Three Steps to Express- Emotional Expression

            In my last blog post I shared three steps for how to listen and love. And, as promised, our next focus will be on how to share your concerns in a way they are more likely to be received in a positive way. In relationships, especially during conflict,  it can be easy to immediately place blame on the other person and what he or she is doing to upset you. You may have found yourself saying, “You’re being so insensitive…[or] you’re really starting to annoy me [or] you <insert any other statement>.” It can be easier, and maybe more natural, to place blame rather than to consider how you are feeling and why.  I figured the three-step approach might also be helpful for how to express yourself in your relationship. These three steps can be considered any time you feel yourself becoming triggered and you fear an argument or fight is brewing…

Here we go:

Image by Osamu Kaneko  Flickr

Image by Osamu Kaneko Flickr

1.     Step One- PAUSE when upset!

It can be super easy to jump to say, “Stop being so rude!” That statement does not require much thought and is a reaction to how you are feeling. This first step is all about pausing to halt the knee-jerk reaction you may have become used to using whenever upset. Simply pausing during moments of frustration can do numbers for your relationship! Pausing is also a great time to take an emotional step back and take a deep breath (or a few) to help regulate your emotional state.

2.     Step Two- CONSIDER the emotion you are experiencing.

If you feel like your partner is being insensitive, what is this insensitivity causing you to feel? I think this can be challenging for many to uncover. If my husband said something that felt insensitive, it likely hurt my feelings. Maybe I felt unimportant, stupid, ashamed, inferior, or <insert negative emotion here>. Uncovering how you feel is extremely important in being able to express your emotions with your partner. Once you uncover how you feel the focus is now on you and your emotion versus placing blame on your partner.

3.     Step Three- EXPRESS your emotion by using “I statements".

Avoiding using “you” can help decrease defensive reactions from your partner because he or she does not feel blamed or attacked. It is hard to argue with how another person feels, but it can be easy to argue with what feels like a blame or an unjust attack.  If I continue with the insensitive example with my husband I may say, “Hey, I’m feeling a little unimportant and hurt by the response I just heard…” Notice how the focus is all on me and how I feel versus pointing fingers at him. Even saying, “I need to take a minute after what was just said, I am upset and feeling sad right now” can be huge. Not only are you pausing to allow yourself to cool down, but you are also expressing your feelings. Challenge yourself to keep “you” out of any expression, and see how that may positively impact the dynamic when conflict is arising.

            When you are reading these steps you may be thinking, “easy enough!” Or maybe you are thinking these steps seem too simple and too easy to really work. Whichever train of thought you are on I think the goal in a relationship is to continue to look for ways to communicate more effectively with one another. Using these three steps to emotionally express yourself will likely take practice and may be met with resistance in the beginning. Try them out and see what happens- you may surprise yourself with how arguments can change in your relationship with even just accomplishing step one- pausing! Build on as time goes on and see if you and your partner can change up pattern of conflict your relationship is in.