a day-to-day basis. Eating meals together might actually be really important to your partner who is oriented in this way. Then, of course, sprinkling in magical moments and genuinely fun and interesting exciting things are really fun, too. So, yay. 

Physical Touch

We have to mention that physical touch is an extremely important love language for many people. For some people, it’s really one of the only ways that they really, really feel loved and cared for. By literally feeling you, having you hold their hand or give them a big hug, or kiss, or spend an intimate evening with them, that’s when they feel that you are connected, that you’re a couple, that you’re in this together, and that there’s this bond. For some people, you can tell them that you love them a thousand times, and buy them presents, and go on trips, but they just don’t feel special unless you are hugging them, holding their hand, and giving them a squeeze. It’s really important to them, and it must be acknowledged. It must be honored, too, I think, because it’s really important. 

I will say sexual intimacy can be very, very important to physically-oriented types, but it’s also important to not always make sex the goal or outcome or physicality. Because when that happens, it can actually limit day-to-day natural affectionate physical touching. Because if every little interaction needs to turn into sexual intercourse, then people will begin avoiding that, so you’ll have less hugs and less kisses, more physical distance because cuddling on the couch will always turn into having sex. I think we need to have flexibility around that for both partners because that can unintentionally damage sexual intimacy when there’s this pressure-y feeling but to even acknowledge that and practice having a lot of nonsexual touching and physical intimacy built into your relationship. 

Another little fun fact is that if your partner is very physically oriented, in addition to physical affection and intimacy, it may show up in other ways. They may be very environmentally sensitive, want to be in beautiful spaces. They may be foodies, really into tastes, and textures, and smells, and clothing. There’s this whole physicality around people like this. Just to take that in mind as well. To think about how you can show them love that is physical in nature without necessarily being physical affection like a nice dinner or a special treat, design types of experiences. Music even can actually be important. Just to think about how the spectrum of physicality and how you can show your partner love in that way. 

Emotional Intimacy

We just kind of had a quick overview of Chapman’s love languages. Let me talk about two others that I’ve seen over the years. One of them is emotional intimacy. What emotional intimacy refers to is the experience of feeling deeply understood, emotionally safe, like your partner truly gets you, as a friend too, in addition to as a romantic partner. 

Running through all of the love languages I’ve described, there’s this kind of thread, which is all of the love languages require a deep understanding of your partner. That gift-giving, when it is meaningful, really comes from this deep understanding, and recognition, and appreciation of your partner. But I think emotional intimacy is a more direct experience of all of those. They can be confused with quality time, going and running around doing things and having conversations. But consider that a couple could spend a weekend camping, and making the fires, and going on the hikes, and talking about things that are maybe not necessarily deeply meaningful conversations. They aren’t sort of tinged with this not necessarily vulnerability, but just this experience of, “I only tell these things to you. You are special. I am sharing with you my very important secret feelings. I’m not even sure how I feel about this yet, but I wanted to share it with you because it’s coming up for me.” 

It’s having meaningful conversations and experiences that are emotionally safe. It’s this experience of, “I can tell you anything, and it would be okay. I feel unconditionally loved and accepted by you for exactly who and what I am. It’s okay for me to not be okay. It’s okay for me to be in the messy middle of something and not actually know how I’m going to get to the other side and just share that with you without you telling me what I should do or how to fix it.” Right? It’s just like this shared space, this emotional space. 

Emotional intimacy people, they don’t care as much about what they do, or the stuff is getting done, or even physical affection. Really, they feel loved when you ask them how they’re doing and then listen to the answer with empathy. When they feel that you care about how they’re feeling, and want to know, and are inviting them to tell you, that is really what makes them feel loved, and connected, and validated, and appreciated. They need that, so just know that.

I will also add that for some people that is a skill that needs to be developed. That’s in alignment with some of the emotional intelligence conversations that you and I have had in the past. We can create another topic on that, specifically. I just wanted to say out loud, if you don’t know how to do that, that’s okay. You can learn how to do that, and it is very important that you learn how to do that, to communicate with your partner in a way that really fosters genuine emotional intimacy. Because without it, a relationship will wither, and you won’t know why. Not to be scary, but grizzled Gen X here has seen a lot. You don’t know what I’ve seen.

