It is important to recognize that minimizing the negative consequences of your behaviors is unhealthy to your marriage. Learning to validate your partner’s feelings and take responsibility for your actions can help resolve a lot of marital problems. However, this requires you to be able to listen to your partner and really hear how your behaviors have impacted your spouse.
What is Minimizing?
Minimizing is a defense mechanism that is a form of denial. If someone minimizes the negative consequences of their behaviors it can help them continue to think “it wasn’t that bad.” Sometimes this helps them justify continuing their behavior. Other times it is an attempt to avoid addressing the issue.
Examples of Minimizing
People minimize a variety of behaviors. Sometimes they attempt to minimize how bad their substance abuse issues are. For example, a husband may claim that “everyone drinks on the weekends.” He may try to say that being caught driving under the influence “wasn’t really my fault. I had only had a few beers and that cop was a jerk.” He may also say, “Even though I miss time at work, I still get more done than everyone else.” By minimizing the severity of his substance abuse problems, he attempts to justify that it is okay to continue drinking.
Other times, someone might try to minimize their relationship with someone else of the same sex, saying what they are doing is “no big deal.” For example, a wife who texts a male friend frequently might tell her husband to “get over it” when he raises a concern. She may tell him that she can talk to whomever she pleases and he needs to accept that without validating his feelings.
Negative Impact of Minimizing
You can’t address a problem unless you recognize it. Minimizing the negative consequences of your behaviors means that you are not even acknowledging the full extent of the problem. Therefore, it makes it impossible to fix.
Minimizing also means you aren’t validating your partner’s feelings. It essentially communicates, “I don’t think it is a problem and I don’t care what you think.” Even if you think your behaviors are not a problem, if your spouse does, then there is a problem! If you dismiss your spouse’s feelings, it can lead to many marital problems, including anger, resentment, and a lot of hurt.
Acknowledging Your Spouse’s Feelings
It is important to learn how to accept responsibility for consequences of your behaviors, even if you think the only negative consequence is that it hurt your spouse’s feelings. Communicating in a genuine, empathetic manner about your behaviors can help validate your spouse.
For example, instead of saying to your spouse, “You are blowing things out of proportion. Missing our anniversary isn’t a big deal,” acknowledge the impact it had on your spouse. Say something like, “I am sorry that I hurt your feelings by not remembering our anniversary.” It doesn’t matter if you think anniversaries are a big deal or not. If it is a big deal to your spouse, and your spouse’s feelings are hurt, it is important to own that.
If your Spouse is Doing the Minimizing
If it is your spouse who tends to do the minimizing, it is important to address this. Avoid arguing about whether or not what he did was actually “that bad.” Instead point out how you feel. For example, a husband says something in front of a group of people that embarrasses his wife. She points it out to him later. He says, “You are just being overly sensitive. What I said was funny.” She can respond by telling him how much it hurt her feelings, rather than argue about whether or not what he said was funny. Point out to your spouse when you notice minimizing and share your feelings in a direct, open manner.
If your spouse tends to be a chronic minimizer, it can take a toll on the relationship. It is hard to see someone constantly justifying their behaviors that cause you hurt and pain. The irony is that if you try to point out their repeated attempts to minimize everything, they will likely minimize this as well! Sometimes minimizing can become a way of life for someone and it may require psychological intervention to change this pattern.
If you or your partner struggles to validate one another’s feelings, consider seeking professional help. Marriage counseling can help you learn how to empathize with each other and really validate your partner’s feelings. Counseling can also help you accept responsibility for your behaviors and learn how to make lasting changes to improve your marriage.