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.]


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.”


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.”


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.”


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!


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?


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.”


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.

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

Withdrawn Partner? Stop Pushing Them Further Away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're discussing:

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

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby



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

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

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

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

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Married to a Narcissist?

Married to a Narcissist?

Married to a Narcissist?

Married To A Narcissist?

What to do when you're in love with someone who's in love with themselves…

Married to a narcissist? Or dating a narcissist? Suspect that a family member might be a narcissist? You might be right: They're definitely out there. As I'm sure you're well aware, it's incredibly difficult to have a relationship with a selfish person. You can love them “perfectly,” but it's never enough to get the love you want and deserve back. Today, we're talking about how to tell if someone is a narcissist (and what type of narcissist — redeemable, or irredeemable), what to do and how to cope if you're married to a narcissist, codependence and narcissism, narcissistic relationship dynamics, protecting yourself from narcissists, as well as many of the questions about narcissists you might have.

These relationships are so agonizing, and I get so many questions about how to deal with narcissists. Here are just a few I've heard, that we'll be tackling on today's podcast: 

  • “Dr. Lisa, I think I'm married to a narcissist; what do I do?”
  • “What is the narcissistic abuse cycle?”
  • “What are early warning signs you're dating a narcissist?”
  • “How do you tell the difference between ADHD or narcissism?”
  • “How do I coparent with a narcissist?”
  • “Does therapy work for narcissists?”
  • And my very favorite one, “Dr. Lisa, do narcissists cry?” (The answer is yes, narcissists do cry. Primarily tears of self pity when they're not getting the respect and deference that they feel entitled to.)

Answering Your Questions About Narcissists

Because I get so many questions about narcissists, I'm devoting this entire episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast to tackling them. We'll be doing a dive into the psychology of narcissism, and also how to tell the difference between different kinds of narcissists. (i.e. People who behave selfishly but who can become more loving and empathetic, vs irredeemable, toxic narcissists).

Narcissistic Relationship Dynamics

But even more importantly than talking about narcissists (who, let's be honest, enjoy it very much when we talk about them) I want to talk about YOU. To be a narcissist is one thing, but to be with a narcissist is a whole other thing. Identifying how you may be subconsciously attracting narcissists, or participating in unhealthy toxic relationship patterns with a narcissist will help YOU become empowered. Particularly if you grew up with a narcissistic parent, understanding how you might be vulnerable to engaging with narcissists is vital for you to have a healthy relationship.

In this episode, you will learn about the different types of narcissists. You’ll learn how it’s possible to be in a relationship with one and how to deal with them. Knowing these will help you navigate your relationships with grace and dignity.

Tune in to the podcast to learn how you can understand narcissists and discover strategies to cope with them when you’re in a relationship with one.

In This Episode You Will…

  • Learn the different types of narcissists.
  • Discover the traits of different narcissists.
  • Realize that some narcissists are treatable over time.
  • Identify the things you need to watch out for if you’re dating or married to a narcissist.
  • Uncover the reasons why narcissists are the way they are.
  • Know the different ways individual and couples therapy can (potentially) help narcissists and their partners.
  • Realize that staying with a narcissist may be unhealthy.
  • How to manage narcissistic relationship dynamics so that you can protect yourself.

All that and much, much more on this episode of the podcast. You can listen by scrolling down to the player at the bottom of this post, or you can listen to “Married to a Narcissist” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. (And I hope you subscribe while you're listening so that we can stay connected!)

You can also cruise through the show notes below, and I do hope you check out some of the resources that I have shared in this episode.

Wishing you all the very best on your journey of growth and healing,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Married To a Narcissist: Podcast Episode Highlights

Understanding Narcissists

On the surface, narcissists may not make sense. They may behave outrageously but understanding how they work and what is important to them will help you make sense of how they function.

To help you get your bearings as to what's going on (and what options may be possible) it's first important to understand that here are two kinds of narcissists: wounded narcissists and malignant narcissists.

Empathizing with Wounded Narcissists

Wounded narcissists are often stuck in an adolescent stage of emotional development who do not feel good about themselves. They may include:

  1. Those who have very low self-esteem.
  2. Those who doubt themselves on various levels.
  3. Those whose primary fears are that they may not be loveable, be rejected, not good enough, and that they may be ridiculed.

Wounded narcissists come from a place of fragility, and genuinely struggle to love themselves. They may not get their needs in their family, or they may have been bullied in school. Such narcissists need plenty of external validation. They often feel the need to be propped up by others, and commonly have trust issues in relationships.

They are very image-conscious. “People who are in this place will often try hard to seem cool, seem smart… A lot on social media, they're posting things that are very intentionally trying to make them look good.”

If they don’t feel affirmed, they will take criticism hard. It is because they are very fragile on the inside. They don’t know how to make themselves feel good. However, despite these challenges, wounded narcissists can often heal and grow with the support of good therapy.

Helping Wounded Narcissists

With the support of a good therapist (and lots of patience and “boundaried compassion “from people who love them) wounded narcissists can feel more safe and accepting of themselves. Becoming more vulnerable and authentic creates a lot of anxiety for them, but it's also the path forward. However, before achieving this, it is significant to make them feel like talking to you is a safe space, and they can be vulnerable with you. You may ask them why they feel a certain way. Let them share what’s on their mind and listen.

Wounded narcissists should also identify what their feelings made them do.

  • Did it make them spend extravagantly to look good?
  • Did it make them spend an hour dressing up to impress others?

These are just some of the things you can (very gently and kindly, being careful not to make them feel criticized) talk about with a wounded narcissist. Through these kinds of questions, they become more aware of themselves, and the conversation will naturally follow from that. This could help build their confidence, too.

Additionally, low self-esteem often leads to the development of trust issues. Because of they’ve been too self-absorbed, wounded narcissists often have difficulties when their partners try to open up to them. Instead of talking about the feelings of the other person, the point of conversation shifts unto themselves. This can be exhausting because if you don’t acknowledge them. They may become unhappy with you.

Nonetheless, marriage counseling or couples therapy paired with empathy can help resolve this problem. It’s relatively easy to empathize with them but what may become challenging is that they may find it difficult to empathize with you.

Nevertheless, it is not an indication that empathy is impossible for wounded narcissists. It merely means that they still have a lot to work on themselves. A great way to do it is to engage in couples therapy or counseling.

Couples Therapy

Couples counseling can help restore a healthy boundaries in a relationship, improve communication, and give each partner insight into how they may be impacting the other.  However, it's important for a fragile, wounded narcissist to work on themselves independently, in individual therapy.

Malignant Narcissists

In contrast with wounded narcissists, malignant narcissists are consistent with a disordered personality individual as outlined by the DSM 5. They have a profound belief that they are better than anyone else. Rules do not apply to them.

“If you really peel the onion and go back in their life, which is hard to do, you will find not even wounds, but often that they did not get their needs met, often in earliest childhood.”

You can recognize a malignant narcissist because they have a deep and persistent lack of empathy for other people. “It doesn't matter what other people might be feeling or needing because whatever's happening with them is much more important.” If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, this may result in a narcissistic abuse cycle.

Their feelings are not due to pain. Instead, it is because of their grandiose sense of self-importance, which may be contrary to their actual accomplishments. They cannot empathize with other people, and they do not often care about others’ feelings. Malignant narcissists will often reject any criticism because they believe that they are beyond reproach. Instead of recognizing their faults, they would shift the blame on others. They also often feel envious of people (at least, the ones they don't feel superior to!)

True, malignant narcissists are rare. They comprise only about 5% of the population. These people may fail to attend therapy sessions because they find nothing wrong with them. Malignant narcissists are also exploitative — they have absolutely no regard for the feelings of others. However, they do feel self-pity and depression whenever things don’t go the way they want to.

In a Relationship with a Malignant Narcissist

If you're wondering if you're married to a narcissist (or wondering what kind of narcissist you're married to) it can be helpful to think about the malignant narcissist characteristics that may have existed in your relationship (or in your partner) prior to marriage. It would be best to be aware of and spot the signs that you’re attracted narcissists, or the early red flags that you're dating a narcissist. to a malignant narcissist. Here are a few of the warning signs.

  1. They are highly-attractive.
  2. They may be superficially charming because they are witty and fun to talk to.
  3. Malignant narcissists want people to feel jealous of them by putting on performances whenever they share stories about themselves.
  4. They have a “love-bombing” experience.
  5. You may develop empathy for them because they talk about themselves quite frequently.
  6. They are quite manipulative as they can feign empathy.
  7. The test to know a narcissist is to make them uncomfortable and then see what happens.

“It is a terrible idea to marry anyone that you're just getting to know. It takes time to get to know people, and that is the purpose of dating.”

Married to a Narcissist

If you think you are married to a narcissist, it is essential to know what kind of narcissist you are with. If you are with a wounded narcissist, hope and healing are often possible with the right support. However, when you are with a malignant narcissist, they may be irredeemable.

“As you are figuring out your options for what to do with your life, the idea that we can get this person to change and heal, and if they talk to someone, they could have empathy and they could treat me with love and respect — that can't be one of the factors that you take into consideration.”

Significant change almost does not happen, and it can require a 10-year plan to achieve. You must also rethink leaving a child with this kind of person, or at the very least, establishing an effective coparenting strategy. There may come a time that you need to leave this toxic relationship behind. It is challenging, but you can do it with dignity.

Just remember, you have power!

“You cannot have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person. And the corollary of this is that you can't be in a stable relationship with a narcissist or be married to a narcissist without participating in a narcissistic cycle to some degree.”

Being with a narcissist may cause you not to have your feelings met. So, it is critical to be careful and be self-aware. If you grew up in a household filled with narcissists, you might be used to having your feelings be set aside. It would cost you a lot of energy.

“If you are married to a narcissist, or in a relationship with a narcissist, it doesn't matter how good you are, or how much you do. They will not love you because they cannot love you.”

There are no easy strategies or answers for what to do if you're married to a narcissist. If you are in love with a narcissist, you have to refrain from being dependent upon their happiness. Check out “How to Stop Being Codependent” for more on that topic. You might also think about when to call it quits.

But no matter what, get some support for yourself to help you navigate this difficult life-space. Getting involved with a great therapist who can help you sort through your feelings, develop healthy boundaries, combat gaslighting, stay out of unhealthy relationship dynamics, and practice good self care is absolutely vital to YOUR long term wellness, irregardless of what you decide to do about the relationship.

Also, if you do decide to leave a narcissistic relationship, be ready for the possibility that you may need to do some work on yourself to heal. Narcissistic relationships are notoriously toxic, and when you've been with a narcissist in the past it can be challenging to feel trusting of people going forward. It's normal, but it's also real: therapy can help.

ADHD or Narcissism

People with ADHD will often show up as thoughtless and forgetful. They are also pretty self-absorbed as a long-standing partner. They may not do so well in school because of being too busy with their little world. However, ADHD is entirely treatable and is different from narcissism.


I’ve shared invaluable advice on dealing with narcissists as gracefully as possible. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below. Also, I am well aware that this subject is VAST. I tried to present an overview of narcissism that (hopefully) speaks to you, but if you have follow up questions for me leave them in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer them. — Dr. Lisa


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Married To a Narcissist?

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

Music Credits: Slim Cessna's Auto Club, “Cold, Cold Eyes”

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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.

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Married to a Narcissit: Podcast Transcript

Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

[Cold Cold Eyes by Slim Cessna's Auto Club plays]

You make a wish, and then they take your soul. Slim Cessna's Auto Club, everybody, with the song “Cold Cold Eyes” because it is finally time for us to have the narcissist conversation. I have had so many listeners get in touch with me with questions about narcissists, like for years. I think I've been avoiding it a little bit, to be honest with you, because it is such a huge topic and there's dark stuff in there.