Building Together

Another and the last love language that we’ll be talking about today that is not in the Chapman book is also this idea of building together. Building-together people can sometimes be confused with acts-of-service people because building often requires many things to be done in order to achieve the big hairy goals. But acts of service are more about feeling understood and respected because your partner is seeing the things that have to be done. There’s a shared responsibility, and they can step in to take something off your plate is what feels often most meaningful about that. Building together is a little different because people who have a strong building orientation, they actually care less about the tasks and more about what it means and where you are going as a couple. Building equals shared commitment. This can be actualized in tasks. 

Say your partner really wants you to do a budget with them, okay? It’s not about doing the budget and like, “Okay, how much money are we going to spend in July?” It’s really around, “We have shared hopes and goals for our financial future as a couple, and we are working towards something. Ten years from now, this is what our life will be like because we are doing these things today.” It’s very future-oriented. It’s making plans, and then, doing things in the present moment that actualize those plans. 

An acts-of-service person would be very happy if you painted the bedroom because it needs to be done. A building-together person would be very happy to paint the bedroom because it will increase the resale value of this house, so when you sell it, you’ll be better able to buy your actual dream home, which is this. Already, there’s a magazine picture of it cut out on a little bulletin board. That’s the dream board. That’s the building-together person. Some of the activities can be the same, but the intentions and the meaning behind it is pretty different. 

If you don’t understand that about your partner, that these future plans and being in alignment about future plans are really how they feel loved and secure, that your partnership is forward-moving, there’s commitment, that’s how they feel loved—big, heavy ideas. I thank you, though, for talking through these with me. Because, again, if you don’t understand this and what’s really happening underneath some of these little moments, like when your partner comes in for a hug or when your partner says, “I think we should paint the bedroom on Saturday,” you can miss so much. I hope that this overview helps you understand more deeply what’s at the core. 

What’s Your Love Language?

Now, I also promised you a love language quiz, and I’m going to give you this quiz. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll have a pretty clear sense, as if you didn’t already, but you’ll have more clarity around your love language and that of your partner too. It might actually be a fun thing, particularly, if you’re listening to this on your own right now. Send this to your partner, get them to listen through it, and get them to listen to the love language quiz so that they have more insight around their own love language and yours so that they can show you love in the ways we’re talking about, too. 

Okay, let’s do a love language quiz together now so that you can get clarity about your love language and that of your partner’s. 

Here is question one: You wake up on a beautiful Saturday morning, and the first thing you want to do is…? What just popped into your head? Was it… 

A: Have sex with your partner.

B: Get in the car and go do something fun for the rest of the day.

C: Have a leisurely brunch with your partner and just talk about everything that’s been happening lately, work, stuff, life, friends.

D: Would you love to have your partner take care of the kids for a little while or handle another task, so you can just go back to sleep for a few more minutes? 

E: Are you waking up thinking about what wonderful things your partner might have in store for you today? Are you hoping that they might have made you breakfast? 

Is your hope that you might get a kiss and an “I love you so much” from your partner, who’s just laying there in bed beside you, just staring at you with love in their eyes, and say, “Oh, my God. You’re so beautiful,” even when you just wake up? 

Or when you wake up on a Saturday morning, is the first thought in your head that’s about: “What are we going to do today? We need to get started on this big home-improvement project, need to go to the hardware store and get some stuff, planning for the next big thing.” 

Is that what your ideal Saturday would look like? Think about that. In those responses, you are going to have some ideas about what your love language is. 

Okay, here’s another one: Think about your upcoming birthday, your next birthday, and what you would like most your partner to do for you. Is it, first of all… 

A: plan a romantic sensual evening? 

B: Take you out to do something that you love, like going on a fun weekend, seeing a show, getting together with friends? 

C: Nothing fancy, just clear the calendar, so they can spend the whole day connecting with you. Going on walks, talking about what the last year has been like, what you’d like the next year to be like.

D: Would you love for them to handle all the to-do’s so that you can take the day off and just have some guilt-free self-care time? Go to the spa, get a pedicure, go ride your motorcycle. 

