As a psychotherapist specializing in relationships and families, I see a fair number of couples who come to me because they want to learn better communication skills. It turns out that the majority of the individuals in the couples I see have not learned to express emotions in a rational and honest manner.
They do not realize the power of simply saying, “I am feeling really angry about ____________.” For most people, simply saying these words is like allowing a bit of the air to escape in an overly filled balloon.
Actionable Strategies for Expressing and Explaining your Feelings in a Romantic Relationship
- Use the right words. Rather than saying, “Why the %$$%$$%### can’t you ever clean up after your %$$%%$$ self when you cook?” Try soft start ups (after you clear your eyes of all the red you see): “I am feeling really angry about the mess I found in the kitchen. Could you please clean it?” or “I know you are busy with ____________, but I get so upset when I see the dishes are piled in the sink.”
- Try to avoid saying “you” when addressing the thing or the action that is making you angry. There are ways of using the passive voice without being passive (or aggressive.)
- Recognize the real problem. Learn how to recognize that what you think has you worked up is mostly likely not the REAL reason you are angry. It may simply be “the straw” that broke your temper. Don’t use your partner as a scapegoat for the anger you feel about your job or your boss. Don’t use the dirty dishes or whatever as a reason to get into a fight when what you are really upset about is the fact that the server at the restaurant last night was flirty with your partner.
- Stay in the present. Stay in your relationship. Don’t bring up anyone’s mother, father, sister, brother, or a prior relalationship. Don’t bring up something that happened at a party, Thanksgiving, or a ball game that you are still upset about. DO stay present, mindful of your partner’s feelings, and be aware that you have to live with whatever it is you do or say in the heat of the moment. Worse, your partner has to live with it.
The Risks Of Not Understanding What the Real Problem Is
One of the biggest challenges people face in expressing their feelings to their partners is an awareness of what the real problem is.
- What I find with many couples is that they allow the small stuff to make them really sweat. They allow these truly insignificant “beefs” to become the problem, when in reality:
- the real problem is actually much bigger, or on the flipside
- there is not even a problem at all and they were just so used to being angry they moved on to something else when they forgot about it.
- What happens as a result of these fights or arguments is that the couple stops liking one another, and when you do not like your partner, you do not feel like being romantic or intimate, or even saying that you love your partner.
- Anger tends to sit and fester, or simmer into resentment. At this point one partner begins to feel as if they cannot even stand the sound of the other person breathing.
Most of the time, the dear souls have no idea this is even happening. They might as well be hamsters on a wheel.
Tips to Overcome Communication Challenges
Some tips on navigating/overcoming this challenge.
- Recognize that no two people enter into a relationship with a full awareness of everything they want or will want out of the relationship (or even life itself).
- Allow room for growth. This does not equate to growing apart. Most people do not grow apart, they push one another away because they forgot to take care of their own growth.
- Don’t forget to be compassionate. Being kind to your partner actually gives a good healthy boost to seratonin levels.
Tips to Help Your Partner Express Emotions
- Let them know you care. Show and tell.
- Express your own emotions honestly, without blame.
- Recognize that timing is everything. Don’t ambush your partner because you are feeling anxious, ignored, or unloved. Learn to self-soothe. An expression of love, or anger, or sadness is to benefit the one expressing – not the one on the receiving end.
Final Tips on Expressing Emotions in Romantic Relationships
- Be sure you have something else to talk about in a relationship other than the relationship. Don’t lose yourself and your interest for a relationship.
- Allow your partner to be themselves. You fell in love with that person, didn’t you?
- Recognize that name-calling, be-littling, dredging up the past, insulting family, etc… are all relationship killers.