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I've been having a lot of arguments with my partner lately. The details do not matter, but the gist is that she doesn't feel special. She states that she feels this way because of something that I did/didn't do according to her expectations.

Her feelings are valid, the fact that she feels this way is a problem that needs to be worked on. However, something that I did or didn't do, is not always valid in my experience. When she makes a statement like this, I always try to acknowledge her feeling, but then argue that her motivation for this feeling might be unfounded, because I feel like that is an unfair statement to me.

To give a more concrete example of a situation like this: We've got a few months old babies. The first months were intense due to some health issues with him. She mentioned that I never told her that she was being a good mother, and asked me if I thought she was being a bad mother. She doesn't feel appreciated/respected. She mentioned that she was annoyed with her having to tell me that she needs to hear this*. I know that I've said things among that line, things like "You've been doing so well with his feeding", "You're really good with putting him to sleep", etc. But it is entirely possible that I've never explicitly stated that she was being a good mother. So when she told me she doesn't feel appreciated because I never told her that, I argued that I did tell her things like this. I usually say this like so:

Okay, I understand you feel this way, and it is of course a problem that needs addressing that you do feel like this. But I do tell you that you're doing well with him, I've told you [example] and [other example] multiple times in the past.

Which then leads to her saying that I invalidate her feelings and don't take her seriously. This escalates the discussion, and it becomes more heated, leading to unproductive arguments.

I understand that her feeling like this is inherently the biggest problem that needs to be solved. But is there a way that I can approach this situation where I argue her motivation for her feelings, in a way that will actually help with the arguments that we're having?

* This is a recurring theme regarding her needing to tell me what she wants/needs from me. This makes it hard for her when I then do these things since she explicitly told me, and she is agitated I didn't come up with it myself. This might be a new question itself.

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  • You're trying to be rational, almost cold, to a person experiencing irrational fears. – Austin759 Mar 2 at 5:24
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She can be motivated to think you think bad of her ability because of a comment you made, or your behavior on a special occasion, but when it comes to things you have not said I'm inclined to think the explanations of her fears are not in the rational part of herself: you're her partner, you said nothing, then why would you think something unfriendly?

If you feel she is not fair to the hints you gave her, my hypothesis is that she is anxious, insecure about her self-worth, and seeking reassurance through your word she's a good mother, although it's not completely certain.

It could feel urgent and conflict-appeasing to answer positively that you don't think anything bad of her, and that she is a good mother, however in a previous post I explained how anxiety works as with two cycles, one reinforcing the fear in the long run through reassurance and avoidance, and one building self-confidence through progressive confrontation. Would my initial hypothesis be true, it could be harmful to aim for a comforting answer, so I will suggest another approach.

For some period of time I was part of a group of people supporting others through a technique called active listening. It consists mostly in the following:

  • Rephrases in your own words to make sure you understood. Usually, I like to phrase the rephrase as a question "So you think I believe you're a bad mother, is that correct?"
  • Acknowledging the feelings: "I understand, I'm sorry, I can imagine that must feel X to be in Y situation"
  • Questioning for deeper understanding and call for self-reflection: "Why would I think you're a bad mother?" or "What do you mean by good or bad mother?"

Active listening is a stance that shows empathy and understanding to people that need it. It is known to prevent conflict in general. Wikipedia notes on listening:

Listening can be a useful skill for different problems, but it is essential to solve conflict, poor listening can lead to misinterpretations thus causing conflict or a dispute.

Using this technique with people distressed or in mild anxiety, I can tell this also results in improvement of the distress, as I was frequently warmly thanked for listening even though I did not much more than show understanding and asking a few questions.

This should address the point of the post about validating her feelings. If necessary, finding solutions is often easier after that.

In my experience, arguing about motives and/or confronting the rationality of the feeling is unproductive. In some extreme example, I was once supporting someone having delusions of being followed by murderers. Would I have pointed out "Nobody is following you to kill you" since I would directly imply this person they are deluded, I would have been met with anger and upsetting, and I would likely not have succeeded in bringing a safety feeling.

Similarly, when you are confronted to seemingly irrational fear of your partner, when you point back to facts I suppose you aim at grounding her reassurance through observation of reality, but she does not interpret the facts the same you do. The implication she should infer different conclusions can make this confrontational, and this confrontation can mix badly with her emotional state. I had better experience from a conflict avoidance standpoint to avoid this altogether.

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You're trying to be rational, almost cold, to a person essentially experiencing irrational fears. It could be anxiety, insecurity, depression, or something brought up from her childhood.

But, that is the mother of your child. You get to choose how you react. Some more direct and loving reassurance and perhaps some professional help if you can get her to agree.

From experience in my own personal and professional life, I know I'm not the most emotionally sensitive person myself, but research and personal experience has shown me just making statements so that they know you understand it's important to them, and generally it's just rephrasing in a more verbose, but acknowledging towards them, of how you feel, can make a huge difference.

"You know, you're right, I'm so sorry I haven't told you that more often. You've been an amazing mom and I'm so happy that our child gets to experience this. It's just that I know how amazing a person you are and I always knew you would be an amazing mom"

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    Hi and welcome to IPS! Please take a minute to read our citation expectations. Answers on IPS need to include some backup in the form of either personal experience or references - could you explain why you think this advice will work, have you used this approach in a similar situation before, or is this something you've seen recommended by someone else? You might find How do I write a good answer? helpful too. – Ael Mar 3 at 8:41

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