Are you wishing that they would surprise you with a thoughtful, meaningful gift? Bonus points if it’s extra special and nicely wrapped. Are you wishing that they would give you a card or a letter that is just them pouring out all their heartfelt feelings for you? 

Or would you like your birthday to be all about their connecting it with a milestone for your shared life together? That they would propose that they would say, “This time next year, you’re going to be pregnant.” Or “This time next year we’re going to be living in Los Angeles, and you’re going to have your dream job, and here’s how we’re going to do it.” Is it celebrating the milestones and talking about what’s next? 

Okay, next question: After a really rough day at work, just imagine you are drained, you’re fried, you’re frazzled, you’re all the things like, “Ahh.” What do you really, really need from your partner? Is it…

A: A big, long hug? 

B: Getting their help in shifting gears. Like going for a walk together, watching a fun show, talking about vacation plans, and like, “Hey, let’s get out of here. Let’s go for a ride. Whatever.”

C: Is it that you really, really want their full attention while you just talk about everything that happened? What’s going on for me, how you feel about it, and feel they really understand you, just why this day was so hard and what it feels like to be you. 

D: After a long day, you would really like for them to figure out what the heck we’re going to have for dinner, and make it, and then do the dishes, so I don’t have to deal with it. I’m just going to lay here on the couch and stare at a wall and back. Somebody else is making my dinner. I don’t care what it is. 

E: You would love them to get you a little care package or special treat or nice thing that reminds you, like when you wake up tomorrow morning, there’s a bouquet of flowers that can stay at your work desk all day so that you feel loved and cared for and they know that you’re going through a hard time because you’re looking at the flowers. 

If you just had a hard day, do you love being reminded that you are strong, smart, and competent, and you’re doing a really great job under difficult circumstances? “All those people you work with are jerks, and they don’t appreciate you enough. You are amazing. You’re going to get to the next level and just never have to talk to any of the people again. I am on your side no matter what happens.” Is that what you want? 

Or lastly, do you want from them a reminder that, “We’re doing this for a reason and our future holds something so much better. You’re going to be in this place for six more months, and then here’s what we’re going to do, and here’s what’s going to happen after that. This is just one step on the large and winding staircase towards our ideal life that we are building together. I’m here with you in that.” What do you want? 

Now, you might also be thinking that, “I want all of those. Yes, please. I would like every single one of those things.” Valid. That is absolutely valid. But what means the most to you? As you think through these, if you could only have one, what would it be? Then, what would be the second most important thing for you? Because if everything is important, nothing is important. This exercise is about how to get clarity around your love languages. These are all nice, but think about which ones would be most meaningful for you. 

Okay, now, next question: What is your most favorite thing about your partner? 

Is it that they are a great kisser, and hugger, and they smell good, and it feels wonderful to be with them, and you love your sex life with them, that they make you feel really good? 

Or is your favorite thing about your partner that you guys are adventure partners? You have so much fun together even if you’re just out doing random things. They can make you laugh while you’re in line at the grocery store. That kind of thing.

Is your favorite thing about your partner that you feel understood by them? That they really care about your feelings, and they’re your best friend, and they know you inside and out. You can share anything, and it is emotionally safe. 

Is your favorite thing about your partner the fact that they proactively take care of practical things and your shared life together just to make your life easier? 

Or is it that they are incredible about treating you with special things or experiences that make life worth living? Are they thoughtful and just, “Bing, here’s the cherry on top” that you weren’t even expecting but somehow, they just magically know exactly what to do. 

Or is it that you feel like your partner is your number one fan. They are always reminding you of how much they love you, and appreciate you, and they’re attracted to you, and they think you’re smart. They just fill up your cup with words of admiration, praise, and affection. 

Or lastly, is it that your partner is really deeply committed to the vision of your shared life together? That you know your values are in alignment, you are going in the same direction, and you’re actively creating the life that you both want? 

Okay, two more questions. The next question I have for you: What is one thing that you wish you had more of in your relationship with your partner? 

Is it wishing that you had more physical intimacy? Like, “Yes, hugs, kisses, but also, I would like to have more sex. I would like to have more sex with my partner. When I feel connected physically, that is when I feel closest to them.” 

