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My last blog posting focused on the first sign of a healthy relationship: partners share each other’s opportunities for growth. This posting will offer some things to think through with the second sign of a healthy relationship: partners share their emotions. Sounds simple, right? Some may think sharing emotions is part of what defines the relationship. While, the concept of sharing emotions may sound simple, I believe there are many challenges couples can be faced with when sharing emotions.
In conversations with my couples it is helpful to understand if sharing emotions within the relationship feels familiar or foreign to each of them. One person may come from a family where everything was talked about, while the other person comes from a family where emotions were better left unsaid. This can create an obstacle in the relationship because each person’s expectation on what should or should not be talked about is different. Conflict and resentment can quickly build when one partner approaches the other and is met with dismissal based on silent norms that were somehow determined along the way.
Silent conflict can become a pattern in the relationship where things just are not talked about.
Because of this, it is important to consider how safe and secure each partner feels within the relationship- safety to share not only the positive but also the negative emotions. Having to expose your emotions can feel vulnerable and scary, but it can be equally as challenging to receive another person’s feelings (especially if it is directed at you). One common problem that often arises in couples’ therapy is when one or both partners are defensive during conversations when the other person is sharing how he or she feels. When sharing how one feels, it may be one saying “you are neglecting me…you never show me you love me…you make me feel…” An attack on the partner versus accountability for one’s emotions tends to be met with defensiveness.
Focusing on how you talk about your emotional experience can be helpful.
Saying, “I am struggling now and feeling neglected and want to talk you about it” creates a safer place to open the conversation.
Keeping with the theme of safety, it is also helpful to consider when you need to have more of the challenging conversations. For example, a tough conversation I may need to have with my husband is likely going to go better if I wait to talk about whatever it is when I am calm and rested- and not right at the moment I am upset. Often times we are too quick to react on our emotions, which inevitably can create and increase conflict. It is also important to consider about how your partner is feeling at the moment you want to talk. Is your partner watching TV and distracted? Stressed out after work? Tired? Hungry? Mad about something else? If one does not consider how his or her partner is feeling, he or she may engage in conversation with expectations that end up being unmet- or his or her emotions being disregarded.
If conflict is high in your relationship and you both are feeling unheard, dismissed, or attacked slow down and begin to think about these things shared. During moments of conflict, try to emotionally observe how and when the conflict needs to be resolved. Sharing emotions is one sign of a healthy relationship and just like other parts of a relationship it takes work.
*DiDonato, T.E. (July/August 2015). Article Adjustment Bureau. Psychology Today, 93.