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Name your Emotions (and Share with Your Partner)

Updated: Jan 14

Emotions are not necessarily good or bad. They do point us in the direction of paying attention to the events which created them. Our emotions are sending us a message - if we choose to listen.

First let's talk about feeling strong emotions where we become emotionally dysregulated or start getting flooded (aka diffuse physiological arousal which is your body's in-built alarm system to instinctively prepare you for fight/flight). If this happens, we first need to be able to soothe/calm ourselves down so that we can get out of the fight or flight response.

Once calm, it can be helpful to identify your emotions- and share it with your partner

This tip can be particularly helpful for people who are not used to sharing their emotions with others. Most couples I work with want to know their partner's inner world. Your partner wants to understand what is going on for you.

However, as a side note for the over-sharers: just because we have emotions that arise, we don't need to air every feeling/thought/emotion. We need to be cautious that we don't move into unbridled self-expression/ventilating. Rather, it's more helpful to express what is on your mind with kindness and respect. We need to apply that filter before we share.

Here is a particular way of phrasing your emotions and needs from the Gottman's which might be helpful:

"I feel (use an emotion)... about what (describe the situation - it - not the person), then talk about what I need... (a positive need - what you need more of - rather than what you don't need). See Julie Gottman's explanation of this phrasing here.

But sometimes it's hard to identify your emotions

It can take a bit of conscious focusing to tune in to what exactly we are experiencing. It helps to sit with it a bit and see what comes up. For some people it is helpful to identify where in their body they are feeling it first, and then ask - if that part could speak, what would it say, how would it feel? Often, we are experiencing several emotions at once, and some are stronger than others, or coloured by others, and it can take a bit of untangling. Sometimes we need to separate out the present from past experiences too - which emotions are coloured by the past, or are from the past, and how much of that is playing into the present? It can be helpful to look at the Emotion Wheel and see which of these are ringing true. It can also be helpful to start in the centre and figure out the general gist of what you are feeling and then see if it breaks down to the more subtle outer edges of the Wheel.

Managing strong emotions

The Gottman Institute has devised these 6 steps to mindfully deal with difficult emotions, which in part is about accepting that emotions are going to arise, that they are impermanent, and that we stop trying to control our emotions. Pushing emotions away or suppressing them is generally not helpful in the long-run, and it can take a lot more energy to avoid our emotions. It can feel like we are trying to hold a big beach ball under water. Learning to manage difficult emotions is a key skill in building satisfying long-term relationships.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.



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