B: Is it that you wish you had more fun together? Do you feel like your life has kind of got a little bit boring, and you just wish that you had more opportunities to go out and do fun things and things that you both have a good time with? 

C: Is it that you wish you had more emotional intimacy in your relationship? Deep, honest conversations that make you feel connected, more emotionally validated, less maybe criticism and more just unconditionally positive emotional support?

Or is it that you wish your partner was more proactive about day-to-day things that you don’t feel like everything was on you? Everything from childcare to cleaning to just stuff that needs to get done. Do you feel like you’re always having to bug them to do stuff instead of them just noticing things that need to be done? 

Or is it that you wish your partner would put more thought and energy into thinking about what would be nice for you? If it was planning gifts or trips or even meals or evenings. Just feeling considered and that they were trying to make things special for you and nice for you, the way that you would make it special and nice for them. 

Or is it that you wish your partner was more positive about you or more demonstrative, more complimentary, more expressive of their feelings of love and respect for you? Or do you feel you have to ask them to say something nice to you? Is that what you would like to be different? 

Or lastly, do you wish that you and your partner had more shared hopes and dreams for the long haul and that your partner was more actively involved in building things with you? Is it hard for you to get them to talk about the future and what they’d like just so that you can feel you’re moving forward together? 

Just as an aside here in the quiz, and not to be certainly negative at all, but I think that considering our points of dissatisfaction with our relationships can also be very illuminating when it comes to understanding our love language and also that of our partner. Because if you have a love language that your partner either is not aware of or is indifferent around, one of those things that I just said is probably going to be a little like, “Ooh” for you. That’s completely okay, does not mean a bad thing about your relationship. It’s just a growth opportunity, right? That’s why we’re doing this, as always. 

Okay, very last question, and this is my IKEA relationship question. If you don’t know what an IKEA is, it is a Swedish retailer. They sell furniture and home goods. They’re these giant furniture stores, basically. They are all over North America, Europe, Asia. If you live within 300 miles of IKEA, you will be able to relate to this. But in the event that you haven’t, as you listen to the questions, just think about another trip to a furniture or home-goods store that you may have taken with your partner in the last year or two. All right. Here’s the IKEA question. Virtually, every couple has had a fight related to an IKEA excursion. It’s impossible to not to. I have had one. Everybody I know has had one. 

Now, the question is what is the most likely thing to trigger your IKEA fight? Is it…

One: That you start feeling stressed out, frazzled, exhausted, overwhelmed, and/or hungry? Like you just have got to get out of that IKEA ASAP into the light of day, but your partner wasn’t done yet, and you’re freaking out?

Or is it B: When you start venting about how much you have hated wasting a day of your life trapped in an IKEA? You would so much rather be doing something else. “This was a wasted day. We could have gone on a bike ride, we could have done anything, and I’m stuck here.” Is that why you would have gotten in a fight? 

C: You get into fights about IKEA because you’re not on the same page about what we thought we should get. Now, we are in a fight about different perspectives. “Who was right? This is wrong. You are being ridiculous, and we were not in alignment. I thought we were here to get a new kitchen, you thought we were here just looking around. You think it’s a bad idea to get a new kitchen.” Miscommunication. 

D: Your fights in IKEA are usually related to when you feel resentful that you are the one thinking about what we need. You are planning the decor. You’re picking everything out. You are thinking about what would be a good thing to have in the kid’s room. Your partner is present, but they are completely checked out and passive. They are not participating in decision-making. They’re just standing there. They’ll do something if you tell them to but not until you told them to, and it is just bugging the heck out of you. 

E: You will get in a fight in or about an IKEA because one of you thinks their stuff is cheap and that we should aim higher, but the other one of you thinks it’s a good bargain. It’s fine. It’s just as good as anything else, really, and it doesn’t cost that much. What are you trying to do to our finances anyway? There’s big vicious arguments about the quality of the stuff that you should have in your life. 

Or another IKEA fight reason is that you start to bicker when your partner is stressed out, and getting really grumpy, and impatient, and irritable just being negative, and cranky, and saying negative things and, “Why are we here?”, feeling like they’re mad at you for being there at that IKEA. This isn’t fun anymore and they should be nicer to you. 

