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Communication | Sharing Your Negative Feelings Is Not Optional
by Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D.
Negative emotions are inevitable in romantic relationships because you have two imperfect people in close proximity to one another frequently. Obviously, this will create many opportunities for hurt feelings and offenses, whether intended to be or not. Therefore, learning how to handle your negative feelings towards your partner in constructive ways is essential so they don't become destructive. There's an old saying about negative emotions in the psychology field....they are always better out than in!
When you have negative emotions, they tend to just fester, and they tend to build up and build up. When they do, we have little to no self-control when they come out. And if you don't express them, they're going to come out in much more destructive ways, whether you're rude, you're sarcastic, you're critical, you're defensive, etc. So that's going to create much more damage to your relationship compared to if you nip it in the bud early and just communicate what you're feeling.
1-Identify What You Feel: Mad, Sad, Glad, or Fear
So today we're going to talk about how to do that, so three ways. Number one, identify what you feel. A lot of people struggle, especially men, identifying what are they feeling in the first place. Do you feel mad? Maybe your partner did something that made you angry, and you feel really upset and frustrated or agitated. So maybe that's your emotion.
Maybe you feel mad, or maybe you feel sad. Maybe they hurt you, or you're not feeling important. Or they didn't make you feel special, or something happened where you feel some sadness, and that's perfectly valid. Maybe you feel fear. Maybe you feel some anxiety about something in your relationship or behavior your partner is doing that's making you feel uncertain or unsure.
So you've got to identify what you're feeling before you go through the step of expressing it. So that's the first step. Identify what is it are you feeling. Is it mad, sad, glad, or fear? Those are the big four.
2-What's Causing Your Emotions: Your Situation, Your Partner, Your Background
Secondly, you have to look at what's causing your emotion. This is really significant. A lot of times people have all these emotions, and they have a hard time dissecting, "What am I feeling and why? Where is this coming from?" So to really spend some time, give yourself permission to reflect what are you feeling. What happened recently? When did your mood start to kind of go down?
Usually, there's multiple factors that contribute to it. Usually it's not unidimensional, where it's just one thing happened, and then you just plummeted. Usually there's multiple stressors.
For example, maybe you didn't sleep much last night. Maybe something at work isn't going very well for you, and then maybe your partner did something that really hurt your feelings. So it's not just your partner. But there's usually contextual factors going on that's contributing to what you're feeling. So being able to dissect that and identify it is huge, because it will help you put in perspective what really happened, how much of it is your partner's fault and how much is it not, and just to understand what's really going on.
Also, during this phase, what's causing it, you need to be able to think backwards to your upbringing. Is it triggering something for you? Usually if your emotions are stronger than what the situation warrants, usually that indicates there's something from your background that's getting triggered.
For example, if you feel sad that your partner isn't making much time for you, think back to how much time your parents made for you growing up. Is this a trigger for you? Did you not get much time focused on you growing up and so, therefore, you're sensitive to that issue? And that's valid if you are, but you need to identify that because, again, it's going to tease apart how much is it your partner's fault, how much is it your background just getting triggered from your partner's behavior. Because when you express it, that's going to help your partner take more responsibility if they feel like you're not blaming them for all of it.
But if you're able to express it by saying, "Hey, I know it's not all you. I know I was tired. I know something was going on at my work, and I know this is a trigger point from my upbringing. But I also felt like you weren't being very sensitive," if you're able to kind of diversify who's to blame, it helps them take more ownership for what is their fault. So identifying what's causing it is really huge.
3-Discuss What You Feel Regularly and Gently
The last one is discussing it. A lot of people have this fear and anxiety where they don't want to talk about what they're feeling negatively with their partner, and they kind of sweep it under the rug. They don't want to have a conflict. But in reality, that's the worst thing to do because it's just going to build. It's going to fester, and then it's going to blow up, and when it blows up, you create massive destruction in your relationship.
So you need to get in the habit of when you're feeling something, identifying it, where is it coming from, and then you talk about it. So when you talk about it, you want to bring it up in gentle ways with "I" statements. So I am feeling this because of that, or I am feeling this because of this. And avoid generalizations. Avoid the word "always," "never," things like that, because that's almost never the truth. Usually it's most of the time or it feels like there's a tendency. Things like that will help your partner receive it better.
So, again, I just want to encourage you to get in the habit of identifying what you're feeling, where is it coming from, and communicate with it regularly so you and your partner can work through it to happier relationship bliss. In scripture, God talks about speaking the truth in love and being angry without sinning. But if we're letting it build up and fester and then we blow up, we can't follow those mandates. But if we bring it up when it's coming up, we're going to be able to have much more self-control to speak it, speak the truth in love, and to be angry without sinning.
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What are some other benefits to expressing your negative feelings instead of bottling them up?