But so many questions, I mean, okay, “Dr. Lisa, let's talk about narcissists.” “I'm married to a narcissist; what do I do?” “Give me more information about the narcissistic abuse cycle, Dr. Lisa,” or how about “What about loving a narcissist? What do I do if I'm in love with a narcissist?” I've had questions about codependent narcissists, understanding narcissists. A great one that came through Instagram not too long ago. Look at you. I think it was the @drlisamariebobby Instagram account, was, “How do you tell the difference between ADHD or narcissism?” Because they can look sort of similar at first blush, so great questions. Questions about being in a relationship with a narcissist, co-parenting a narcissist? Does therapy work for narcissists? And my very favorite one, “Dr. Lisa, do narcissists cry?” The answer is yes, narcissists do cry. They cry tears of self-pity, primarily. But we'll talk more about that.


So anyway, if you are one of the many who has left questions for me about narcissism, narcissism, or anything else, either on the blog at growingself.com in the comment section or through Instagram @drlisamariebobby, at growing_self on Instagram, through Facebook, we even get emails about this kind of thing sometimes. Thank you so much, first of all, for your questions. I do apologize that it's taken me as long as it has to kind of like muster up my energy to address this topic in the depth that it deserves. 


As I was preparing to create this podcast for you, I really wanted it to be meaningful and helpful and quickly realized that I could very easily monologue for like nine hours about all things related to narcissist because it's just such a vast, vast topic. So I have kind of condensed it and distilled it down to the things that I feel like are probably the most important pieces of information in order to, not just understand narcissist, but kind of give you some direction if you are in love with a narcissist, if you are in a relationship with a narcissist, so you'll hopefully leave today with some general sense of what's going on and what you can do. 


Also, just will say out loud that this podcast is in no way intended to like meet all the needs that you have related to this and it is far beyond the scope of a podcast to be really like healing from a relationship with a narcissist or like getting actual professional guidance about what to do if you're married to a narcissist and need to make other plans for yourself. I sometimes will get comments from listeners when I do a podcast, and I'm like, I'm sweating. I'm in a heap collapsed on my desk after like an hour and 15-minute long podcast, and then I'll get a comment about “What about this?” I'm like, “Oh,” so I just want to say ahead of time. This is probably going to be one of those, but I'm gonna do my best. I'm gonna do my best. 


The very first thing that we need to do is to spend some time understanding narcissists. When you kind of look at someone from a distance, especially somebody who's a narcissist, who may actually be behaving outrageously. On a surface level, they don't make sense. But I can assure you that if you really understand how they work, and what they need, and sort of what is important to them, it really does make a lot of sense. I hope that you get some of that today. 


The first thing to understand that will help you make sense of your situation if you are in a relationship with a narcissist or even married to one is that there are really two different kinds of people who show up as narcissists and they're very different. they can look kind of the same on a superficial level, but they're really not. They're quite different. 

Understanding Narcissists

We'll talk about the first one first, and this is much more common, this is what I think of as a wounded narcissist. It's very common, and very relatable. I think that if we get real honest with ourselves. I think many people when they're not in a fabulous place in their life, maybe they're not feeling good about themselves. Oftentimes, adolescence, like young adolescents, can show up as wounded narcissists. I probably was this when I was 13, probably longer. But this is really a person who has very low self-esteem and who doubts themselves on many levels. The primary fear here is that they are not actually good enough, they are not lovable, and that they might be rejected or ridiculed, or not cared about by other people, that they won't be important, right? This is coming from a place of fragility, for many reasons. We don't have to talk about how people get there, but again like, probably 90% of all 14-year-olds fit this category. 


But also a lot of other people can easily arrive into adulthood. If they didn't really get their needs met, and their families or had sometimes been bullied as kids or adolescence or been through the wringer of a couple not so great relationships, like it's easy to get here, right? I think, for me at least, easy to have empathy for people who are showing traits of narcissism that are really coming from this place. 


They're not are not bad people. They can be a little exhausting because they sort of need to be propped-up because they don't feel good about themselves on the inside and it's difficult for them to like, feel confident, or secure in themselves. They really need a lot of external validation, other people telling them that they did a good job and kind of admiring them or paying compliments. Social media, you often see this kind of dynamic, especially with younger people on social media. They'll post a picture of themselves doing something cool. Then the likes and the “Yay, oh, that's amazing.” They're just like, “Yes, give me more of that.” It's like that, that affirmation is really what they're looking for. Very image-conscious. 


People who are in this place will often, like, try really hard to seem cool, seem smart, seem something a lot on social media, they're posting things that are very intentionally like trying to make them look good. They can be a more serious, for real narcissists if they don't get affirmation or kind of like… If they don't feel affirmed or have a positive image of themselves reflected in your eyes, they can be vulnerable to criticism, I guess, is what I'm saying. They might take criticism hard, or they might get defensive or get mad at you. It isn't because you're doing anything wrong. It's because you probably provided them with an appropriate response or appropriate feedback and because they're so kind of fragile on the inside, they just kind of went into a crisis because they don't feel strong enough on the inside to be able to take feedback from other people, or to handle criticism very well because it's like their worst nightmare. 


It's like, you're saying that they actually aren't good enough, and aren't worthy of love, and might as well just go into a cave and stay there. Not that that's what you're saying, but that's sort of how it can feel emotionally to people who are very fragile in this way. Really, it's just because they don't feel good about themselves, and they don't know how to help themselves feel better themselves. It's like they have to outsource it. Somebody else has to make them feel good about themselves is kind of the simplest way. 


You might also see them trying to associate themselves with certain brands, or like if there are other things or activities that they perceive as being cool or I don't even know if people say cool anymore, I am like such a relic for 1994, but whatever. But things that other people hold in high esteem, they might try to associate themselves with that. Some of that. If they're really good at a particular game or sport, or know everything about a band that other people think is cool, it's that's sort of a way to help themselves, kind of feel better. 


The good thing is that this is a kind of almost narcissism light that can be worked on. Again, it can sometimes even be a developmental stage for people who are kind of coming into their own power as adults, right? Even for people who are in their 20s, or 30s, or 40s, or beyond who need to do this work. It is possible. What it involves is really having productive conversations with someone who understands the dynamic here, that are focused on helping people talk about how they really feel about themselves, what they fear. Giving a voice sometimes I think, to the anxiety that they feel in relationships, and being able to say “I'm worried that people won't like me for me, or that I'm not good enough, or it's hard for me to trust that I won't be rejected by someone just if I am myself.” 


So it's like this sort of, I think of it as being like a journey to authenticity because the first stop is somebody being able to articulate these kinds of vulnerable feelings to someone like me or like another therapist on my team here at Growing Self. It's a totally safe place and be able to say, “This is how I feel.” To be able to do some work around it makes sense why you would feel that way. A lot of people feel that way sometimes. What have these feelings led you to do in your life and in your relationships? How do you try to make yourself feel better when you feel like this?


They might say, “This is when I spend three hours trying on everything in my closet before I go out to meet people because I really want to look extra good, or I spend too much money on clothes,” maybe. Or “I have made decisions, just to try to impress other people, or I probably come across as kind of fishing for compliments.” 


You know, when people start putting together all the dots and can tell me—and telling it's not that I need to know is that they're sort of—when they tell me things they're telling themselves “Yes, I guess I do that,” and talking about how it makes sense. 


It's like when we sort of know what's happening, then it can turn into a conversation around really focused on helping build people up from the inside that's really deliberately focused on helping build their self-esteem and feelings of self-confidence. Being able to manage anxiety in ways that they're in charge of so that they have skills and strategies for helping themselves feel better so that they're not trying to get other people to make them feel better because that can turn into a bunch of different kinds of relational issues, as we've talked about on other podcasts.


If you haven't checked out the one I did not too long ago around having trust issues in relationships, there's overlap here. Low self-esteem is not always the same thing as trust issues but sometimes it can show up similarly. People who have really low self-esteem and have kind of narcissistic ways of dealing with that can often have very conflictual relationships with their partners or with their friends because they need other people to make them feel better. 


So if their partner isn't telling them how beautiful they are, if they're not complimentary, if they're not being really affectionate, the person who struggles to feel good about themselves will worry and will not feel good about themselves. Anxiety is frequently managed through efforts to control other people when people don't know how to manage their anxiety on their own. So you kind of see that. 


People who are in this space, they can show up as being kind of selfish and self-absorbed. Because they really are in a fair amount of pain, even though they try to dismiss it and deny it. They are often kind of worried about themselves and what other people think about them. If you're talking to them about, “Gosh, I had the worst day at work with Carol at work. She was just being such an unreasonable person today. I asked her to do this thing and she gave me all kinds of…” and like you're trying to share about something that happened to you. A narcissist—little baby narcissist with low self-esteem will be like, “Oh, my God, do you think I do that? I do that sometimes, don't I? Let's talk about me.” It immediately turns into a conversation about them. And now you need to say, “No, no, you don't do that. You're not like Carol, I know you're,” and they're like, “Oh, really. Tell me more.” So it's like these little small ways, but it's very self-referential, things kind of come back to them. If you're in a relationship with a person like this, you might start to feel again, a little bit exhausted because it's like you sort of need to fluff them up all the time. If you don't, they feel bad, and they might even be unhappy with you. So, but solvable problem.

Relationship With a Narcissist

Most of the time, when people do get involved in good high-quality therapy, they can work through this. And if you are in a relationship with a person who is this variety of baby narcissist, I think the good news is that it is fairly easy to have empathy for them. What can be harder is that sometimes people in this place will struggle to have empathy for you or for others because of their own pain and anxiety. I kind of think of it with the analogy of like, if somebody broke their arm—God forbid—and is in terrible pain because their arm is broken, they're going to be very aware of that. If you in that moment, want to talk about, “Let me tell you about this day that I had bla bla bla,” they're gonna have a hard time focusing on what you're saying and what you're feeling because their pain is so intense, at that moment. It is going to be distracting them. 


So when you interact with people who are in this place, and they might have a hard time focusing on you, and understanding how you feel, doesn't mean that they're incapable of it. It just means that they need to do a little bit of work before they can really be in a healthy place, where they're able to really fully enter into your worldview and be able to care for you emotionally and support you. 


I mean, relationships need to be balanced. Sometimes one person needs a little bit more TLC, but it does need to be balanced, that you're in a relationship and that means that sometimes you need it to be a little bit about you and how you're feeling and what you're needing. If you're in a relationship with someone who struggles to do that sometimes, because of their own pain, that is an indication that, that there's some work that needs to be done so that they can be wholeheartedly loving to others. 

Couples Therapy 

A great way to start with this is in marriage counseling or couples therapy, where it is a safe space for you to be able to say, “I feel like this is happening sometimes in our relationship. I feel like I can't always talk about how I'm feeling or what I needing or I can't set healthy boundaries with you because you have so much anxiety. I feel like if I ask for something different in our relationship, you take it as a lot of criticism and you get really defensive and it's like this catastrophic thing for you. So we're here in couples counseling because I love you and I want this relationship to work. We probably both need to do some changing and growing here. Maybe I need to communicate my hopes a little bit differently, so that doesn't feel wounding to you. But I also need this relationship to be a safe space for me. And I'm hoping that our work in couples counseling can help us achieve this because I'm imagining it can't be feeling great for you either.” So, that's the intention. 


I will also say that because this kind of baby narcissist thing is so common, therapists see it routinely. It is something that we are aware of. So, if you come into couples counseling, and this is what's going on, it will fairly quickly become apparent and we'll be able to talk about that. High-quality couples counseling does go into; how do you both feel? How does that make sense? Where did you each come from? Might be doing some genogram work, where we're looking at both of your family of origins or early life experiences. Also be talking about the cycle between you so that when you say one thing, what happens and how does your partner feel in that moment and they're able to say, “I have a flood of anxiety. I feel like I'm being criticized. I feel like they hate me.” Like, “Okay, good to know” is slowing it all down. 

Couples counseling and itself can be a very healing vehicle for baby narcissists because at the end of the day they want to love and they want to be loved by you. They want to feel better. They're on some level aware that they don't feel that great about themselves. So couples counseling that strengthens your bond and helps them feel more loved and cared for by you. Also that they have a safe space to talk about the reality of their inner experience without judgment can be very healing. It is often common for this work to involve probably individual therapy for them too and maybe even you. 