Lastly, do you get in fights related to IKEA because you would love to go to an IKEA or anywhere for that matter and buy furniture together but your partner doesn’t want to because maybe they’re not that committed? “What does it mean that you don’t want to buy furniture with me?” Okay, let all those sink in. 

You may have gotten into an IKEA fight for a different reason than the one that I’ve described, but those are the big ones. They are also the ones that are primarily related to love languages. 

Those questions, like everything else on this love language quiz, are in order. There is, first of all, questions about physical affection. Then, questions, number two answers are about quality time. The third question in line is about emotional intimacy, or the third answer I should say. The fourth answer is about acts of service. The fifth answer is about gift-giving.  The sixth answer is about words of affirmation. And the seventh answer is about building together. 

As you write down all your questions, you may start to notice patterns in your answers. Was it primarily the second question? Was it primarily the seventh question? Again, this is not a scientific score-based kind of thing. But primarily, if there are patterns around your answers, if you mostly resonated with number one and maybe secondarily number six, you know that your love language is primarily physical affection and then also positive affirmations. That’s just something to know. But it’s also really important to think about, “How would my partner have answered these questions to the love language quiz?” 

Better yet, instead of making assumptions, you could send this podcast and quiz to them. Get them to listen and actually tell you, “You know what? These are my love languages. These are the times that I feel truly loved by you, and this is what I wish I had more of for you in our relationship.” Those can sometimes feel challenging conversations, especially if there’s defensiveness or like, “That’s not true.” Let’s try to avoid that, as always. 

Just having open conversations about this can really open the door to understanding each other more deeply, and being able to show each other the love and respect that you each deserve, and learn how to do so in a way that is genuinely meaningful to your partner. Because if you keep trying to show your partner love and respect in the way that’s important to you and not in the way that’s important to them, your efforts will fall flat. They will not feel loved and respected by you. It will be to the detriment of your relationship. 

It’s a pretty easy fix to turn it around, to know your partner better, and to show them love in a way that’s meaningful to them. I sincerely hope that this podcast episode has given you some actionable guidance on how to achieve that in your relationship. Thank you for spending this time with me today. As always, so much more for you at growingself.com. Come on over. We have all sorts of articles on the blog. We have relationship quizzes. We have other podcast episodes on things like communication, getting on the same page, healthy relationship skills and so much more. I hope you check them all out because they are all here for you at growingself.com

Alright. Thanks, everyone, and I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode.

[Outro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]


Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Expectations in a Relationship: Three to Avoid

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFTC is a kind, compassionate marriage counselor, therapist and coach here to help you create your very best life. Ana specializes in helping couples create healthy, happy partnerships, and assisting individuals to heal from past hurts so they can create fulfillment and joy in their lives.

What Are Your Expectations In a Relationship?

Avoid The Three Relationship Expectations That Will Always Mess Things Up

Even before I became a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist, I would have described myself as being a “hopeless romantic” and had grand expectations in a relationship. Growing up, I loved the idea of love. To me, the movies I watched made relationships seem easy. You know, the ones where both partners overcome some kind of obstacle to finally realize their need for the other, they confess their undying love then live happily ever after.

I loved this idea growing up, because it just seemed so natural. It seemed like such a stark difference from the real-world relationships that were falling apart all around me. I realized that my idolization of relationships in the movies led me to develop some unrealistic expectations about relationships in my own definition of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Here are some of the biggest expectations in a relationship that may prevent you from experiencing fulfillment with your partner:

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #1: “I have to be perfect.”  

Have you ever felt that you can’t let your partner see your faults or weaknesses?

As a couples therapist, I work with many couples who feel this pressure to be perfect for their partner, oftentimes stating their fear that sharing their weaknesses will somehow diminish the quality of their relationship.

These feelings of insecurity often leads to one or both partners tip-toeing around each other, neglecting to share their needs or fears, forfeiting the opportunity to experience a true, genuine connection with each other.

The myth of perfection is detrimental because it assumes that humans are faultless beings. Which we are not. Furthermore, perfectionism results in unsatisfactory relationships because there is a lack of depth and meaning when you are only sharing what you believe to be the best parts of you. In fact, vulnerability connects. 

