One of the most important resources that helps build healthy romantic relationships is our ability to express our feelings.
Sometimes, when we think about expressing our emotions, we may focus on negative feelings like anger, disappointment, sadness, or jealousy. Our tendency to think this way is commonly informed by our own personal narrative or lived experience. We may feel the need to suppress emotions like anger, for example, to protect our relationship and prevent the negativity from taking root in our romance. We may even blame ourselves for feeling as we do. When we remember that all feelings are valid and valuable information into how we might begin to meet our own needs, we can more objectively face these challenging emotions.
This process of identifying specific emotional patterns within ourselves can be traced back to how we define our inner world. How we describe certain feelings determines how we may respond to them. If, for example, we associate our feelings of sadness with weakness, we may try and suppress or ignore that emotion. If we change our language around our more challenging emotions, seeing them simply as important information, we are less likely to ignore their impact and more likely to enact healthy coping skills.
We experience our feelings more intensely in our romantic relationships than in many other relationship types. Therefore, our relationship with our feelings and what we choose to do with them has an immediate impact on our romantic connection. We are more able to express and share our feelings freely and sincerely when we can identify our own emotional state.
In order to make space for how we can attend to our emotional state, we must first name our feelings. We can ask ourselves questions like: What kind of feelings does this experience I’m having with my partner trigger in my inner world? Do I feel anxious? Sad? Angry? Resentful? Disappointed? How do I respond when these feelings arise? Our inner world is home to a network of emotional systems that allow us to feel a wide spectrum of emotions. If we strengthen our relationship with those emotions and identify what triggers them, we can begin to communicate more clearly what our needs are not only for ourselves, but for the health of our relationship with our partner or partners as well.
Choosing not to run away from uncomfortable emotions is an important step in the process of identifying and accepting our feelings as they are. Accepting our feelings as they are might not be easy, but it can allow us the opportunity to sit with ourselves and listen to the messages our bodies, our inner worlds, are trying to communicate.
Stress can interrupt our healthy thought processes and disrupt our ability to stay present with ourselves and our partner or partners. Trying not to rush communication or jump to conclusions can help us reset and navigate conflict through curiosity and a place of understanding.
Taking space to find a place of calm before having a difficult conversation or communicating a need during a challenging situation can help to prevent miscommunication. We are more likely to speak from a place of compassion, curiosity, and understanding if we feel physically calm and secure. Similarly, when we are feeling that sense of tranquility, we are less likely to fall into reactionary patterns when trying to hear and understand our partner or partners. We begin to open up the channels of real, connective communication.
Our beliefs about our relationships affect what and how we share with our partner or partners. In order for us to articulate what’s going on in our own inner world, we need to know that our relationship will embrace us throughout challenging times as well. In a healthy relationship, we want to be able to say to ourselves, “We can get through this together even if it’s challenging for both or all of us,” or, “We can understand each other,” or, “My partner or partners care about what I’m trying to explain and I feel heard,” or, “Even when we experience conflict, we do not seek to hurt each other’s feelings,” and so on. Statements like these are indications that we feel safe in our relationships, that we are working together toward a shared solution, not battling it out against an adversary or adversaries.
If we find ourselves saying things like, “They won’t ever understand me,” or, “They don’t care about how I’m feeling,” or, “They always complain about me,” it is clear that we aren’t feeling seen or heard in our relationship. How we may address this feeling varies. Some of us may choose to turn inward, remaining silent and allowing resentment and frustration to grow. We may find security in the walls we erect around ourselves. Others of us may try even harder to make our voices heard, making huge gestures, or speaking faster and louder. Of course, our responses can exist on a spectrum. Some may shut down and freeze while others may go into a fight or flight response.
In order to get a deeper understanding of our emotional triggers in a relationship, we can ask ourselves several questions. When was I convinced I would never be understood? Why was I afraid I would get hurt? Which particular behaviors cause me to shut down and shut others out? Which behaviors make me get louder or irritable? What is my own role in the formation of this cycle? What kind of person would I see if I were to look at myself through my partner’s eyes? By doing this inner work, we can begin to identify patterns of behavior that aren’t serving us or our relationship and work toward change.
Sharing our unpleasant feelings nurtures our trust in our relationship and prevents disappointments from getting in the way of our communication. While this kind of sharing is so important for continued healthy connection, centering and celebrating joy is just as essential. In fact, both pleasant and difficult feelings are often in close relationship with each other. We often feel more secure, happier, and stronger when we can be present in the things about our relationship that bring us closer together. Writing each other affirmations or voicing what we appreciate about each other in a romantic relationship can help us stay in the now with one another, better enabling us to address conflict or challenging situations in the future.