But it's a good idea for any individual therapy that is sort of born from couples counseling, when appropriate, sometimes it's not, but to be done with some involvement of the individual therapist and the couple's counselor working together. Here at Growing Self, we frequently do that. And it's very aboveboard. We make sure that we have signed releases in place so that it's okay that an individual therapist can consult with a couples therapist without explicit permission. We do not do that at all because it's unethical to do that. Because sometimes, there really does need to be boundaries between what's happening in couples counseling and what's happening and individual for many reasons. 


But one of the risks of a baby narcissist getting into individual therapy is that because their worldview is very much in pain and shame, and they can feel very helpless against this, it can turn into a situation where they're kind of complaining to their individual therapist about all the ways that you're being mean to them, and all they wanted was for you to just tell them, that you love them, and that you need to hear these complimentary things. You actually do need to spend $2,000 a month on new clothes because it makes you feel good about yourself. Unless an individual therapist is kind of coordinating with a couples counselor who is able to convey both sides of the story here. Particularly individual therapists who do not have a background in systemic or couples work. It cannot be productive. Let me just say that. 


Because it turns into the client complaining about their partner, and it is not focused on “Yes, I have a lot of anxiety and I try to control my partner in order to manage that anxiety.” That's not the conversation. It's like, “Let me tell you about the 57 ways that my partner disappointed me this week.” So that's one reason that it's a really good idea to have coordination because it just keeps everybody honest. It keeps, I think, the work more focused and productive, which really is another reason why couples work can—I think, be more productive than individual work because it's fairly easy for people in individual therapy to hide, sometimes, they are just communicating their own worldview, which is all we as individual therapists have to work on and may not be the whole story. 

Malignant Narcissist

More about this in our next segment because now we are going to talk about malignant narcissists. This is a really very different thing from what we were just talking about with the wounded narcissists, again can show up as being selfish and self-centered. But when you kind of crack in it's anxiety, it's maybe an anxious attachment style or even an avoidant attachment style, trust issues, low self-esteem, and those are solvable problems. Malignant narcissists are different. 


Malignant narcissists and like this would be what I think of is like a real deal narcissist that is consistent with what is a personality disordered individual as outlined by the DSM-5. These people, I am not happy to say, but unlike a wounded narcissist, they really do believe that they are better than you. They are superior to you. They are more deserving of things than you are. Rules do not apply to them. If you kind of really peel the onion and go back in their life, which is hard to do, I've tried, you will find not even wounds, but often that they did not get their needs met, often in earliest childhood. So there's a reason why and we can still have empathy for them. But they don't perceive themselves as having a problem. They are more psychologically healthy than most people and we'll be happy to tell you all about that. You will recognize them because of their deep and persistent lack of empathy for other people, that it doesn't really matter what other people might be feeling or needing because whatever's happening with them is much more important. It isn't due to pain. It's due to this like, “No, I am actually more important than you are. So I should go first in line.” 


I was actually once in a very long line at an airport, standing in line, the flight was delayed, there was weather, I don't know. This guy tapped me on the shoulder, and was like, “Can I get ahead of you because I have a first class ticket.” I was like, “Well, at least you asked, I guess but no.” So it's like, and I don't know what might have been going on with him. But it's sort of like that, that level of entitlement. They also have this very kind of grandiose sense of self-importance that is not connected to their actual accomplishments. I mean, if somebody's achieved amazing things, it's totally normal and expected for them to feel like, “Yes, okay, I did that.” 


But some people with real malignant narcissistic personality disorder will have this grandiose sense of self-importance and will expect to be recognized as superior without it being it  tied to “Yes, I actually am a neurosurgeon.” Also, people who are very accomplished can also be narcissists. So it doesn't mean that it's one thing or another. But, if somebody is inflating all this stuff that they didn't actually do, that can be an indication that you were in the presence of a narcissist. 


They also have a lot of fantasies about unlimited success or perfect love can be a fantasy for a narcissist. When they finally meet the right person who's good enough for them, they're going to feel this perfect love, and everything will be all better and they just haven't met the person who can be their amazing match, yet. The people that they're dating are not good enough, they're not the one, and when they do meet, the one is all going to be different. 


So also people in this space because they really believe that they are so important and wonderful. They want admiration, they want attention, they sort of expect that other people will defer to them. Other people will give things to them or do things for them because they should, because “I'm me,” right? There is this—oftentimes goes along with it a lot of callousness around other people or even like not noticing that other people have feelings at all. They will not take any sort of criticism because they are above reproach in all regards. They will blame others for things that go sideways. They often, interestingly, tend to feel quite envious of other people. So if you show up with a new car, and it's like, “Only idiots buy black cars because they get all scratched up, and let me tell you why that was terrible.” It's there's this envious sort of like thing from a narcissist, as opposed to somebody who's like,”Cool, that's awesome. You guys are doing so well. Congratulations.” They can't do that. 


Also have a very difficult time giving other people credit if they have done something or, “Okay, yes, you made it through medical school because your parents paid for you to do that, and you lived in their house, and you had all these people to support you, and who's looking after your kid while you're doing all these amazing things.” It's like, there's no kind of thought that they have been able to achieve amazing things because there were a lot of people working hard to support them, and help them or if they're in a team, where people are brainstorming ideas it will be their idea that it's difficult for them to give credit to other people. If this isn't triggering sparks of recognition, and any of you or people in your orbits, either personally or professionally, first, I'm sorry because this is difficult. I mean, these are hard relationships. 


They're also fairly rare. Actual serious for real, narcissistic personality disorder. I mean, I've seen research indicating that it's .5% of the population is consistent with what I'm sharing with you. There aren't these people running around all over the place, I mean .5% of the population, still a lot of people. But compared to most people that you interact with, it's unusual. I have met narcissists in my role, and in my practice that are this. But again, very infrequently because they don't show up for therapy because there's nothing wrong with them, right? That's sort of the way they perceive themselves. 


And they're also oftentimes, just quite exploitative. They will use other people. They will take everything from someone else without any consideration for the other person's feelings. They do have feelings, again, but primarily self-pity. They will strongly feel feelings of sadness for being mistreated, being treated unfairly, and not being given the special pass that they really believe they are due. They feel like they're being attacked by people, and so this kind of, angry feeling, and they will feel anger. Sometimes they can feel depressed in a way when the world that they're living in is not in alignment with how they think it should be in terms of their success, and people loving them and admiring them and doors sort of magically opening and things being easy. If they're getting feedback from the world that they're not actually that fabulous, it can sort of send them into a spiral. So anyway, there's that. 

Loving a Narcissist 

I could go on, but it's, it's too depressing. It's hard. It's a hard personality. The time to figure out whether or not you are in a relationship with someone who is a narcissist needs to happen before you get married to them, ideally. When you're dating, or when you're first getting to know someone you're kind of talking to a new friend, or if you are applying for a position in an organization to see if you can get a read on the personalities that you're going to be working for or with because I tell you what, if you have a narcissist for a boss, I should say, it is very, very difficult. They will work people to death. It's all about making them look good. They will have highly unrealistic expectations of employees, and it can be a very toxic work environment. So, there's that aspect of this too. But it's easier, I think, sometimes to switch jobs than it is to extract yourself from a relationship with a narcissist. So ideally, you're going to be figuring out if you are in the presence of the narcissist or not soon in the relationship, and here are some ways to do this. 


First of all, your self-awareness. I know I talk about this all the time, but it's true. If you have a history of being attracted to people who razzle-dazzle you, who are successful and handsome, and beautiful, and charming, and accomplished, and wealthy, and tall, and all these things, and look great on social media, and say all the right things, and if through your own personal growth work, you have determined that person has zero empathy for me that kind of putting the pieces together that you have a tendency to be attracted to narcissist or get into relationships with narcissist, that is important information for you to have from the get-go, right? 


Also, I just want to say, it is very easy to be attracted to narcissists because they look so damn good. They might show up as being successful and having really interesting friends, and they either—honestly or not—come into his resources, financial resources. They are also often, as a rule, superficially charming. They are fun to talk to. They're witty. They're interesting. They make you laugh. It's not about you, or they're not making you laugh, they want people to laugh appropriately at their own witticisms, that's what's going on here. They'll sort of spin a great tale, “And let me tell you about the time I was in Montenegro and got thrown out of a bar and then this happened,” and everybody's sort of like “Wow.” But that's how they show up a lot of times. There's this performance kind of thing, and it is because they want everybody to know that they're really that special and important and they're doing all these interesting things, and that's why you should not just admire them but basically want to be them.They sort of expect that other people would feel jealous of them and so anyway, but.. 


This is the person that you meet at the party and if they have decided that they want you to like them, you will. Particularly if you're dating or just getting to know people, you know I mean interactions with narcissistic people, you will feel that like chemistry the butterflies like “Oh, he picked me up for the first date in a Ferrari. It was amazing,” like these things. That's why you've heard me harp on this a zillion times but that is why feelings of chemistry and butterflies are not reliable sources of information about who will make a good partner for you because you are much more likely to feel the feels with a narcissist than you are, the kind of quiet guy who's like nice and appropriate and sort of humble, I mean, that drives a Chevy. You don't feel the same things. The kind of calm quiet guy, he would be a wonderful partner, would have empathy and care about you and able to listen and be a partner and on so many different levels. Be a good parent. When you get to know him, he is actually fun to talk to and probably you would have a great time if you guys went to Montenegro together. But they don't have that leading razzle-dazzle edge so it can be easy to miss that. Or if you expect to feel that, maybe you wouldn't give more quiet people a chance.


Also, something to know about narcissists, and this is not in the DSM, but this is just sort of, what I've found over the years, and I think is kind of like the common knowledge piece of this is that there's this love bombing experience is what it's called. So in an early stage relationship with somebody who has narcissistic tendencies, they are sweeping you off your feet because they are the hero of their own movie and have this idealized romcom notion of themselves. They will be fun and charming, and like throwing pebbles at your window at 1 o'clock in the morning and like, “Get into the Ferrari we're going to Montenegro” like that kind of thing. You're like, “Wow,” I mean just all this stuff, and they're telling you how much they love you and how amazing they are—or you are. All of these things because it's like sort of hooking you in because they're really wanting to know that they make you feel all these amazing things. You are swept off your feet because they are so irresistible and you are just—would do anything for them because they do have that impact on people. Even though it feels like it's about you, it is not about you. It is about them attempting to make you feel certain things that make them feel good about themselves. 


Now, you will also tip their hand many times because they will talk extensively about themselves and their own life and their own interests and their own things, kind of just going to get back to that basic expectation that, “Of course, everybody is so interested in everything that I have to say right now because I am so smart and interesting.” So they will just go on and on and not not ask you how you're feeling. They don't care. In their stories, you will hear a lot about how they are powerful and important and all these people that just weren't quite good enough for them. In their appearance, they spend, sometimes, a lot of money they don't have on the acquisition of things that sort of prop this up. 


Or interestingly, and I think over the last decade, probably, there's a certain subset of narcissists who has a shooed all things commercial. They're living in this little cabin by themselves that they have lovingly built with their own two hands out of reclaimed barn wood. They are felting things from the alpaca that they raised by hand, but it's not, “It's not just any alpaca. This is a Peruvian silver alpaca. Did you know that there are only three of them in the world, and I rescued one of them from,” and it's that kind of thing. But it doesn't have to be about brands and diamonds and stuff. It can be somebody who's very pleased with their organic farm. I mean, they can take all kinds of forms and formats and not denigrate it. A lot of very nice appropriate people doing organic farming, who are into alpacas. I don't even know how we got here. Okay, I'm getting back on track. 


But it's like, when you talk to them, they're sort of the hero of their own movie. They can also often feign empathy really well. They are quite manipulative and they do know what to say, so that when you start crying, they will hand you a thing, “Oh, my gosh, that must have been so hard.” They'll say the right thing sometimes, but it is not attached to a real emotion. They know that they should say that. So they're saying that because they want to be perceived as a nice person. So there's this calculation thing. 