A partnership is about giving each other the benefit of the doubt, it’s about sharing life together.  To share life with another person is to offer them your whole heart with the hope that you are both able and willing to accept and love each other fully — accepting the good with the bad.

When this kind of intimacy happens, it creates a true partnership, a bond full of depth and meaning with a person who you feel safe to rely on, through both the difficulties of life and the joys.

Tip: Try making a list of your top three insecurities and sharing them with your partner, while allowing space to validate each other’s vulnerabilities.

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #2: “This relationship is about meeting MY needs.”

Living in an individualistic society, we can often place more emphasis on what I can get out of a relationship, or where our partner is failing to meet my needs.  

What I so often see as a marriage counselor and couples therapist is that both partners have needs. It is important for partners to understand how to meet each other's needs in a way that provides safety and security in the relationship. I also believe that we can be so focused on what OUR needs are, that we fail to see what our partners are needing from us and wind up neglecting them.

Partnership requires togetherness. Togetherness requires the courage to see beyond yourself into another person’s world. Consider your partner's perspective, what they need, and how you can fulfill them. Doing this can create a community dynamic in your relationship, where you know that you and your partner are looking out for one another, that you’re not in this alone.

Tip: Try spending a day focusing on filling your partner’s “love tank” by doing what makes them feel most loved without expecting anything in return. 

Unrealistic Expectation #3: “You should be my everything.”

In my role as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I’ve noticed this narrative increasing in the couples I’ve seen: a relationship expectation that their partner needs to be their everything.

This unrealistic expectation often leads to someone feeling lonely and hurt when their partner is unable to meet their every need. This mindset also puts an intense pressure on both partners to become something that is often unattainable.

I believe that, much like the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to keep a strong partnership. Having more people in your life besides just your partner, and a shared community where both partners’ feel safe and supported by a number of people, helps to lessen the pressure that you both have to be everything.  Having a community creates an environment for your partnership to flourish as you realize that it does not have to be just the two of you against the world.

Tip: Try spending time with friends both as a couple and individually to build up your community. When you're unable to meet with your community in-person, here are some tips for social distancing relationships: Building CommUNITY During Social Distancing and Self Quarantine.

Have you had some expectations in a relationship, like the ones I talk about here, that have gotten in your way of having the kind of happy relationship you want? I hope that this article helped shed some light on them, and offered you some tips for how to break free of some unrealistic relationship expectations.

If I can do anything else to support you in creating a great relationship, you know where to find me!

Warmly,

Anastacia Sams, M.A., LMFTC

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.

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

How to Recover From a Horrible Fight.

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.

Is your head spinning after a terrible fight? Here’s how to get your relationship back on track…

We’ve all been there. The sanest, most intelligent, reasonable, successful people — brilliant CEOs, steady-handed surgeons, unflappable news anchors, and uber-rational captains of industry can all become unhinged in the heat of the moment. Before I became a marriage counselor, the adventure husband and I spent a good deal of the 90's trying to knock the corners off each other too. So I understand what this feels like.

I also know (now) that intense fights are not necessary. Fighting is not a productive or effective way to solve the issues in your relationship. However, what is much more important than whether or not fights happen is how they end. When you can come back together afterwards to solve problems together, your relationship is strengthened as a result. Here's how to reconnect…

The Anatomy of a Fight

To mend a fight, you first need to understand what made it so awful in the first place. It doesn’t even matter what started it — the reasons can range from someone taking a sharp tone with the kids, to coming home with the wrong brand of salsa, to staying out all night. But it always starts with someone feeling anger, hurt or fear, and then attempting to communicate about it. And it goes badly.

You try to say how you feel — reasonably, and with good intentions — but somehow it quickly disintegrates. You get triggered. They get triggered. And suddenly awful things start happening. You may find yourself defensively attempting to protect yourself from the insults and accusations hurling through the air. You may find yourself screeching like a crazy person at your partner’s wooden face. [Read: How to Communicate With a Withdrawn Partner]. You may find yourself doing or saying things that you would never do, otherwise. It is shocking what can happen during a bad argument.

