You’ve just come home from an upsetting workplace interaction with your boss where you felt disrespected, invalidated, and emotionally abused.

You are looking for an emotional connection. You want your husband to pay attention to your hurt feelings. You want to feel safe. You want to feel like your family member understands and cares about you and your feelings.

So you begin to talk about what’s happened, and your partner responds inappropriately. How can you change that pattern that is so destructive to your mental health?

Here are examples of emotional invalidation based upon The Perceived Invalidation of Emotion Scale (PIES):

  • They don’t share your emotional reactions to the events you describe: “Hey, I’d be happy if that’s all I had to put up with!”

Your response: “I’d like you to slow down and put yourself in my shoes for a moment. I know you put up with a lot at work. I’m talking about me now. Please try to listen.”

  • They want you to “get over it” or “accept it and move on:” “Look, you are too sensitive to criticism. You have to just let it go.”

Your response: “I am sensitive, and that’s a good thing. My emotions tell me when I’m being taken advantage of or abused. Right now, I’m hoping you will try to understand what this is like for me.”

  • They don’t want to hear what you have to say: “Hey, I’ve got a lot on my mind right now. When are we having dinner?”

Your response: “I’m sorry I didn’t read you well. I want to set aside time after dinner to tell you about my day and hear about yours.”

  • They look down on you or judge you: “What a cry baby!”

Your response: “That comment hurt my feelings. Right now, I’d like you to respect what I’m telling you and what I’m dealing with. Please don’t insult me again.”

  • They don’t take you seriously: “Ya, ya, I know. Every day for you sucks…”

Your response: “Are you being sarcastic? Because I’m being serious right now, and I’d like you to listen to me.”

  • They say or imply what you should feel: “You should be happy he did that!”

Your response: “Maybe that would be your response, but right now, I’m talking about mine. Please don’t tell me what I should be feeling and try to hear what I’m actually feeling…”

  • He gets mad or upset at you when you express your feelings: “Enough already with your griping!”

Your response: “Hey, this is the third time I’ve tried to talk to you about what’s going on with me, and every time you get angry. What’s going on? I’d like you to listen to me instead of getting angry.”

  • He doesn’t take your side or agree with how you’re feeling: “Hey, that was a compliment, not harassment!”

Your response: “Maybe it sounds like that to you, but my experience is very different. I want to tell you about it. Will you please listen?”

  • He acts like it’s not okay for you to feel the way you do: “Everything is harassment these days. That’s why every guy has to walk around on eggshells, worried about saying the wrong thing!”

Your response: “It’s very hurtful for you to respond to me this way. This isn’t a political issue, and it’s what happened to me today. I want you to listen to my side of the story and try to understand.”

  • He makes you feel that your emotions are unimportant: “Oh, so what. Things happen. It’s not a big deal.”

Your response: “It is a big deal for me. I am still upset about it, angry and confused. It would help if you took what I’m feeling seriously right now.”

  • He gives you advice about how you should have handled it or tells you he’s going to get involved: “Hey, I think you should have told him…” or “I’m going to call that guy and tell him to back off!”

Your response: “Right now, I want you to hear me and try to understand what I’m feeling. I don’t need advice just yet. I need to express my feelings to explore them.”

Nonverbal dismissive behavior

At other times, he gives you the silent treatment, especially when you talk about your complaints about the relationship. The dismissive behavior may be a one-sided smirk or eye roll showing contempt, a knitted brow to show disapproval, or clenched fist in annoyance or anger. Maybe he waves you away or turns his back to you.

You personally feel invalidated. You feel bad. You get the message that your emotions are wrong or inappropriate.

Or at least that’s how it feels. You don’t factually know your husband’s intentions, only his objective behavior.

Where dismissive or disapproving behavior comes from

Children learn from families how to respond to emotions. When parents can read their child’s face, they can mirror back and give words to the internal sensations that the child feels.

The Dismissing Parent

The Dismissing Parent ignores or disengages, ridicules, or curbs all negative emotions. They feel uncertainty and fear becoming out of control.

