Emotions in a Relationship and Their Expression

All of us have emotions. The expression of these emotions in unappealing ways, usually creates a disconnect in our relationships. By contrast, the expression of emotions in a safe way can lead to our feeling more connected, especially to loved ones. Knowing how to express emotions tactfully is vital if you want to sustain your relationships.

Emotional bonding

Love, appreciation, gratitude and joy are all positive emotions we can share that build affectionate bonds with those around us. We can show love by telling others simply “I love you”, but it can also been shown in the expression “I miss you”. Appreciation is shown through our respect when we say “please” if we are asking for something and “thank you” for words or deeds said or done for our benefit. When we have made a mistake, we say “Sorry”.

Hurt emotions

In everyone’s life there are times we have to deal with stresses that bring up the emotions of fear, anger and sadness. Differences of opinion and hurt emotions will occur from time to time between any two people who often interact. The expression of your emotions enables you to solve difficulties together and remove the negative emotions. Ignoring negative emotions can cause you and your relationship to suffer.

No one else is in charge of your emotions. You are the person responsible for understanding your emotions. Instead of blaming others, you can explore your own emotions and why you have them. This is the path of self-discovery. For example, instead of telling your partner or friend that they make you feel abandoned, you can acknowledge the emotion of abandonment and find your own way to deal with that, perhaps finding new ways to spend time on your own instead of waiting for someone to give you some attention.


Label your emotions

If you feel anger, the expression of this can lead the other person to become defensive. If you are angry, calm down before you start talking. An angry voice invites an angry voice in return. To help the other person hear what you have to say without feeling defensive, choose a word for the emotion that lies behind any anger you may feel. You may feel sad or fearful for example. Your aim is for mutual understanding, not to start a fight.

You can start with “I have been feeling discouraged/sad/scared” Then you can explain the source of that feeling. A good way to start a sentence to explain your emotion is “My concern is ….” As an example, instead of saying “I feel sad because you don’t spend much time with me any more” you can say “I feel sad. My concern is that I don’t see an end in sight to your extra hours at work”

Remember, the other person is not responsible for your feelings. If there is something the other person has done that has caused you emotional upset, you can state what the action was, but do not accuse them of wrongdoing. For example: “When you came in late from work I was scared. My concern was…”. This leads to mutual understanding and closeness in your relationship.

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Expressing your emotions

Sharing emotions effectively often begins with two simple words: “I feel….” and then the emotion, a word such as confused, joyful or exhausted. If you have trouble identifying the emotion, you can choose one of the four basic emotions: angry, sad, glad or fearful. By saying “I feel uncomfortable” or any other negative emotion, you are describing only yourself, leaving out the other person. This gives you the power to decide what you will do to feel better. You may be hungry, tired, over-worked or need to make a change in your life. Sharing your emotions with “I feel…” shows that you are focused on your dilemma with the person you are sharing with, and together you can find a solution.

Common emotional expression errors

A frequent mistake made when we try and share our feelings is to say “I feel that… ” The word “that” indicates that what will follow is going to be a thought, not an emotion. Thoughts just convey information and the connection is less intense than when you share the emotion you have.

Another mistake, common between couples in a close relationship, is to start your sentence “You make me feel…” This creates hurt emotions and arguments as it comes across as an accusation, not a statement of your emotions. “You make me feel…” also makes the person who says it, a victim. The phrase may make the person you are talking to feel shame or guilt, but it also makes you powerless. The person you are accusing, is also likely to counter-accuse and before long your conversation will probably escalate into an angry argument.

Remember, another person on their own cannot make you feel anything. If you do not get the response you expect, remind yourself that emotions arise due to a combination of what one person says or does and the other person’s interpretation of those words or actions.