There is a “point of no return” for everyone. We can keep our cool and behave rationally even when we are upset, until our rage-o-meter gets up to about a five or six on a ten scale. But once we push the needle past a 7 or so, we enter the “red zone” of anger.

We actually know, from research, that when people get into this elevated fight-or-flight state they literally cease to think coherently, and the part of their brain that encodes ideas into language stops functioning well. We enter a primal state where our feelings are expressed through our actions — dishes are thrown, doors are slammed, or we screech off dramatically in cars to convey what our words no longer can. We disintegrate into inarticulate screaming, or lash out with insults intended to wound. [Read: Why Your Partner is Angry]. It can get intense, and scary.

And in the aftermath, you are shaky, your heart feels broken, and your mind is understandably flooded with questions. Namely, “What the hell just happened?”

You replay events to understand where the wheels came off the bus. If you’re like most people, you walk back through the timeline to reassure yourself that your intentions were good and that you did your best. As your rational mind slowly comes back online you might be left feeling shocked and raw by the things you just experienced with your partner. Maybe you are embarrassed and ashamed by the things you said and did in the heat of the moment.

You’re probably also feeling worried about what this means about your relationship, how to come back from this, and most importantly, how to make sure this never happens again.

Four Tips To Get Back on Track After a Terrible Fight

1) Give it some time. Know how grandmothers and pop-psych gurus like to talk about “never going to bed angry?” That is complete and total crap. People vary in the amount of time it takes to calm down after a terrible fight. You might be ready to talk rationally fifteen minutes later. Your partner might need a few days to calm down. Do NOT try to make them talk to you if they aren’t there yet. Leave them alone, and they’ll show back up when they are ready to talk about what happened. Forcing the issue will only lead to round two of the horribleness.

2) Never underestimate the power of a good repair attempt. Reach out and apologize. Do the dishes. Make a joke (at your own expense, if you want to live). Come back with a peace offering, or at least a wry smile and a hug. Show your partner that you are sorry about what happened and that you still love them. It may still be too fragile to talk about it, but at least you are showing them that you are available to make it better when they are.

3) Own your stuff. It is very easy to fixate on your partner’s problems, and how they were responsible for the fight. We all think about how, “If they’d only done something differently / been more responsible / followed through / used a different tone none of this would have happened.” I get it, and I agree that your partner probably does have some things to work on. And you and I also know that you are not perfect, and could have done some things differently too. If you want to mend your relationship and have the opportunity to work on things together, it would be much more effective for you to take ownership for your stuff. At the very least, your setting a good example will help your partner take ownership for their parts of the conflict too.

4) Solve the problem. No relationship problems are ever actually solved during a fight. When people are shouting, no one is listening. But after the dust settles and everyone is calm again — that is the time to address the underlying problems that caused the fight in the first place. Remember, it’s never about the salsa. Look deeper, and see if you can identify the bigger issues underneath, like trust, security, love, partnership, values, or connection. When you work on that level, the real issues are addressed and your connection is healed.

And remember, if it keeps exploding in your face (or going nowhere) every time you try to talk about it, that is a good sign that you could benefit from marriage counseling. A great marriage counselor can help you talk about tender things productively, and help you and / or your partner take ownership for (or even see) how they are contributing to the issues. They can teach you both the skills you need to head off yucky arguments and simply solve problems together without all the drama. But most importantly, they can help you strengthen your secure attachment and deepen your connection — which makes hurt, fear, and anger much more likely to bubble up in the first place.

We're always here to talk if you ever need us. Just schedule your free consultation session, in person or online. 

All the best to you both,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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.

Practical Tips For Nourishing Friendship With Your Partner

Practical Tips For Nourishing Friendship With Your Partner

Practical Tips For Nourishing Friendship With Your Partner

Be Friends, First

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Over time in a long term committed relationship it can be easy for couples to lose sight of the underlying friendship aspects of their relationship. Research has found that being friends with your partner is actually fundamental to a couples’ overall success and satisfaction with the relationship. Unfortunately, it's easy lose sight of that over time.

