“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.”
~ Nat Turner
I remember a time when I was afraid to speak up in relationships.
A time when my emotions would overwhelm me and my reality would betray me. A time when speaking up felt monumental and scary.
While childhood conditioning played a large part in why I did not assert myself, fear played a larger part.
Fear of a reaction, fear of disapproval and fear of the unknown kept me “safe” in my comfort zone.
In my early years there were many missed opportunities. Looking back, taking action by speaking up would not only have given me a sense of internal calm (reduced anxiety) but a mark of self-worth, self-love and self-acceptance.
When I began to face fear head on and embrace my self-worth, everything began to shift in my life.
The control that I thought I had by avoiding issues was replaced with empowered action, confidence and growth.
Here are a few steps I took to face fear and how it helped me express how I feel in relationships.
1. Get out of your comfort zone
If expressing how you feel to your partner is scary, you first have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is just that, a place where you feel comfortable and safe. Although there is nothing wrong with that, you typically don’t grow much if you stay there. You don’t achieve new goals or live your best life.
First make a decision if you want a healthier relationship with yourself and an authentic relationship with your partner.
Once you make a decision, the rest will be learning new skills and taking action. Be aware that this will require you to be courageous and vulnerable, too.
2. Embrace imperfection
If you grew up in a family of origin that expected you to be perfect and that allowed little room for mistakes, you may struggle with perfectionism. Expecting yourself to do or say things just “right” will make expressing yourself to your partner feel overwhelming.
Know that in the beginning your words and feelings may not come out the way you meant it to. You may become emotional, as well. That’s OK. Relationships are imperfect and “messy” and so are we.
3. Trust your feelings
Family of origin and upbringing has a lot to do with how children get “shaped” and what they learn about what is “acceptable” or not.
If your caregivers did not provide a safe environment for you to express your emotions, or did not model open communication themselves, you may have trouble expressing or even knowing how you feel. You may also judge how you feel or even doubt them.
Your feelings are your feelings. Don’t be afraid of them. They are there to help you navigate through life. See them as a life-long friend that will be by your side.
4. Let go of the need for approval
If you are afraid to express how you feel to your partner because he may not agree or approve of how you feel, first you need to let go of the need for approval. Recognize that he may feel differently about the situation. Be proud that you expressed your feelings to him and how that’s more important than his validation.
Whenever you don’t do or say something because you’re afraid of rejection, you become emotionally “tied” to something that’s outside you.
When you’re effected by others’ opinions, you’re allowing them to emotionally control you. In this pattern, you will begin to feel worse about yourself and diminish your self-worth. Take back your control and speak up. Give yourself the self-validation you need.
5. Take a pause
When faced with a problem, you may want an immediate resolve. A need to “fix” the situation. This applies when you’re afraid you’ll overreact to your partner or overwhelm him, as well. Instead, take a pause.
Take out a notebook and write down your feelings.
Reflect on them. Later that day or next, if you still feel the need to express yourself, do so. This will help in several ways: help clarify your feelings, help express your feelings with a clear mind and come from a calmer place.
6. Be accountable
If you’re fearful about what’s going to happen if you assert yourself or how your partner is going to feel (and also what this means for the relationship), you’re getting way ahead of yourself.
When you operate from a place of fear, you jump to conclusions about how someone else may feel and assume responsibility for their feelings. Stay in the moment and take responsibility for how you feel. Take it one step at a time.
Be accountable for only your part in the relationship; that means your emotions, your behavior, your actions, etc.
Don’t assume responsibility for your partner’s emotions or behavior or assume how your partner will feel. Also, be direct. Sometimes, “short and sweet” is the best approach. You can always follow up with the conversation later.
Many factors can contribute to a passive communication style but fear is often the main culprit.
Don’t let your fears about what could happen keep you from expressing your true self. Trust the process. Share what is important to you. Be authentic and honor yourself. In the end, know your self-worth is far more important than the outcome.
Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC, NCC – www.phoenixcounseling.net
When I work with women on how to prepare for conversations with men about how they really feel, I like to keep it simple by having them explore these basic questions:
Know your audience!
- With regards to communicating with men, take into consideration the type of communication style he typically responds well to or appears to engage well with (listens and responds in the moment; brings up later on in private conversations with you). If he likes detail, then don’t be afraid to provide details about how you really feel. If he likes things simple, narrow down what you want to express to your most important points (focusing on key words may help with your delivery).
Before going into this conversation, it’s important to know what you want to say.