They try to distract the child (“Do you want an ice cream?”) or hope that the passage of time will cure all problems. “This, too, shall pass.” These children may want love and attention but feel unworthy of it.

The Disapproving Parent

The Disapproving Parent is similar to the dismissing Parent but more negative, critical, controlling, manipulative, and authoritative. They punish emotional expression. Feeling angry is enough without the child having to misbehave.

With both types of parenting responses, a child learns that there is something wrong with them for having these bodily sensations. Long-term, the child cannot regulate their emotions easily. Expressing feelings is inappropriate or unacceptable.

They believe that something is inherently wrong with them for having strong emotions. They learn to dismiss, deny or not recognize anger, sadness, loneliness, or other human emotion.

These parents are often misattuned to the child, are reserved and without warmth when the child needs closeness or reassurance, or are clingy when the child needs time alone. They are easily overwhelmed by emotion and become absent or disengaged.

Learning to become emotionally responsive

Gottman calls positive parenting Emotional Coaching. We can draw parallels with spouses. Emotional Coaching is a research-based method. The goal is to teach children how to regulate their emotions.


This research examined how people feel about emotions. It helps them explore whether some emotions are more acceptable to them than others. It invites them to look back into their families to investigate who could express what feelings.

When your spouse ignores your feelings, it might be time to talk about your “feelings about feelings” and reflect on how your family managed emotions.

Once you do that, you can follow the upcoming five steps.


This requires learning to look at your partner when they enter a room or talk to you. Adults can learn to recognize small “microexpressions.” Watching their partner’s face helps them identify feelings.


What to do when he dismisses your feelings?

Your partner can begin to slow down and value both your emotions and his own. Sometimes a partner denies feelings that appear on their face as sadness or anger (“No, I’m not feeling anything. I’m just tired…”).

If they come from an emotionally dismissive or disapproving family, they may need to pay attention to the sensations in their bodies. Only by doing so can they identify internal trends and link these to possible feeling states.

In the same way, you can interrupt destructive patterns like pushing away, rejecting, or trivializing your emotions.

Here are some examples:

Empathize and validate

“You’re angry about that. Of course, you are. Makes sense. .”

Invest in helping your partner learn to label their emotions with words.

“So you say it upsets you like you are responsible somehow if I’m feeling angry about work.”

Learn to be a relationship coach and set limits appropriately

Everyone is entitled to their feelings, but not everyone is entitled to express those feelings in destructive ways. In healthy relationships, spouses are clear about limits. Model an appropriate expression of emotions.

You can lay out clear boundaries in your marriage. You can also label signs of emotional abuse.

  1. “You may tell me how you feel, but not how I feel.”
  2. “My feelings matter. Showing indifference or disregard hurts my feelings and is disrespectful.”
  3. “You are entitled to your opinion. I’m hearing that your opinion minimizes or disapproves of my expressing my emotions; that’s not okay.”
  4. “There is no such thing as a “wrong” feeling. But there are inappropriate ways to express emotions. Right now, I’m just talking to you about mine.”
  5. “Your getting angry at me for expressing feelings about this situation is hurtful and damaging to me.”
  6. “Violently expressing anger is dangerous and abusive. I will never hit or harm you. Anger is a feeling, but abuse is an action.”
  7. “I feel ridiculed right now. Ridiculing someone for feeling a certain way is contempt and damaging to a marriage.”
  8. “Please spend time and slow down enough to gain understanding and insight into how I’m actually feeling, not how you imagine I might feel.”
  9. Label defensive. Keep the conversation focused on the behavior you want, not what you don’t want.
  10. Accept responsibility for the emotion when appropriate. If you are blaming him, accept responsibility for doing that.

When your partner ignores your feelings it is sometimes easier to withdraw than to take constructive action. Whether it is your wife or husband  who is dismissive of your feelings, don’t give up. Regardless of where it comes from, you can learn more observant and accepting of the expression of feelings. You and your partner can learn to empathize and validate to become better relationship coaches to one another.

If you need help, give us a call.