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    When Your Partner Dismisses Your Concerns

    By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

    Not Listening

    Get over it.

    Just stop worrying.

    That’s your problem, not mine.

    These are responses that you never want to hear from your partner. They are simply not acceptable. Too often, people wonder whether their partners are right and they are overreacting to something. But, even if you are overreacting, your partner needs to be respectful of your struggles and have compassion for you. AND you need to offer the same to your partner.

    When your partner dismisses your concerns, it’s a problem. Even if the issue you are raising is a small one, your partner is – in that moment – failing to show that he or she cares about you. And so their reaction to your small concern is revealing a BIG problem.

    Respect, empathy, and compassion are necessary ingredients in healthy relationships.  This applies to any close relationship, not just intimate ones (though it is especially important in these).  So, while the topics people talk about and the activities they share help them to build a close relationship, the actual connection between them is based more in how they feel about and treat each other. While it may seem obvious that caring is essential in any close relationship, its importance is frequently lost in the activity of our lives.

    Too often, people turn away when their partners bring up thoughts or concerns that they don’t relate to, care about, or want to deal with. They respond to the content of the conversation without understanding that they are also giving a message about their partner or their relationship. For example, when you raise a concern about your boyfriend’s overly close friendship with another woman, he is only adding to your worries when he dismissively says, “Stop making something out of nothing.” Or, when you tell your girlfriend that you are uncomfortable with her going out at the end of the day with men from work, she is driving a wedge in your relationship with her reply, “Get over it.” Such dismissive responses send the message that they don’t care about how you feel.

    Loving someone means trying to really understand them so that you can accept them for who they are and care about that person (not the person you imagine them to be).  So, it’s essential that you take time to get to know your partner. Listen to what they say. Pay attention to what they show you about themselves.

    If you have a partner who dismisses your feelings about some topic, talk to them about how this affects you. Pick a time when you are calm. Explain that their response makes you feel hurt, angry, sad or whatever it is that you feel. If this is a theme that is causing an ongoing problem in your relationship, then explain that, too. Make sure that they understand that it’s not just a difference of opinion that bothers you, but rather their dismissive attitude towards you. Then, explain that if they try to understand your thoughts and feelings, you will feel much better about them and your relationship.

    I cannot reiterate enough that healthy relationships require lots of caring. You must care enough for yourself to want to be treated well. You must have enough compassion for your struggles to want to ease them. You must care in the same ways about your partner, and expect the same from your partner. When you struggle, what you want to hear from your partner are responses like: I’m so sorry that you are hurting. I love you very much, so please let me know what I can do to help.

    If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

    Photo: iStockphoto
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