- Is there a specific event that recently happened you want to discuss? Is there a recent feeling you’ve been wanting to express? Is there an unmet need you want to address? Identifying what it is exactly you want to talk about will allow you to be clear and diligent with your words. Doing so will also keep you focused so you don’t risk getting wrapped up in emotions and thus risking the potential of a meaningful conversation.
When & Where?
Timing is key.
- I would suggest picking a time where you know both of you aren’t distracted and can be truly present. Ideally, not during the workday. There are too many distractions, both physically and mentally, at work that can derail this conversation almost immediately. I would also suggest picking a time where you are both in a positive emotional place to have this conversation. If either of you aren’t quite there, do your best to get there through self-care or simply decide that this isn’t the best time.
- Location is also very important. Ideal settings include places that won’t have distractions (TV, phone), loud noises, or interruptions (kids, rowdy pets). You want to make sure the environment will make each of you feel comfortable and relaxed.
- The type of communication you choose to use can determine the outcome of this conversation. Texting is probably not ideal if you will be experiencing some vulnerable emotions and may need his physical support or comfort. Phone also may not be ideal if eye contact is important to you.
- I personally believe having these conversations are best when done in person, but this may not be possible with long-distance relationships. In that case, video chat is your best bet.
Sarah Vendegna, MS, LPC – www.vendegnacounseling.com
Good communication skills are one of the necessary ingredients for a lasting and healthy relationship.
How do you tell him how you really feel? This is extremely important, because without expressing your true feelings and desires, it is difficult to sustain intimacy. If someone doesn’t know who you really are, how can you have a real relationship with them?
Telling someone how you really feel is based upon your feelings, not the other persons behavior.
Very often people mistakenly talk about what the other person is doing in trying to talk about how they feel.
When you talk about how you really feel, keep the focus on yourself, and try to use feeling words when you describe what you are feeling.
For example, use words like “afraid”, “anxious”, “disrespected”, “angry” or “helpless.” One very useful communication structure is the following:
“When you do X, I feel Y, and what I would like is Z. “
While you can name the other persons behavior, what you want to focus on is what you yourself are actually feeling in response to it, not on what they did. You can mention what they did in reference to what triggers your own feeling.
It is extremely important to tell your partner how you feel so that your relationship does not become poisoned by accumulated resentments.
Internalizing your feelings and not expressing them can also be hazardous to your physical and mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and a host of other emotional issues and illnesses.
Take the time to develop your communication skills and learn how to express what you really feel and need.
It is your responsibility to take care of yourself and to express your needs so that your relationship has a chance to grow and deepen. This will lead to your becoming a more authentic and self-actualized person.
Anita Gadhia-Smith, PsyD, LCSW-C, LICSW – www.drgadhiasmith.com
If you are looking to better connect with your partner, the answer may be easier than you think.
If you find that you are struggling to express how you feel, then I think it may be important to first figure out how you feel so that you know how to express it.
- Would you like to be able to share more about your past?
- Share more about what you like about your partner?
- Would you like to better understand where you partner is coming from?
If you are struggling to put into words how you feel about your partner, then writing it down may help.
If you would like to connect with you partner on a deeper level, then you could also ask your partner to do the same and share these writings with one another.
If you are looking to open up to someone that you are desiring a relationship with, then I would also suggest to not overthink this.
I would tell that person how you feel and open up about your emotions. This can be a very vulnerable situation and there is no guarantee that they may reciprocate these feelings, but not saying something may always leave you wondering what would have happened if you did open up.
Being open and honest with our feelings can be hard and make us very vulnerable, but it can be very rewarding.
In addition, being able to find emotional connection in a relationship can be very beneficial and really help to keep couples connected, especially in the most difficult of times.
If you are looking for some ways to help you to connect, there are prompts and questions you can find online or even start with themes; past events, family, goals, etc.
You could also set a time aside each day to check in with one another any maybe find a new topic to talk about each night.
Don’t overthink it. Just allow yourself to open up and start the conversation, the rest may come naturally.
Ashley Baldwin, LPC, CACII – www.facebook.com/BaldwinCounseling
You’ve found the one! He’s smart, funny, and loyal. You’ve noticed growing feelings of affection and perhaps love over the course of your relationship.
Now what? Take it to the next level and tell him how you feel! Easy, right?
This can be harder than it sounds.
If you want to give feedback to him about how you feel, whether you’re letting him know that you really, really like him, or maybe that you need space in your relationship, it can bring up feelings of anxiety – will he reject me? Will I hurt his feelings? What if I don’t say it “perfectly?”
All these concerns are normal. It’s also important in a relationship to be able to have open and honest communication with your partner.