But when you talk to them, in addition to their sort of being the star of everything, they're the victim. If they talk about their lives and their experiences, sooner or later, you're going to hear about how people were mean to them.They were fired by this boss who was terrible and didn't appreciate their talent. Often, they will feel very angry at other people, and it will always be justified. They may also have stories of revenge, “And let me tell you what I did to Jerry in accounting when he bought me tuna salad instead of chicken salad. Hahaha.” They'll tell you stories where they're sort of showing you that they are capable of sometimes even ruthless behavior. So just ask questions and listen. 

Testing a Narcissist

I will also tell you if you are getting to know someone, I think it is a fabulous idea to do a little bit of testing and like a real test. So, with a narcissistic person, the test is to make them uncomfortable and see what happens. So when they say, “Yes, I got up at 4:45 this morning to go paragliding. As I was soaring through the sky, I saw a peregrine falcon and we soared in tandem, and we had this mystical moment.” And you're like, “Okay. Well, so anyway, when I was at work today. Let me tell you about Jerry from accounting.” So if you do that kind of thing, and just sort of like don't notice or pay attention or something to what a narcissist is trying to tell you in that moment. They will get mad at you for not being like, “But what about the peregrine falcon? I'm pretty sure it's my totem animal.” They really want to have that amazement from you. 

So withholding compliments or praise when they're trying to be the center of attention in a subtle way, taking the attention away. “Oh, that's so funny. But let me tell you about this time that I was in a hot air balloon, and then, like, whatever” and just see what they do because a real narcissist will be very upset with that. 


Also, if you ask them to do something that they don't want to do, particularly if it's something that is beneath them, “Is there any way you could just stop by the store and get this for me or run this errand, or pick up my dry cleaning, get me coffee?” Whatever it is. A.) unless they're in this place of like, “Yes, I'm your hero, and I sure will get you a latte and I'm going to come back with all this other stuff too and you're gonna fall out of your chair,” like if they're not in that space. They're like, “What? Am I your coffee boy?” Like that kind of thing. If they get angry with being asked to do things that feel demeaning or beneath them, that can be an indication. Just kind of like paying attention to what happens when the person you're with is inconvenienced or annoyed, or they don't get to go in first, or they have to sit in the bad seats, or whatever. Or if you are not being appropriately gratifying. 


A card-carrying narcissist will get angry and will also often try to punish people in small ways and large for not being gratifying or not treating them the way that they deserve to be treated. It's not coming from a place of anxiety, it's actual rage for you, for “How dare you?” Right? So, if you are just getting to know someone, these are wonderful strategies so that you can do some reality testing and just begin to wrap your head around “Who is this person? Could I be dating a narcissist right now?” Or “Is this person that I'm new friends with actually a narcissist because if so, I'm gonna do something else,” and decide to do something different. 


But just be aware that because these people can be so charming and so amazing at the beginning, you can get into the pool with someone like this without realizing what's happened. It's only a little bit further down the line that you really get to know who people are. It takes a long time to really get to know people. That's why it is a terrible idea to marry anyone that you're just getting to know or to make all kinds of assumptions about people based on your hopes for a relationship. It takes time to get to know people, and that is the purpose of dating, is to get to know. Who is this person? What can I expect from them? How do I feel when I'm with them? Do they make me feel terrible about myself? Or like “I'm doing something wrong because I'm not laughing at their jokes and getting them all this stuff.” That's important information. So we're going to talk a little bit more about this. 

Married To a Narcissist 

But if you are married to a narcissist and somehow didn't understand that, that's what was happening until you got all the way in the pool. Or if you are partnered with a narcissist if you have children with a narcissist. What you can do now that you're in this situation is figure out “What type of narcissist am I with and what options do I have?” If it is a wounded narcissist, where there is some opportunity for growth and healing, that may be your first option. But if you determine that you are with an actual malignant narcissist, you're going to have to make some important decisions. I'm not going to go so far as to say that an actual real deal narcissist is totally irredeemable. I don't know. They could make positive change. But, I, personally, have never experienced significant movement when I have attempted to work with that—that's actually not true. I can think of one case, but it was like eight years of therapy, and I don't know how much actually changed. 


So what I'm trying to say, I'm not saying that it can't be done. But as you are figuring out your options for what to do with your life, the idea that we can get this person to change and heal, and if they talk to someone, they could have empathy, and they could treat me with love and respect. That can't be one of the factors that you take into consideration. It's highly—again I don't want to be pessimistic. But in my opinion, it is unlikely that significant change will happen. If it does, it's like a ten year plan. I don't know if you have that much time. If you're 25 and would like to not do this for the rest of your life, it might be time to do something else. 


But anyway. So what this will look like for you is, in order to figure out what this is, I would highly recommend that you connect on your own, with a licensed mental health professional, to really talk about what is happening in your life, in your relationship because every situation is unique. My sort of blanket information is not going to apply to everything that you are experiencing. What you really need is to sit down with somebody to say, “Here's what's happening. What do you think my options are here?” To get some professional support in crafting a plan for yourself. 


This is also very important. I don't mean to scare anybody, but malignant narcissists can be quite dangerous, particularly if you are leaving a narcissist, particularly when there has been violence or abuse, which is not uncommon in these relationships. Also, if there are children involved, you need to be very careful because just because you leave a narcissistic spouse and what? Leave your three-year-old with that person who may be taking out a lot of rage that they have towards you on the child. So this is a very, very delicate situation, and get professional actual support to figure out what to do. Whether or not you stay, whether or not you go, it's okay. But don't just listen to this podcast or read some blog articles and think you have it all figured out because there's a lot here. So that's my official disclaimer. I don't know if that's helpful or not, but that's the truth like people will leave a question in the comment section of a blog and be like, “I'm married to somebody who's a narcissist, what do I do?” So that that is the answer is get professional help. 

Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

This sort of goes into the secondary piece of this. I hope this is okay for me to say, I'm all honest with you. You cannot have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person. The corollary of this is that you can't be in a stable relationship with a narcissist or be married to a narcissist without participating in a narcissistic cycle to some degree. If you are in a stable relationship with a narcissist. It means that you are probably being injured in the process. You are not getting your needs and rights and feelings met. You are probably working very hard to be what they need you to be so that they don't punish you either emotionally or literally. This isn't a healthy place for you. 


If you—any of us—set appropriate, healthy boundaries with a narcissist or are just trying to have a human balanced relationship that also includes what you need. If you're trying to approach this in a healthy way, a card-carrying narcissist will get very, very angry with you for doing that. They will punish you until you go back to being gratifying for them. You can expect that. 


This is really hard if you grew up with a narcissistic parent or if you were in a relationship previously, in a toxic relationship with a narcissist where you got used to setting aside your needs and being all about somebody else, it's very likely that you have developed a way of relating to people that is all about them. Everything you do is about what's going to make them happy, or keep them from being unhappy, or “hem them them them them. There may be some old patterns in you that support this kind of dynamic. 


So the work ahead of you is not related to the narcissist necessarily. It is related to you developing a healthier, more balanced way of relating because if you have a natural inclination to take this sort of “how may I serve?” or “let me laugh at your jokes and make you feel good about yourself” in your relationships, you will find yourself trying subconsciously to be perfectly gratifying and to not talk about how you really feel or what you really want, and you will try to earn love and affection by being perfect. Any displeasure your partner has, it will be your fault and it will be your problem to fix and just assign that you need to try harder when they get mad at you for whatever it was. You're like, “Oh my god, yes. Okay, I can do better.” It's like, a lot of energy into trying to fix yourself and it sort of… But you have to understand that this whole engine runs on this basic idea of “If I could be perfect, then I will be loved. I will have empathy. I will be seen. They will care about me. If I could only earn this.” What I am saying to you is that that is not true. 


If you are married to a narcissist or in a relationship with a narcissist, it doesn't matter how good you are or how much you do, they will not love you because they cannot love you. This is hard, I think to take on board because it goes back to what I was saying is that you have to figure out your options. Because if we take away, you figuring out how to be good enough to be loved, if that's no longer a path, what do you want to do with this? Right? Anyway, that is not—that is for you and your therapist to figure out, not for me. 


But I will also say I have seen something else related to this. If you have this way of relating that is, sort of, you are kind of the—I mean, really there was a psychoanalyst in the room with me, they call it a narcissistic supply source, because you are being the affirming gratifying person. If you have a pattern of doing that in relationships, you are likely going to subconsciously do that in relationships with anyone whether or not they are a narcissist. So you will feel like you are in a relationship with a narcissist who just takes and takes and takes, and you can't tell them how you feel because this is your stuff, right? 


So, even with the super nice guy who drives up in a Chevy and just wants to love you, you may still find yourself attempting to interact with them in this way. Of course, you will also be extremely attractive to actual narcissists. You will need to be very cautious about who you seek to serve, if that is your way of loving and being loved is through that. That kind of self-sacrifice role. So anyway, a whole another podcast topic right there. 


But so to wrap things up, did I tell you this could easily be a nine-hour podcast? I was not kidding. But these is the takeaways. I mean if you're married to a narcissist, if you're in a relationship with a narcissist, this isn't gonna be a healthy relationship, and you don't need me to tell you those you're living it. But do hear that this isn't something that you can fix by yourself, you can't change it, you can't be good enough to win this person's love and have them show you love, and respect, and care about you the way you want them to. What you can do is get into therapy, couples counseling could be helpful. But, it's almost to have a witness to see what's actually happening because a couple's counselor won't be able to move this either.


But what is vital is that you get into therapy for yourself to figure out what you need to be doing on your side of the relational equation in order to be healthy. That will for better or for worse start to do is that as you get healthy, you will try to have a healthier relationship with this person. Your being healthy will create feelings of extreme discomfort in a narcissist, and they will be upset with you. So you can expect that. That is also why it's critical for you to be in therapy; is to be getting some support around this when it happens. Potentially at that point, you could take it into couples counseling. Again appropriate to do that with a wounded narcissist because they can learn and grow in a safe place, and that's a thing. 


But because narcissists are certain that they're being mistreated by you, that is what they're going to be telling a couple's counselor. Just like a malignant narcissist will lie and deceive others, they will also try to lie and deceive a therapist. Experienced marriage counselors, I've seen this before, wi;; be on the alert for that. What they'll do is try to get you guys apart to get a clearer understanding of what is going on. But yes, and it can be hard to tell because, again, people who can seem quite narcissist can get into a safe growth space. Instead of when you crack into it, they're not talking about how fair, and unfair, and cruel everyone is. They're talking about how sad and anxious they feel and how they want to feel loved and more vulnerable things. So anyway. 


But for all of the people who have asked questions, I hope the ultimate punch line is that there are no strategies for what to do if you're married to a narcissist. There are no easy answers. A shockingly unqualified life coach might like to tell you that they have all the answers and take their five-step program. It is not true. This is a long term process either for you to heal and become healthy after being in a relationship with a narcissist. Not just what happened in the relationship. 


But healthy people will blow out of a relationship with narcissists because narcissists want them to do things that healthy people don't want to do. So there may also be things to talk about like, “How did you get into this situation? What happened earlier in your life that made this type of relationship dynamic feel familiar to you?” So there's a lot of healing. A lot of self-awareness, and this takes a long time. There are no strategies to just achieve this miraculously, there is a lot of work and deep work. 


If you are currently in love with a narcissist, your happiness needs to not be dependent on anything that other person is doing or not doing because that is not under your control. I would refer you to another podcast that I did about how to stop being codependent in relationships and really just, like, figure out how to start focusing on yourself again. If you are in a relationship with someone who is either a real narcissist or maybe narcissist or has narcissistic tendencies, growth and healing is possible on their side, particularly for the wounded narcissist, but it is also a process that is going to take time. Often, years. I don't want to depress anybody but, I do want to set your expectations that it is a slow road. There is no specific advice that is going to change this and just to plan accordingly and to get involved in really effective therapy if you'd like to do that work.