Creating A Strong Foundation

When thinking about how to strengthen your friendship with your partner, it might be helpful to think of the qualities you admire in your closest friendships. These friendship “ingredients” may include fostering underlying trust, respect, teamwork and a sense that the other person is on your side or “has your back” at the end of the day. These qualities can also include sharing simple connecting moments like having inside jokes with one another or talking about how your day went in the evening with your significant other.

As a couples counselor and marriage therapist I have had the opportunity to work with many couples who desire to not only build this foundation of friendship with their partner, but also maintain it. Here are a few practical tips that you can use in your own relationship today!

Three Practical Tips For Restoring and Maintaining Friendship With Your Partner

Intentionality is Key

As previously mentioned, with the busyness and demands of life, it can be easy for couples to lose sight of these necessary friendship qualities to a relationship (balancing a Career and Relationship sound familiar?). Couples may also find it difficult to set aside intentional time for maintaining a friendship. Phone conversations, for example, may become limited to shorthand speak about what time dinner will be and did you remember to pick the kids up from soccer practice today?

Even setting an intentional date night can sometimes miss the mark in maintaining friendship between couples. For example, there may be a lot of pressure to make date night grand and romantic or spending the majority of time together finding activities to do rather than simply connecting with one another. While doing fun things together is also important, it may not provide couples with the opportunity to connect in a way that fosters true intimacy and sharing with one another the way you might when having coffee with a close friend, for example.

One suggestion to avoid this pitfall is rather than setting a routine “date night” couples might focus on one time during the week that they set aside for connecting or “checking-in” with one another. Maybe you meet at your favorite coffee shop or simply have “couch time” one evening a week where you talk about how you’ve been feeling individually in addition to how you’re feeling about the relationship. This can be a great opportunity to share things that feel really great about the relationship or ways that you wish things might be going differently between you. [For more ideas on how you can set aside time with your partner, read: “How To Fall In Love Again”]

Honest Communication

Another important component to maintaining friendship between couples is honest communication about what’s going well in the relationship and what isn’t. Part of this communication means giving honest feedback to one another on a regular basis. It can be easy to jump into defense mode when receiving feedback from your partner. Additionally, giving feedback to your partner can feel anxiety provoking and built-up resentment can make delivering feedback to your partner in a caring way difficult.

One way couples might reduce anxiety around giving and receiving feedback to one another is imagining what it would be like to give or receive the same feedback to a close friend. How would you want the feedback delivered? What would be most important to communicate to the other person? What do you ultimately need from this person in the relationship? Sometimes imagining the conversation in this way can take some of the pressure and steam off the conversation with a romantic partner when the stakes often feel much higher and more emotionally loaded than in a platonic friendship.

Mutual Respect

The importance of mutual respect in a couple relationship cannot be underestimated. Mutual respect also means that there is a shared sense of equality in the partnership; that both members of the couple know that the other takes their needs seriously and cares about making the other feel cared for and important. In a friendship, this component is often easy because without it, you wouldn’t have much of a foundation upon which to build a friendship.

One big way that couples lose a sense of mutual respect for one another is the way that conflict gets resolved in the relationship. An example of how this might play out is with grand romantic gestures. For example, a couple gets into a fight and one member of the couple buys the other a bouquet of flowers that gets delivered to the office the next day as an apology. Often times, while well-intentioned, grand romantic gestures disclude the fundamental component of mutual respect which is talking and communicating about what happened during the fight in a meaningful way.

This involves a conversation where both members of the couple take responsibility for and convey understanding of any hurt feelings to one another. These conversations allow couples the opportunity to truly move on from an argument in addition to turning conflict into an opportunity to foster intimacy, honesty and connection in the relationship while grand romantic gestures tend to sweep things under the rug temporarily.

Most couples in long-term, committed relationships struggle to maintain these aspects of the relationship that are so important to overall relationship satisfaction. So know that you are not alone. I do hope you found this article has a helpful jumping off point to thinking about overarching ways friendship might be maintained within the context of a romantic relationship. Share with me your thoughts in the comments below!

Warmly,

Dr. Chelsea Twiss, PhD, LP-C

 

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Dr. Chelsea Twiss is a couples counselor, individual therapist, life coach and creativity coach. She specializes in helping couples restore emotional and sexual intimacy, individuals move past heartbreak and into healthy relationships, and creatives find their voice.

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