Vulnerability is scary for many of us because it makes us really put it out there, which can lead to potential rejection. It can also lead to the possibility of true connection, which is the foundation of a healthy and loving relationship.
Here are some practical tips to help you prepare for sharing how you feel with him:
1. Write it down
I encourage clients to write down what they want to say to their partner beforehand if they are having trouble telling them how they feel. What are the important points you want to make? What’s especially hard for you to say?
2. Practice with others
A trusted friend or therapist can provide feedback around how you may be coming across when you practice what you want to say with them.
3. Schedule it
If you are especially anxious about letting him know how you feel, find a time when both of you are relaxed, available, and have time to engage in a meaningful conversation. Don’t forget to write it down in your calendar!
4. Practice your own listening skills
Part of healthy communication is active and engaged listening. If you want him to listen to you, then be present when you listen to him in order to let him know that you are listening and that you truly hear him. Non verbal behavior such as nodding your head and maintaining eye contact can be helpful indicators that you are locked in and engaged with the other person.
Remember – you will have more than one chance to talk to him!
If you feel like you didn’t get it “right” the first time, you can always come back and revisit the conversation. Take the pressure off yourself to do it perfectly and remember your goal: communicating how you feel to someone you care about in order to create a healthy, loving relationship together.
Anusha Zechella, Ph.D., HSP-P – www.breytapsych.com
The best way to touch a man’s emotional side is by being clear and honest when you communicate with him.
In other words, connecting with his heart will open him up to accepting your love and, hopefully, reciprocating.
In a certain way, men expect women to lead them emotionally into the relationship, since women tend to be better at it.
But, the thought of rejection is the one thing that keeps women from being up front. After all, who doesn’t want to get acceptance and acknowledgment from the person who you deem worthy of your love?
So, if you want to tell him how you feel, you may start by following some of these helpful hints:
- Be flirtatious and smile a lot when you are with him. This is attractive to everyone and shows your interest is more than casual.
- Really listen when he talks. Repeat back what you hear, ask questions and genuinely seem interested in learning more.
- Be thoughtful by doing extra special things, like making dinner, asking him out on a date, texting him you’re thinking of him.
- Share some intimate information, which would bring him closer to you, and make him feel you trust him with your vulnerable secrets.
- Complement him, since everyone likes to be noticed.
These somewhat subtle gestures should let him know you are interested and wanting more from him.
Of course, you can also just tell him that you really like him and are open to a more intimate, committed relationship. Then, stand back and see how he reacts.
If your efforts fail, at least you know where you stand and you can learn from this experience, feel more confident and less vulnerable the next time a similar situation occurs.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
I suppose it’s kind of cliché to say that women are more emotionally articulate than men, but in general I think it’s true.
It isn’t true that women have more emotional reactivity than men, but women do seem to be more comfortable and fluent in the language of emotion.
I have no idea if this is a function of genetics or environment or some combination of both, but it’s a common complaint of women that their partners don’t express their feelings and are also uncomfortable hearing feelings.
These are some ways in which you can make the sharing of emotions easier for your partner.
These are also some tips to help with your own communication style.
When he is talking to you:
- Make sure he knows you don’t have an agenda other than to hear what he’s feeling or thinking. Don’t ambush him.
- Listen to what he has to say without defensiveness. Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than a defensive response.
- When he is talking don’t try to respond with your own feelings. Just listen and when possible let him know what you are hearing (not thinking) so you both know that his information is being accurately received.
When you are talking to him:
- Don’t let your own emotions build to the point of explosion. That’s overwhelming for anyone.
- Make I-statements. Be clear that you are talking about how things feel for you, not expressing “the truth” (whatever that means!).
- Most of what we feel is subjective; people can be in the same circumstances and come away feeling very differently. Acknowledge this. There is no right or wrong to emotions.
- Keep to one subject. There will be other times to address other issues.
- I don’t know if he’ll make I-statements but remember that his input is also subjective. If you can remember this it’s easier to avoid defensiveness.
For both of you:
- If either of you start to get reactive, call off the discussion and reschedule for a later time.
- Never try to win a discussion. You are both there to learn about each other. There should be no winners or losers.
Sharing feelings is supposed to make you feel closer.
Even when a topic is difficult hopefully you will gain more insight into each other. Increased insight usually strengthens the bonds between partners because feelings are often personal and not something that you would share with anybody else.
Insight also allows for problem solving. The more you know the better able you are to tackle problems often as a couple.
Don’t expect that he will communicate like your best friend. Be open and appreciative of his efforts. In time, you will both become better communicators.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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