Truly expressing your feelings is harder than you think. Take a moment to think about how you felt the last time you were triggered and put it into words. Pause from reading this and fill in the blank “I felt ___,” if only on an imaginary notepad in your mind.
Now, what if you share this feeling with someone you love? Do the words come out the same as they do on paper or in your head? Do you get stuck? Do the words even come out? If they don’t, where do those feelings go? Do they leak out later in a sideways comment or criticism or a complaint? Do you bury them until you explode? You are not alone.
Take a look at what you wrote down. What words follow “I felt”? Are they any of these: “that,” “like,” “as if,” a pronoun, name, or noun? If so, this is a sign that your feelings are not being clearly expressed.
Some of you may by now be thinking . . . “um, you’ve left me with nothing.” I hear you. I find myself stuck like this often. In his book Nonviolent Communication, Dr. Marshall Rosenburg breaks this down and explains how feelings can be clearly expressed.
Feeling vs. Perception
The reality is that often when we attempt to share a feeling, we share a perception instead. For example, “I feel unwanted” is a perception of how the other person feels about us. What we actually likely feel is scared, anxious, or lonely. While it can be helpful to identify and name that we are having a perception of being unwanted, to expand awareness, it will benefit us to be clear that it is a perception rather than a feeling. When we can get more in touch with and share our actual feelings, we can connect on a deeper level.
Consider what happens when you share “I feel unwanted.” You might even find yourself saying, “You don’t want me.” Even if you don’t say it directly, it is implied in the statement “I feel unwanted.” When you share this, are you giving the other person a chance to tell you if the perception is true? Are you giving them a chance to tell you if they want you or not? Do you believe them? What if you disagree? Do you then argue about whether or not it is true?
Instead, Try This
Now, try accessing a feeling that accompanies a perception of “I’m not wanted.” It may be sadness, anxiety, or fear. If you aren’t sure about the actual feeling, identifying body sensations is another way to get in touch with the deeper parts of ourselves.
Sharing your true feelings or inner experience can feel much more vulnerable. It’s an act of responsibility and transparency. It takes the blame off your partner and brings ownership back to you. Most of us don’t like this at first. As vulnerable as you may feel, the act of owning it can be very empowering. You are taking your worth out of another’s hands and claiming the power of knowing your worth for yourself.
Wanted or Not Wanted?
Indeed, partners can do hurtful things and it’s important for us to talk about it. At the same time, their hurtful actions usually do not mean what you perceive or feel they do. In our example, even if they don’t “want” you, it does not mean you are unwanted. It means that person has a feeling causing them to go in a different direction, either in that moment or in a bigger way. While that can be painful, it still has nothing to do with your worth and lovability. It is also great information to uncover.
If you uncover that your partner does indeed want you, sharing feelings can help you both to name your experience and explore it. You can stop having arguments about blame and what is or isn’t true. You can learn to talk about the feelings being triggered and how to find more peace as individuals and as a couple.
Learning Together Is the Point
Getting to your true feelings can help you break negative cycles. It isn’t easy. Learning how takes time and practice. Honestly, most likely, you’ll never master it. That’s OK! You and your partner can learn to get through tough times together. You can learn to navigate the storms, repair, and form a deeper connection.
We are here to help. Four of our therapists are trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy, which helps couples access emotions. We can help you both learn to share your feelings in a way that is clear. We can help you both learn how to respond in a way that is supportive.