ADHD or Narcissist

Oh, there was a question that came in that I really wanted to answer — “ADHD or narcissism?” People with ADHD will often show up as thoughtless, they will be forgetful, they will forget about things that are important to you, they will forget to ask you how you feel, they will seem very self-absorbed. Someone who has just ADHD and no other narcissistic tendencies will often feel very, very bad about that and really want to be the person that you would like them to be, and this has been a long standing pattern. 


They've gotten in trouble at schools starting when they were six, their parents were mad at them, and they sort of internalized this narrative around not being good enough because of having untreated ADHD symptoms. While they can be inconsiderate, and thoughtless and self-absorbed, and in their own little world, it is coming from such a different place. Even in couples counseling, get them in there. This is what's going on. A mental health professional will be able to fairly easily assess the difference, and then it can make it better because ADHD is another thing that's quite treatable. 


Okay, I hope this answered some of your questions. It's a discussion that has been long overdue, and this is just a drop in the bucket. There's so much more here. If you have follow up questions that you would like me to address on another podcast or maybe take a stab at on the blog. You can leave them for me in the comments section of this post. growingself.com/married-to-a-narcissist with hyphens between the words. Leave your follow up question, and I'll do my best to answer it. But there is no substitute for really getting into therapy with a trained professional to get all of your questions answered. All right, my friend. Talk to you later.


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How to Stop Being Codependent

How to Stop Being Codependent

How to Stop Being Codependent

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.

Let's  Talk

How To Stop Being Codependent

Overcome Codependency and Get Your Life Back


If you're in a codependent relationship, it's time to stop. But how? How do you stop being codependent?? Today's relationship podcast is going to show you how to spot the signs of codependence, understand why codependent relationship dynamics take hold, and then offer real-world strategies to stop the madness and cultivate healthy interdependence. Really!

I know as a Denver marriage counselor and online couples therapist who's spent years helping couples get unsnarled from emotional enmeshment, that many couples struggle with codependent relationships. Codependent cycles drag everyone down, and relationships feel miserable when they're happening.

I know from firsthand experience as a marriage counselor that codependency recovery is possible, but it takes a lot of self awareness to spot it — much less break free from a codependent cycle. It's hard work, but it's the only thing that can stop feeling angry and frustrated with your partner, and start feeling good about yourself and your life again.

Here's a quick rundown of what we're discussing on the podcast today. (To skip the commentary and just listen to the episode, scroll down to find the podcast player.) Or, here's the link to listen to How To Stop Being Codependent on Spotify, and here it is on Apple Podcast. Subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast while you're there!


What is Codependence, Anyway?

“Codependence” is a pop-psychology term that was birthed in the Al-Anon movement. Back in the mid-century era, counselors who treated patients with substance use disorders began to notice common elements in their partners. They were often completely anxious, often angry, and absolutely hyper-focused on what their alcoholic partner was (doing or not doing) at the expense of their own wellness. They were over functioning in response to their partner's under functioning, and were mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted as a result.

They were termed “codependent,” and the Al-anon movement was launched in efforts to help the “partners of people with a problem” get emotionally un-fused from their spouses in order to not just feel better and more in control of their lives, but stop trying to “fix” their partners. (So that their partners could have the space to do the work of recovery, or fail.)

Nowadays, the term “codependence” is tossed around like popcorn at the movies in our popular culture as a short-hand way of describing everything from feeling highly attuned to another, to financially dependent on another, to simply being reactive in relationships.

But when marriage and family therapists like myself talk about “codependence” and what it means, we're actually referring to something much more specific: Codependence is a problematic level of over-involvement and enmeshment in a couple or family that leads to anger, anxiety, and — usually — a great deal of frustration.

In a codependent relationship one person is usually working really hard to try to control, “help,” manage, monitor, coach, or assist the other into acting they way they want them to. As you can imagine, these efforts are not just unproductive, they lead to a really problematic “parent / adolescent” type of dynamic in a couple. In the language of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, a pursue / withdraw relationship cycle predictably ensues with the “helping” spouse becoming increasingly frustrated with their non-compliant partner, who in turn, views their spouse as unnecessarily controlling and hostile (and becomes defensive and avoidant as a result). Not fun for anyone.

If a codependent relationship dynamic has been happening for a long time, it can take the assistance of a really good marriage counselor to help a couple get unfused and achieve healthy interdependence again. Ideally, you can nip it in the bud!

The Problem With Codependent Behavior

Here's the sneaky thing about codependent relationships that is easy to miss: When you become codependent, you feel like you're “helping” or “protecting” your partner, or trying to get them to be the person you want and need them to be in order to have a good relationship with them. But over time, often unintentionally, your happiness becomes almost entirely reliant on their actions or behaviors. Maybe you think your partner isn't doing enough or that your lives will fall apart if you don't do everything you feel needs to be done. Whatever the case, codependency will drain you of your energy and take away your sense of empowerment for your happiness.

Furthermore (oh, the irony) when codependent relationship dynamics are happening, it makes it less likely that the “under functioning” person is less likely to change and grow. Crazy, but true. (I will explain to you all about why that is in the podcast, promise!)

In this episode, I define what codependency is and paint a picture of how and why it manifests in our relationships. I will be explaining how to shift away from codependency so that you and your partner can flourish together. Through this episode, I hope you can enter a space of healthy interdependence with your partner.

Codependency Recovery Stages

In order to empower YOU to make positive changes in your relationship and learn how to stop being codependent, in this episode I'm covering information that will help you:

  1. Understand what makes a relationship codependent.
  2. I'll ask you some of the same “codependency quiz” questions I ask my clients to help determine if their relationship is codependent
  3. Learn how to become more self aware around codependent relationship characteristics (so you can stop participating in them!)
  4. Discover the importance (and methods) of taking back your power, either in codependence therapy, or on your own.
  5. Learn about the steps you can take toward recovering from codependency as a couple.
  6. I offer some examples of what codependency recovery stages look like in action, so you have a  roadmap for YOUR relationship.

Thanks for joining me in the How to Stop Being Codependent podcast today. I hope it helps you, and that you subscribe to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on Spotify (or wherever you listen) to take full advantage of all the resources, tips, and info I create to support your journey of growth each and every week. It's all there for you!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Did learning about codependence and “how to stop being codependent” is making you think of someone you know is struggling with this situation, I hope that you share this information with them.

P.P.S. If that person you're thinking of is your spouse or partner, and you're fearing that you two may be in a codependent dynamic together, a super low-key thing to do to begin creating change is to simply listen to this podcast together and discuss it. If you want to take your DIY, kitchen-table couple's therapy session to the next level, here's the link to take our “How Healthy Is Your Relationship” quiz together too. Establishing open communication is always the first step to creating positive change! — LMB


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How to Stop Being Codependent

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

Music Credits: Les Hayden, “Ophelia”

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How to Stop Being Codependent: Podcast Transcript

Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. 

That song is called Ophelia. The artist is Les Hayden and I chose that song for us today, not for his lyrics so much but because of the tone of the song, I think, but also to have the opportunity to speak with you about the lesson of Ophelia. If you remember from your high school Shakespeare days, Ophelia was a character who was so overly involved in her relationships with other people, that when those relationships were disrupted, it absolutely ruined her. And I know that's kind of heavy, but I thought it was an appropriate kind of symbol for our time together today because today we're going to be talking about something that has that impact on people, might even be impacting you, and your life, and your relationships—and the term for it is codependence. 

When we talk about codependence, we're talking about being so focused on what other people are doing or not doing, particularly our romantic partners, and feeling like unless and until they can get it together, you cannot be at peace, or happy, or satisfied with your life. And so, so much energy goes into trying to help another person function at the level that you want them to function to, that in the meantime, you yourself are just awash in stress and anxiety and anger and all kinds of negative emotions that takes such a toll on you. 

So on this episode of the podcast, I wanted to explore this topic with you in particular, so that you can understand what it is and how it shows up in relationships and kind of think about whether or not it might be happening in yours. But also, I'm going to be leaving you with some ideas that you can use to begin shifting this dynamic so that you can feel happier and more at peace and more in control and, paradoxically, create positive change in your relationship without all of the drama and stress and pain that you might be experiencing now. I know that sounds crazy when you let go you have more opportunity for change, but it's so often the case, particularly when it comes to relational dynamics. So lots of exciting stuff planned for us today. 

And if this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you're here. I'm again Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm also a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. And I am here with you every week sharing love, happiness, and success tips and strategies and insights that are all designed to help you and also to be responsive to what it is that you are needing. 

So today, we are talking about codependence, and I also have all kinds of podcasts ready and available for you—anything from communication and improving your communication and your relationship to understanding how to handle different situations and your relationship with your partner. If you haven't yet, please subscribe to this on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, wherever you like to listen and scroll back. I had years worth of podcasts, and they're all available for you, and every single one of them hopefully has an actionable takeaway that can help you improve some area of your life, your relationship, your career. So I hope you take advantage of all of it. 

And also, it's not just me, in my practice growingself.com we have over, I think, 40 at this point therapists, couples counselors, coaches who I work with all of them very closely. And in addition to me and this podcast that I do, they are always putting together blogs and articles and answering listener questions. And so, anytime you want, cruise on over to the blog at growingself.com and you can see not just my thoughts but all kinds of expert advice and take advantage of it because it is all there for you. 

How to Stop Being Codependent

Alright. So let's talk about this situation. Let's talk about codependence and why this is so important. And as you know, if you listen to this podcast, I always try to design shows around your needs and what I'm hearing from you guys about what's important. And lately, I've been getting so many questions coming through the blog at growingself.com, Facebook, Instagram, that are all some variation of, “Dr. Lisa, how do I get my partner to do XYZ? Or to stop doing

XYZ? Let me tell you about this terrible thing that my partner is doing or not doing and how upset I am about it. How do I get them to change?” That's the gist of a lot of the questions, and in honesty, like I think that that is the energy that drives a lot of people into couples counseling is that the perception is that they are having unhappiness and distress in their relationship because of the things that their partner is doing that is making them absolutely crazy. And they're just beside themselves, they do not know how to get them to change or improve the situation, and there's lots of fights around this, and it's just so exhausting. 

And so we hear about this a lot, and I think even more so lately, like so in addition to me, I get this podcast and other things for our practice, and I also see my own clients, certainly. But I also am at this point in a supervisory role, and so every week, I'm in multiple consultation groups with other counselors and coaches on our team, talking about different cases, not people's names or anything—it's all de-identified—but part of what responsible, ethical therapists do in order to be as effective as possible is case consultation with other professionals in order to say, “Here is a situation. How would you guys handle it?” In order to make sure that we're always handling things really appropriately, and doing the very best we can to make sure that the work is always effective for our clients. 

And in so many consultation groups lately, I've also been hearing about my colleagues, working with couples who are struggling with these codependent dynamics that are very entrenched and very powerful and hard to change. And the reason why it's so important for us to be talking about is because until it changes, it is really impossible to, paradoxically, effect the change that you would like to see in your relationship. 

What is Codependence

So the first thing I want to talk with you about is just a little bit more about what codependence is and what it refers to. And just to be perfectly transparent, the term “codependence” is not a psychological term. It is not in the DSM. It is very much like a self-help pop psychology kind of term that came to be through the recovery movement, like AA. And you know that, essentially, back in the day, alcoholics were the focus of treatment. They would go to groups, they would have sponsors, they would have their meetings, they would have their work. And it became clear over time that it wasn't just the alcoholics that needed help—their partners and their families were also really struggling. And what counselors in the recovery movement observed is that the partners, the spouses in particular of alcoholics, would be a mess. They would be so angry, and they had characteristics in common. They were often very high in anxiety, they were often very angry, and they were often spending a lot of time and energy trying to control or police or supervise or improve or protect their alcoholic spouses at the expense of themselves, and also, really unsuccessfully. 

