Insulting your partner is damaging. In many relationships, though, that is a standard operating procedure. Name-calling and hurling insults — the meaner, the better, are the norm.
We say awful things we’d never say to a friend and expect our partner to forgive us because “I was angry, and that’s not who I really am.”
I beg to differ. If that’s what we do, that’s who we are when we’re angry.
In this piece, however, I’m not talking about people who are comfortable sharing every single thought and feeling they have.
I’m exploring the opposite — the person who holds it all in.
Is this you? You keep your uncomfortable feelings to yourself because you’ve decided sharing them is pointless.
But inside your brain, there is a trainwreck of thoughts and images circling 24/7.
How we learn not to share feelings.
According to therapist Nic Saluppo, in his wisdom-packed book, Communicate Your Feelings (without starting a fight), you might have learned not to share feelings for one of two reasons:
1. As a child, someone shamed you for your feelings, or
2. You were put in a catch-22 situation, i.e., a difficult position from which there was no escape.
If your caregivers shamed you.
If someone shamed you for expressing emotions, you probably have difficulty sharing them as an adult. If your caretakers were uncomfortable expressing feelings, they might have ignored or minimized yours, saying things like, “Stop being a baby,” or “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
You learned that sharing feelings was pointless or, even worse, dangerous.
If that was the case, you didn’t have the opportunity to productively express anger, anxiety, longing, fear, or sadness — the supposedly negative emotions.
Until you can express your feelings and concerns, no one really knows the depth and breadth of who you are.
Living in a Catch-22.
On the other hand, if you lived in a Catch-22 scenario, your parent(s) may have encouraged you to share your feelings, but when you did, they explained in lofty detail why you shouldn’t feel that way.
In my house, I experienced both scenarios. I could express anxiety and joy but learned to keep anger and sadness to myself.
I don’t think I ever saw my parents express anger because anger was for people with no self-control. Instead, I learned to manage sadness and disappointment by ignoring them or doing something productive to make them disappear.
In hindsight, I understand that’s how my parent’s marriage lasted as long as it did — stuffing uncomfortable feelings like anger, sadness, and disappointment was a survival skill.
My point is not to encourage you to bash your parents. Instead, it’s an opportunity to see how you learned to keep stuff inside that can detract from your adult relationships.
You can stop blaming yourself and begin to create the vibrant relationships you long for.
The negative impact of stuffing your feelings.
- You’re torn up mentally, emotionally, and physically from keeping all that sh*t under wraps.
- Your partner thinks you’re fine when you’re miserable.
- Your partner thinks it’s okay to treat you like a doormat.
- Your relationship has no real emotional intimacy.
- An issue is brewing beneath the surface, growing in size until the only option is a break-up, or
- The relationship is just kind of “meh.”
I vividly remember when emotional intimacy went out the window in one of my relationships. I shared with my boyfriend that I was hurt and angry that he’d told his best friend something I said that was private, and his friend threw it in my face.
When I told him how I felt, my boyfriend said, “You can’t tell me who I can talk to or what I can talk about.” I felt like I was ten years old; being told what I felt meant something was wrong with me.
When you’re ready to share.
If you’re ready for the health of your relationship to share how you feel, I encourage you to set the stage.
Alert your partner that you have something to say that is challenging for you. For example, “I have been struggling with something, and I’m worried that if I share it with you, it will get taken the wrong way. I don’t want to keep secrets from you. And I don’t want to blame you. I want to be honest when something bothers me.”
If your partner is surprised at this new behavior, and you sense they are minimizing or trying to talk you out of your feelings, Saluppo suggests you say:
“These are my feelings, and they’re not up for debate. I’m not blaming you. I want to have a discussion and hear your perspective as well. I don’t want you to tell me I shouldn’t feel like I do.”
You are responsible for expressing your feelings.
No matter how long you and your partner have been together, they have not become a mind reader, intuitively knowing what you’re thinking and feeling. Yes, it happens in movies and romance novels, but It won’t happen in real life.
Communicating your concerns is your responsibility. “It’s not your partner’s job to bring that out of you, but it is their job not to judge or shame you when you do it.
Don’t wait for the right time.
There will never be a time when you no longer feel uncomfortable — and that’s what you’re really waiting for — the discomfort to go away. It’s not going to happen. So, bite the bullet as soon as you can.
I know this can feel like a massive risk if you’re not used to sharing. But it is the first step in creating a relationship where there is emotional intimacy, mutual support, and the potential for the relationship to grow from the experience.
Remember these key points:
- Avoiding difficult conversations will sabotage your relationship.
- Be honest about your concerns, and let your partner know that talking about how you feel is challenging for you. If you feel scared, lead with that.
- Be clear that you can disagree and come from different perspectives, but you will not accept having your feelings invalidated.
- You are each responsible for managing your own feelings. That is not a job you can give your partner.
Relationships — all of them, not just your romantic relationships — are too precious to lose because you didn’t have healthy communication models. You can learn to communicate in ways that will enhance and support healthy relationships in every area of your life.
I encourage you to check out Nic Saluppo’s book, Communicate Your Feelings (without starting a fight). His suggestions are practical, user-friendly, and respectful. This book find was a happy surprise!
If you’ve been holding it in, I’d love to hear what it is, or if you’re ready to share your feelings, I’d love to hear about that as well.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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