When Your Partner is Dismissive

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When Your Partner is Dismissive

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Photo: J3SSL33/flickr


Feeling that your partner truly listens to you is essential for a healthy relationship. So, when your partner seems to dismiss your struggles or worries with comments like, “You need to get over it” or “Just stop worrying,” it can do damage to your relationship.

They might respond in this seemingly callous way because it pains them to see you hurting and they feel helpless to make the situation better. So, their solution is to basically try pushing the problem away.

Whatever the reason, their dismissal may make even more upset. You might get angry – leading to greater friction in the relationship. Or, you might criticize yourself for overreacting – which only increases your distress. Instead, what you need – even if you are overreacting – is to feel comforted. This will help you to calm down and feel supported in working through your struggles.

So, if you find that your partner tends to dismiss your concerns, it is important to be clear that you need your partner to take whatever you are feeling seriously and to empathize with you. With this clarity, you can address the problem with your partner, asking for what you need. To do this, it may help to follow these steps in a calm moment:

Explain how being dismissed makes you feel.Rather than talking at length about their reaction to you, focus on your reaction to their response – such as feeling hurt, angry, sad, or whatever else might be going on for you.

State that you want them to listen and understand; and you don’t need for them to agree or solve your problem. Even if you eventually would like help in resolving an issue, the first step is for you to feel understood, supported and cared about. Your partner attending to how you feel will convey this.

Ask what they are hearing you say. If you are not sure that they really understand, simply ask them. If their response doesn’t capture what you are saying, then clarify your message.

Ask for suggestions or advice. If you want more concrete help after getting emotional support, let your partner know that you would welcome it.

While this direct way of communicating will hopefully help improve your sense of feeling listened to by your partner, it might not work. Your partner’s own current problems might be impairing their ability to listen well. Or, maybe their difficulty is more topic-related. In these situations, the best solution will probably be to temporarily seek support elsewhere.

However, your partner’s problem listening might also reveal a deeper disconnect. Some people tend to have trouble listening in an empathetic and supportive way. If this is the case with your partner, you will need to decide how to proceed. This could mean accepting their limits and looking elsewhere for support; getting couples counseling to help; or even deciding to leave your relationship behind.

When you generally feel loved and cared about, your partner’s failure to truly listen is a problem that can usually be addressed successfully. The key is to explain what you need in a caring and clear way.


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