And so because of that, there was a whole separate wing that was created which you've probably heard of called Al-Anon, which is a separate type of support group and growth process specifically for the partners of people in recovery. And that movement is designed to help people become un-enmeshed and un-codependent from their partners and really just start focusing on themselves and their own happiness and well being again, which paradoxically, for reasons that we will discuss, changes the dynamic of the relationship system and makes it even more likely that their alcoholic partners will heal and grow in addition to helping to helping the codependent person feel a little bit better.

So that is where this came from. And so certainly, codependence, the term itself is often heard or found in, in those sorts of circles. In my experience, yes, that is absolutely one of the applications of it in our counseling practice. But there are also different ways that it shows up in relational systems that are not necessarily specific to addiction, recovery, and addiction recovery stuff is really not what I am talking about here on the show. If you are in a relationship with someone who has a substance use disorder, I would encourage you to get involved with addiction specific treatment because that will be more helpful to you. And if you would like to look into Al-Anon, you can just google Al-Anon meetings. They're all over the world, and they're free, and I'm sure they're online at this point. So very easy to get involved with if you'd like to do that. 

But outside of addiction's recovery, people will throw around the term codependent all the time, and it means really different things to different people. And so when somebody comes into the office and says, I am codependent, and I want to talk about that, or whatever, that my very first question is, what does that word mean to you, just to be sure that we're kind of on the same page. Because here's what it means to me when people talk about codependence or what it means generally. It means that they need their partner or someone else, a family member, sister, brother, whatever, to behave in a certain way, or be a certain way, in order for them to feel a certain way; they are essentially trying to regulate their emotions through someone else's behaviors. I know that sounds a little bit weird, but they ‘re—so that's why there's all this energy going into trying to control other people because they are attempting to regulate their own anxiety or sense of safety through the behaviors of another person as opposed to what they feel in control of. 

And so this can take a few different forms, there is a kind of codependence that I actually think of is more like an emotional enmeshment. And that happens when someone cannot feel happy if their partner is upset for whatever reason, angry, sad, stressed, whatever, that they're so sort of enmeshed together, that they will put all kinds of energy and effort into trying to get their partner to cheer up or feel better, or be happy again. And until their partner does feel better, the person who's attempting to upgrade that change feels really bad and anxious, and it's like they cannot be okay if their partner is not okay. Or if their partner like, gets angry or upset, they kind of fall apart or feel super angry and upset in response. Like there's this emotional enmeshment within a system that almost prevents people from being able to behave independently of each other. And that creates a lot of reactivity and problems in relationships. 

Another aspect of codependence is people who tend to feel like really anxious or unsettled or not. I don't want to use the word unsafe and like a literal physical unsafety but like, kind of insecure or not at ease, or not calm or relaxed unless their partner is doing certain things or saying certain things or behaving in a certain way. And that when their partner doesn't do what they need or want them to do, they feel very agitated and anxious. And again, it turns into efforts to control their partner and try to get their partner to be different in order for them to feel secure and well. And then, of course, there's the addictions recovery aspect of this where this sort of dynamic is often very pronounced. 

But what I see more often in our practice is kind of like a functional codependence. So it's either somebody who doesn't like the way their partner behaves or doesn't like the way their partner communicates or doesn't like the way their partner prioritizes time or feels unhappy that the partner isn't like more of a team player in their home. And just to be very clear, that it's absolutely okay to be upset about any of those things, I mean, nobody likes that, right? But the difference with a codependent dynamic is that there is this like, hyper-focus around what is my partner doing or not doing. And I'm going to try to control them, change them, police them, monitor them because unless they change, nothing is ever going to be different. So there's like this exclusive focus on changing of the partner trying to get the partner to be different. And unless and until that happens, I am going to be so unhappy and upset.

And again, it's this like, external locus of control, because when a codependent person goes into that place, they are absolutely dependent on what another person is doing for their own sense of happiness, or security, which as you can imagine, puts them really into a place of powerlessness and dependence because they are unable to feel okay, independently. Hence, the term dependence. They're dependent on their partner for their own sense of well being, and attempting to change the way they feel by controlling someone else's behavior. And of course, as you can imagine, because it is essentially impossible to control someone else or change someone else, people who have a codependent orientation to relationships usually feel absolutely exhausted and depleted, and resentful, and angry, and so incredibly frustrated because they feel so, so powerless, and they're putting so much energy into trying to get their partner to change so they can be okay, and it's not working. So it's a really difficult space to be in.

And so, first of all, the very, very, very first thing that we always do with codependent dynamics is, first of all, we have to raise awareness in either the couple if people are coming in together, or if it's an individual person who's coming in for help on their own to talk about how incredibly distressed they are about what's happening in their relationship, which also happens. The first thing we have to do is get clarity around what's going on, and helping people, if this is what it is, but helping people figure out how much of their power and time and energy and mental energy, emotional energy are they giving away to this codependent dynamic without even realizing it. 

Codependency Quiz

So let me ask you some of the questions that I often ask clients who are grappling with this. Question one would be: Do you persistently feel frustrated, upset, or angry at your partner’s inability to make changes? You're kind of always annoyed that you really want them to be doing something different, and they're not, they're going to keep doing it over and over again. That would be a clear one that there's a codependent dynamic at work. And particularly if that question number one is yes, and it is also coupled with a true answer on this question, do you believe that your relationship problems and like even life problems would be resolved if only your partner would change in some way?

And then thirdly, do you personally feel like it's hard for you to be happy? Or you feel good about yourself in your life because of things that your partner is doing or not doing? And so if you answered yes to all three of those questions on my little mini codependence quiz, you may be struggling with a codependent dynamic in your relationship. And if so, I have a lot of empathy for that because you are likely feeling really annoyed and stressed and like even hyper-vigilant a lot of the time, it's a very difficult place to be in. And so that's why I wanted to talk about this today, in order to give you some, some clarity and some strategies. 

So I feel like we're kind of talking about this in theoretical terms right now, and sometimes I think it's easier to illustrate examples by telling you stories instead. So one example that immediately comes to mind to illustrate this, and I think so many of us can relate to, is one couple who is kind of a mishmash of many couples, but if we were to distill it all down coming in, and one person is sitting on the couch, or in the video session, and just like vibrating with anger and annoyance about all the things that their partner is doing, and can't wait to tell me about it. And legitimate things like, “I found another beer bottle in the trash can when he said that he wasn't going to drink on school nights,” or “He said he was going to mow the lawn, and he didn't,” or “She came home late again, and I can't make plans, and I feel like she's always leaving me holding the bag with housework, or kids or whatever, going out with her friends,” like they're the type of complaints can be endless, and they vary.

 And just to say this, what I'm talking about in this podcast here with you is going to be in the spectrum of like garden variety codependent dynamics. And if you had the unfortunate circumstance of being in a relationship where there's really serious stuff going on with your partner like substance abuse problems or serious like mental health issues that are untreated, you're probably going to resonate with some of what I'm talking about, but the strategies won't work as well in that situation because it's a different animal. And I would refer you to other podcasts that I have created on related topics, I think one was called, What to Do When Your Partner Has a Problem, and I think I also did a podcast a while back around, you know how to get somebody else to change if they have really serious stuff. So scroll back through the episodes, and you'll find them. 

But this situation that we're talking about is a couple where one person is absolutely so frustrated, so angry, and also oftentimes feeling very, like self-righteous in their anger, really feeling like their partner is behaving so badly, and that they just can't stand it anymore. And they're starting to, many times, like lose respect for their partner, but really just putting so much energy into trying to get their partner to change, and sometimes it's nagging, and sometimes it's arguing, and sometimes it's just doing things for them, but sort of resentfully. I mean, it can take all sorts of different forms. And that is the sort of operating emotional space that the partner who's like really wishing the other person could be different days and all the time. 

And then on the other side of this, the person who is the “changee”, that is the person in the relationship that has been identified as the one who has all the problems that need to be changed, is often feeling incredibly resentful, sullen, withdrawn, often puts just as much energy into minimizing their partner's feelings. “Oh, it's not that big of a deal. You need to lighten up, it's not that bad. It's fine.” That is often this dynamic, and it becomes a very well-developed and entrenched relational dynamic where one partner is pursuing the other, in efforts to get them to change, respond, listen, do something differently. And the other person in response is withdrawing and becoming less emotionally available, less responsive, less often considerate, and thoughtful. And so then what that leads to is an increase in the anger and resentment and kind of pursuing of partner number one. And so as you can imagine, this gets more and more intense over time. 

And I think we can all relate to this experience, probably even on both sides. I mean, I think everybody who's been in a relationship over five years has at least at some point had well-developed ideas about what their partner should do in order to make things better. So following my partner, exercise more, drink less, eat healthier foods, or took antidepressants, or stop playing so much video games, you know, I mean, whatever, “Then it would be better for us.” And on the other side of that, I think many of us can also relate to being the recipient of that kind of criticism, and that constant like feeling like you're never doing anything, right, and that you're not quite good enough the way that you are, and how bad that feels.

So, that's the dynamic on both sides. And so that's many times where people start when they come to us for couples counseling. And I just, I wanted to kind of like bring that to life a little bit more to see if any of those things are things that you could relate to. And the problem is, really, that what happens is that over time, couples become more and more polarized and to each of these positions. The partner who is righteously indignant, is becoming more and more convinced that they have the answers, and their partner needs to do XYZ, and every time they don't do XYZ, it is more information that their partner can't meet their needs, or be a good partner, or that they're ever going to have the kind of relationship or like that they want, and kind of falling into this despair. And also, it creates a dynamic where the person who is really like in that codependent place, will oftentimes become extremely hyper-vigilant to notice. “What is he doing? Did he clean the kitchen? Did he take out the trash? Did he drink too much? What is going on? Or…” 

I don't want to make it very gender-y. It happens with both ways with men and women that happens, same-sex relationships, but there's this like constant on edge of, I have to monitor and police and nag and almost like supervise my partner to make sure they are doing the things that they need to be doing. In order for us to have a good life together. It's like, I need to make my partner be the person that I need them to be. Because the person as they are, I don't totally like them. I don't trust them. I doubt their competence. I don't think they make good decisions. And I feel like if I wasn't making them do what they needed to do and be who they needed to be. Our lives would fall apart. Important things wouldn't get done. bills would go unpaid, things would bounce, we wouldn't have groceries, we wouldn't get places on time the kids wouldn't get their needs met.

And as you can imagine, to be in this space where it feels like you are the one that has to be the policeman or policewoman of everything and like always kind of on guard to make sure that things are happening the way they are, or should be rather, it is absolutely exhausting. It is so stressful. It feels like you can never let your guard down, you can't relax. 

And I just wanted to say this to kind of like, bring some empathy into this because I think that there's like a caricature stereotype. A naggy person or controlling? We'd like to throw the word controlling around, “Do it this way. Do it that way. Why didn't you blah, blah, blah?” It's very easy to see a person who is inhabiting in that space as being overbearing, or overly, what's the word, controlling, I think, is the one that comes up most often. And can we all just agree, though, that the emotional experience of people who are behaving that way, is one of anxiety and fear.

I have personally never met anyone who is behaving in ways that are controlling who has not, when I help them talk about what's going on, shared that they have this overwhelming sense of like fear and anxiety about what would happen if they stopped being “controlling” if they just let things go and stopped paying attention to what's happening and what should be happening and who's doing what things would actually fall apart. 

And also, I don't think I've ever met a “controlling” person who has not wished and longed on a very deep level, to relax and to be in a safe place with a person that they trusted to just handle things for them so that they could finally rest and feel taken care of and supported and not have to be worried and on eggshells that if they aren't vigilant for five minutes, something terrible is going to happen. 

People who are in this space are over functioning. And they are overly alert and overly active in a relationship, because it feels like they have to be. So if you are listening to this podcast, and you are in a relationship with someone, and you feel like they are nagging at you and criticizing you and being overly controlling, and like why don't you do this, you should be more like, I would invite you to consider why that might make sense from their perspective, and that you have a lot of power to change the system because they will step back in direct proportion to their experience of you stepping forward, they would love nothing more than to say, great, you cook dinner, I'll be over here and they would love to do that. But they might not trust you to do that. 

So there's that to consider. It's really important to think about systemic dynamics in these situations. Because the alternative is that if we're not aware of the systemic dynamics, the alternative is to develop a narrative about your partner and the type of person they are and that leads to all sorts of things. 

So for example, if you label your partner's being controlling and unreasonable, and that's just the way they are, that's like their character, their personality, where do you go from there, right? And it's usually not true, there's always a reason why people are the way they are. And a reason that is very understandable. And that we can work with that you have to see your partner with empathy. So I wanted to leave you with that.

Now, let's talk about this from the other side. So if you are the one who has been really just putting in so much energy to try to get your partner to understand and to change, you may have noticed that it's not that effective. I mean, really, like, most people who are doing this and engaging in these kinds of codependent behaviors are trying over and over again, to get their partner to be different and listen to them and respond to them and do things a different way. Or they give up and just start doing everything for their partner because they have lost confidence in their partner's ability to follow through. And it takes such a toll on you. And the thing that can be hard to see when you're doing this is that when you put so much energy and effort and take so much responsibility on yourself, for things, you actually make it less likely that the other person is going to step up and do things differently in response to you. And I know that's incredibly frustrating because it feels like you're trying to make things happen and you're trying to protect yourself and the family and even them by doing all that you do. But paradoxically it leads on a systemic level, to a persistence of the problem that you are seeking to change and I mean, reflect on this, if you will. 

Is it true that the more you care about change and what your partner is doing or not doing, it seems like the less they care, or the more they fight you on it, or the more they tend to minimize and dismiss what you're saying. That is what happens over time it creates this power imbalance and even though it may feel like the person who is doing the running around and being upset and trying to get things to be different, feels like the dominant personality in the relationship, in truth and in practice, you actually become disempowered and have much less power. Then you're kind of passive partner as the months and years progress because you are killing yourself and putting in all this energy and effort. And they're like watching you around, run around like a crazy person. Like you need to relax. Just chill out. And so that doesn't work.

Stages of Codependency Recovery For Couples

And now that we've kind of talked about the dynamics of codependent relationships, I'd like to turn our attention to the emotional kind of underpinnings and what can change it. And so the thing that is really important to understand, and the part that gets missed for many couples in this dynamic is that people get so focused on what is happening, or isn’t happening or what the partner is doing or not doing, the attention is much less about their internal experience and about the feelings underneath all of this on both sides than it is about the signals or the behaviors or the communication patterns. And so I think it's really important for people who are in the active side of a codependent relationship, to really make contact with the level of fear they have around what could happen if they stopped, and to really get a handle on how much of their own personal power and their own happiness and their own satisfaction with their life is really so highly dependent on what their partner is doing and on the relationship itself. Because that in itself can be just a huge awakening, like, “Oh my gosh, I am spending most of my time being anxious and upset about this, what this person is doing or how they're behaving and I can't live like that anymore.” And it's in that kind of moment of recognition that that power gets taken back. 

And now I'm talking about this as usual, like, it's an easy thing, people often don't arrive to this place without a lot of growth and work that is achieved through either individual therapy or coaching or through couples work is where people can move into the space where they're like, you know what? This whole control thing has been an illusion anyway, even though I am managing my anxiety because I feel like I am in control of the situation. I am really quite objectively not in control of the situation because these things keep happening. And you know what? I don't want to do this anymore. This is not good for me and there's also an increase in anxiety when that happens. Because you know, if somebody stops being the police person, your partner might drink too much or spend too much money or not follow through with things or ruin their health with junk food or waste their lives playing video games. But can we just agree that they're basically doing that anyway, with or without your hyper-vigilance, they're just like trying to hide it from you and fighting with you about it. 

And so what is a much more productive space to go into, is this idea and this new recognition that for many people, the core of the anxiety is around the practical matters, certainly, but when you really dig down into it, there's almost this like, existential crisis that comes out around, “Can I be with this person? Can I maintain my marriage and my family with this person? Because it feels like I can't. What is happening now feels unsustainable to me. And so I am twisting myself into pretzels trying to get my partner to be a partner with me so that we can have a nice life together. And I'm so afraid that if they won't do it, I will have to go.” And that's like this, this core like fear that many people make contact with when they begin grappling with this. It's very, very powerful, and can be very interesting to make contact with and share in a vulnerable way with the partner who has been creating so much pain, that you feel has been creating so much pain because it really turns it into being less about them, and more about you and what you can tolerate and what you can't and what your options are in the situation. 

So, many times, what this kind of exploration leads to are productive conversations between two people where there's like a new recognition of why the struggle is happening and that really powerful and understandable like noble intentions and attachment needs, both people are bringing to the table. Many times on the other side of this, people who have been functioning in a manner that is different than how their partner would like them to be sometimes is feeling very withdrawn because they feel like they're going to be rejected anyway, whatever they do is wrong. So why even try, or they feel like there isn't space for them to bring their own way of doing things to the table in the relationship, like, and so they really feel minimized and diminished, so they kind of give up and stop trying in some ways. 

But they're also underneath of that can be a very real experience where, believe it or not, some people have arrived in adulthood, without having the same set of skills around getting things done. Prioritizing activities, managing time I mean, to be very, like task-oriented, and a planner, and like, executive functioning skills, if I do this, then this will happen. I shouldn't stay up too late playing video games, because I have to get up for work in the morning. And, it is not that unusual, like, well, it doesn't happen all the time. But sometimes when I'm working with couples who have this kind of dynamic, we discover that the partner, who has been maybe struggling to do some things that is creating a lot of anxiety and stress for their spouse, has undiagnosed ADHD that has never been recognized or dealt with or treated. And so they're behaving in a way that isn't actually consistent with adult success, and it's driving their partner insane. But they really legitimately do not know how else to be because they've never talked about it before. They've never considered it before. 

And sometimes couples work turns into almost coaching around; how do you keep track of what needs to be done throughout the week? So that your partner doesn't have to be the one who's always managing the time and the activities for everybody. How do we begin to develop those skills? So that you can do these things. So I just want to float to the possibility that it isn't always that a partner won't do these things, because they're being contrary and an obstructionist, it may actually be that they don't know how to do these things, as well as you do. It can also be true sometimes that partners have different values or expectations around things that are related to how things were done in their family of origin. If you grew up in a family, where there were very kind of well-defined gender roles, and your partner wants you to be doing things that were not done by people of your gender in your home, it's going to create confusion. And that in itself can lead to these kinds of dynamics in a relationship. 

But regardless of the reason why, the first step in resolving this dynamic is getting to the bottom of why it's happening, to see if anything can be done to change the functioning itself. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and changing the functioning of the partner who may be under-functioning in the relationship, but also maybe doing some work around the expectations and values of the partner who believes that all of these things need to be happening to ask some questions in a safe, compassionate, non-judgmental space around, “Why do you believe that we need to have a protein, a fruit, and a starch warmed up at breakfast every morning, or else you're both failing as parents? Some people eat cereal most of the time, and they're okay.” So let's talk about where some of these ideas about what breakfast should look like, came from. I mean, that's a more trivial example. Right? But I mean, you'd be amazed at what I think we all take as being the truth from our family of words and experience, and then apply that truth to other people.

We are measuring our partners by our own yardstick without even being aware that we are carrying a yardstick and holding it up to other people and say, “No, we cannot have a granola bar for breakfast, that is not sufficient, it needs to be an egg or a waffle.” So I mean, it's like, we all carry that. And many times, there's a period in couples counseling or relationship coaching, where we have to do a deep dive into what those things are. Because there are blind spots, we do not know what we are expecting or projecting on other people at a subconscious, until we do this type of focused growth work, which can be incredibly productive and opens so many doors. So that's kind of phase two of recovering from a codependent dynamic. 

Now, phase three can happen in addition to sometimes instead of phase two, and this is where the person who has been trying to be the change agent in the relationship and feeling really bad and anxious and angry and stressed a lot of the time may arrive in a place again, where they have decided that they don't want to feel that way anymore. And it may be that their partner is not able or willing to work with them on creating the dynamic to step forward a little bit more so that they can step back. And in this case, stage three, you need to take your power back through your own volition and what this means is almost like repeating this mantra to yourself of, “I am only in charge of me, I can only control myself, I am responsible for my own happiness, I am responsible for the quality of my life, I am in charge of me and my outcomes.”

And when this happens when the formerly codependent person stops trying to control other people and instead really shifts into taking responsibility for themselves, and the quality of their life independent from what their partner is going to do or not do, they will feel happier and more confident and more at peace, they will also have to work through some anxiety that will immediately spike around what will happen if I just start focusing on me and stop being so concerned about what my partner is doing or not doing that we do also have to deal with but it can be achieved, I think, through a very deliberate intentional growth period where you start thinking a little bit more about what you need, and how else you can get it if you're not getting it currently from your partner and from this relationship. 

So many times people might say “I have them working my tail off to create this set of circumstances in my home and I haven't done anything fun for myself. And I don't even know how long, I can't remember the last time I got some exercise or spent time with my friends. And I feel like I'm always so angry and what feels positive and good to me. Where can I get my energy replenished and nourished if this particular well is currently dry?” And so sometimes this turns into, you know, spending more time doing other things and taking care of what you can. And in doing so you are helped to kind of manage your own anxiety and feel happier and more content and it's like less dependent on your partner for your sense of well-being. 

So going back to that idea codependent when you're a codependent your sense of self and safety and security and happiness is entirely dependent on your partner and we're going to shift that so that you can be okay, no matter what they decide to do.

And so, oftentimes what happens here in practice is that when people are getting their needs met and just going about their lives as they wish to and not thinking quite as much about their partner, they feel better. They often stop nagging, they stop caring as much about what their partner is doing or not doing and, there's like this new dynamic where the partner who had been withdrawn and kind of like, fighting for their independence, and, “No, you can't control me and tell me what to do.” When that stops, they're sort of like, “Oh, nobody's telling me to stop playing video games at 2 am. So I'm gonna stay here till 5 am and play video games” and just they're being themselves. And what happens is that scary as it may be, they begin to experience natural consequences for their own decisions, they have hangovers, they miss work meetings, they start to have overdraft fees on their checking account because they forgot to pay the bill. 


And instead of their over-functioning partner, getting angry about it, or rescuing them, or berating them into behaving, all of a sudden, it is really on them. And they are experiencing the consequences for their problems, and it is on them to figure out how to fix it. And in doing so, two things happen, it sends a lot of clear messages to both people in this dynamic, the over-functioning person moves into the space of, “I deserve to be happy, and I know what I need to be happy, and I am not sure if you can be part of my life if I am actually going to be happy because this is not currently working for me.” And it is not a threat, it's this truth of, “I don't know that I can tolerate this, and I'm not going to tolerate it. So let me know if you would like to work on this with me. I'll be over here.”

So the fighting kind of stops. And what also happens is that it can be very easy in this type of dynamic for the under-functioning partner, to have a lot of like, almost passive aggressive hostility towards their spouse, and like kind of secretly blaming their partner for being so controlling and naggy and critical and when they begin experiencing consequences for their own actions, there is this new sense of clarity that what they are doing is actually not working for them. And it raises their anxiety enormously because it sort of turns into this existential crisis of, “If I am going to, nobody's coming to save me and if I am going to maintain my relationship with this person, and my family and have the life I want, I have to figure out how to do these things. Because before it was my partner's problem, they were the ones that were stressed out and anxious about it, but they're not anymore. Now, it is my problem and I need to get stressed and anxious about it and figure out how to change it or not, and accept the consequence of that outcome, potentially.”

But the power dynamic completely shifts, when you decide to take your power back. Because if someone wants to be a good partner for you, they will be, but it is up to them to be a good partner, you cannot make them be a good partner. And this is almost like a crisis that couples walk into and I would really advise you if any of this is resonating for you that you do this with the support of a marriage counselor to make sure that it is productive. 

But to walk through these stages together and reshift the power dynamics in a relationship, what often emerges is that both of you are doing the best you can you are both lovely, well-intentioned people, many times and this is particularly true for men that I've worked with in relationships, who were occupying this space of kind of the belligerent teenager in their relationship and their wife was kind of turning into this angry mommy lady like because of these, these power dynamics and when we're able to shift this and get people sort of like pulled apart and functioning more independently. We can see that people like under-functioning partners are often very nice people who love their partners very much and don't actually like the way that they had been functioning themselves but didn't almost have the space to figure out how to make those changes on his own. Because when we're focused on another person criticizing us, the natural reaction to that is to defend yourself. 

I have all these reasons why it made sense. But in the absence of that, when somebody isn't criticizing you, then you have the emotional space to connect with “I don't actually feel good when I drink too much in the evening, or I don't feel good when I don't get enough sleep or exercise, or I don't feel good when the house is a mess. I don't like that.” And so again, we're moving away from codependence and back to independence where someone can say, “I like feeling like my partner is happy with me. I like how I feel when we get things done, or when we can work together as a team.” And so what happens is a shift back into intrinsic motivation on the partner, who had been getting harassed into changing previously, when the harassing stops, only then intrinsic motivation, their desire to change and grow, can emerge.

And the other neat thing, so that's kind of like stage, what are we at? Stage four of all of this? It’s space where people kind of separate from each other not literally separating, although sometimes, but really, it more of that, like emotional separating around, I'm going to do me, and you're going to do you, and let's see who we each are in the absence of this codependent power struggle that we had been engaging in, previously.

So when this happens, and people begin focusing on themselves, and what makes them feel happy and fulfilled, it can go a few different ways. That way I always root for is what's really neat is that when people stop focusing on who and what their partner isn't, and take responsibility for their own happiness and own well being, they can then reconnect with their partner as they are. Because at the end of the day, and I say this as someone who has been married now for a really long time, that I truly believe in my heart of hearts, and as a long-married person, also as a marriage counselor that true love and genuinely happy relationships certainly require both people trying in attempting to be their best selves and taking responsibility for themselves in the way they're showing up, certainly.

And in addition to that, they require a high degree of acceptance and appreciation for who and what your partner is, and how their gifts and their differences can enhance your life and the experience of your family. And it's a really interesting, like emotional shift that occurs when we work through codependence and help people become independent, then we can come back together into healthy interdependence where people are relying on each other for the things that each partner can give freely and that is appreciated and cherished. 

So for example, many times in the classic, codependent relationship where there's the I mean, I hate to genderize again, but kind of angry controlling wife and a sort of juvenile under-functioning husband, a lot of times, what can really happen is that when people come into this place, take responsibility for themselves. We can come back together again, and appreciate the differences. 

So for example perhaps in a classic example, the wife begins to realize that her partner's a lot of fun, and that he's funny, and that he likes to do fun things and it's a gift to her to have him in her life because you know what, he is different from her and he's the one who will pry the mop out of her hands on a Saturday morning and say, “Let's go do something fun today put down the mop. Come on, let's go do XYZ, right?” And in contrast, I mean, instead of feeling resentful about the, “controlling partners,” always making them do things that they doesn't want to do, being able to move into the space of appreciation for the gifts and talents and intelligence and planning and competence that many people who are often in the disempowered place and in a codependent relationship of the ones who have just the weight of the world on their shoulders, they're often naturally strong, competent, capable people, and can do so many things.

And a real shift occurs when the partner who perhaps had viewed them as being aggressive or rejecting, can see them for the person they really are, which is someone who also needs support and understanding and a soft place to fall because even though they are so strong and so competent, and so smart, they also do need to rest and just be loved and cared for to and it helps people kind of move towards each other, and see each other through much more compassionate and forgiving and appreciative lenses when that happens. 

Now, it is also sometimes true that when couples go through this whole process of exploration and growth, they may discover that they are intrinsically very, very different from each other. Relationships are formed for all kinds of reasons and as we have talked about at length on many podcasts, the early stages of romantic love, create almost intoxicating kind of experience that can weld people together emotionally, people who may or may not be compatible in many ways, or as easily compatible, I should say. And so then you can decide is, who and what this person is, and always will be, “Can I be happy with who and what they are? Can I accept them as they are, and have enough left here to be satisfied and fulfilled with what I can get out of this relationship or not?” And that answer can always be a complex one to resolve.

And can also I think, sometimes test our notions of what relationships should be, there is no one right way to have a relationship. I am actually not a huge believer in fundamental compatibility. I will absolutely agree that some combinations and pairings are easier than others couples who are further apart from each other and their basic needs and desires and value systems and the things that are important to them will have more to work through and more challenges in order to be good partners for each other, they will have to be more accommodating, and more flexible, and more compassionate, and more generous, and figure out a way to respect, not just a respect, but help their partner create a life that is genuinely meaningful and satisfying to them that both people will have to do that. And it will be a further reach to find a bridge to the center when there are bigger differences, which sometimes at the root of a codependent dynamic you will discover. 

And it is also true that every couple has differences that in the experience of a codependent dynamic become quite polarized, and people become more different because they are fighting about those differences than they actually are in reality. And that when we can move back into a space of healthy interdependence, many couples discover that they have a lot more in common. And they're a lot more of a cooperative, collaborative complimentary couple than maybe they had known previously. 

So I hope that this discussion has helped you. If you are one of the people that has reached out through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a, “How do I get my partner to XYZ?” type of question. This is why I didn't shoot back some kind of two sentence answer, is because there's not a two-sentence solution. It's a process. And so that's why I wanted to make this podcast for you is to kind of walk you through what that process is, so that you can develop just a clarity of understanding of what lies ahead and that there's no secret trick to getting your partner to do what you want them to if you can only phrase it this way or use this little trick, as, with so many things related to relationships, it is a process of growth. That is not for the faint-hearted. It takes so much courage to do the kind of work that I'm describing to you, we have to walk into fear around, “What will happen if I let go of the control? Or what will happen if my partner stops trying to make me XYZ? Can I take responsibility? Who am I without someone else telling me what to do? What do I really want for my life? And how do I take responsibility for creating that?” It is as frustrating as it is, it is much safer, emotionally, to blame other people for our problems than it is to turn that back on ourselves and say, “How did I get here? And what do I want? And what am I going to do to change it?” 

And as scary as it is, that's the kind of conversation that will ultimately create change, it's a little bit of a trust fall. And again, that's why getting the support of a really good therapist or relationship coach to help you, almost like stay in that challenging, not scary place, but like to help you feel confident that this is the path forward can be really essential. Because many times when people get scared, they just sort of collapse back into doing what they know or trying to create change in a way that feels safer, or that makes more sense logically. And as we've discussed here today, the real path forward is not one of logic. It's one of emotion and deep understanding both of yourself and your partner. 

So I hope that this conversation has been helpful to you and let me know if there are other things you would like to hear about, you can get in touch with me, growingself.com, you could always leave a follow-up question for me on this topic or any other through the post for this podcast. And I'll see, you can track me down on Facebook, Dr. Lisa Bobby on Facebook or @drlisamariebobby on Instagram. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.


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How to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

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How to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

Are You “Mind Reading” Your Relationship?


Miscommunication in Relationships: Can you recall the last time you felt confused in your relationship because you couldn’t find an explanation for the behavior of your partner? The last time you felt worried that things might not be going well because something happened that seemed like a bad sign? 

Miscommunication in relationships is more common than you might think. When there isn't an open and honest conversation around what you're feeling, expecting, or needing from your partner, miscommunication is bound to happen. Maybe you’ve even found yourself wrestling with some thoughts like these:

If she hasn’t returned my text message in the past three hours, she must be upset with me. 

If he isn’t very talkative during dinner, he must be wondering if we should keep seeing each other. 

It’s been a long time since we’ve been intimate. He must not find me attractive anymore. Or maybe he’s seeing someone else? 

In each of these scenarios, there is one piece of information that is clearly missing – the thoughts of our partners. Our own effort to fill in those gaps with what we assume they must be thinking is indicative of something therapists sometimes refer to as mind reading. And while that’s technically a superpower, it can be a major hindrance to our relationships, leading to severe miscommunication. 

Communication is Key in a Relationship

In my experience as a relationship coach, I would argue that some level of mind reading happens in every relationship. At its most basic level, it is simply the belief that we know what another person must be thinking or feeling at a given moment. This miscommunication in relationships comes from an innate tendency we have as people to fill in the gaps around things we don’t fully understand. Unfortunately, most of us have a bent toward filling in those gaps with the worst-case scenarios. We assume the worst so that we’re surprised when that’s not the case, rather than assuming the best and being disappointed when reality doesn’t measure up. 

While the impulse to do this is perfectly normal, the consequences of it can be incredibly harmful to our relationships. We end up in fights over problems that don’t exist. We attack the character of the person we love most because we misinterpreted an event. We assume that the worst-case scenario simply has to be true so that we can guard against being hurt

The impacts of these beliefs in our relationships are real because something is real if it is real in its consequences. It doesn’t ultimately matter if they are actually true or not. If we believe that our partner meant to hurt us when they truly didn’t, we will still treat them like they did. The impact on the relationship is real.  

This is where communication is key in a relationship: having healthy communication that connects you to your partner vs. assuming you already know what they are thinking.

Assume the Best of Your Partner

What if we didn’t fill in the gaps with the worst possible version of events? What if we made the intentional choice to assume the best about a situation when the information was missing? What if we went a step further and actually asked our partners to tell us what they mean rather than trying to read their minds? 

Here are three guidelines that I teach my online couples coaching clients that can help you and your partner do this on a routine basis. 

Couples Counseling Communication Tips to Avoid Miscommunication in Relationships

#1 Assume the best about what your partner means in a given interaction.

We are all guilty of running the instant replay in our heads after a conversation with our partner. Questions flood our minds as we reflect on what was said. What did he mean when he said this? Was she implying that I was responsible for all of this? This tendency to overanalyze leads us to walk away from interactions and only later decide that something happened that we should be upset by. When we find ourselves reflecting on a conversation and this happens, instead of believing that our partner’s comments or actions were meant to hurt us, we can choose instead to assume that they care about us and did not mean to cause any harm

#2 If you are hurt by an interaction, ask your partner (directly) to clarify what they meant.

We often want our partners to fully understand us, but it takes more effort on our part to invest the time needed to make sure we fully understand them. When we find ourselves hurt, we can allow the hurt to serve as an invitation to deeper understanding. We can reach for our partners and ask if they meant to be hurtful in what they did. This gives our partners the chance to tell us what they were thinking or feeling when something happened, providing additional clarity as we determine whether or not the injury was intentional, accidental, or simply the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. 

#3 Ask yourself if there might be other explanations for something your partner did that might give them the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel animosity toward them. Oftentimes, we are short with those closest to us because we feel hangry. Could there be a more benevolent explanation for the interaction that has upset us? None of this is a denial of our right to tell someone that something they did hurt us; this is simply an invitation to not assume that our partner was being malicious toward us when it happened. Sometimes a text gets missed because it was opened in a meeting and they haven’t had a chance to respond – it doesn’t have to mean we’re being ignored on purpose. 

Create Space for Intentional Communication

The space we create for our partners to share their intentions with us is critically important. When we create internal narratives around what another person must have meant without actually asking them to share their intentions or perspective with us, we run the risk of expending valuable emotional energy being upset with them over something that is largely the creation of our own imagination. 

We would do well to leave the power of mind-reading on the shelf and instead choose to utilize one of the simplest but hardest to execute powers in our relationships – open and honest communication.

Benjamin Jones, M.S.

online life coaching online couples therapy online relationship coach

Ben Jones, M.S., is a life and relationship coach who helps couples and individuals activate their inner strengths in pursuit of their goals and passions. His collaborative, friendly style makes him easy to talk to. He can help you get unstuck, achieve new understanding, and create deeper connections.

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