Every one of us wants to feel understood during different situations that we may go through in life. To understand why our significant others say what they say, or do what they do sometimes, isn’t something that is akin to our nature. Do we take the effort to understand what is going on for our partner? Why does someone we think we know very well react the way he or she does? We are quick to perceive and most times perceive wrong, which becomes a perfect setting for the occurrence of misunderstandings, fights or conflicts.

Emotions play an important role in relationships; to cross the bridge into our partner’s world we would have to make the efforts to understand his or her emotions and aptly express ours too.  As much as emotions are what bring two people together, give them the comfort of being loved, belonging to and understood by each other, they are also what makes relationships difficult. Partners can be dedicated, committed and motivated in the relationship, but not being able to understand each others’ emotions can keep them disconnected, thereby making it difficult to better handle or manage conflicts, distress and disappointment. An effective way of understanding emotions would be to differentiate between Primary and Secondary emotions. Often the underlying emotions are the primary emotions that we feel in response to a situation or an event.  Being ill-equipped, or in a vulnerable position to deal with them we choose to express our secondary emotions.

For example, if my partner prefers to have a day out with his college friends on a holiday instead of spending time with me, I could feel hurt and sad that he chose to spend time with others rather than me; my primary emotion. But, I may also feel guilty that I should not prioritize my needs over that of my partner’s or others’ and this secondary emotion can distort how I really feel.  It further stops me from expressing my original feeling or dealing with it. There can be a different reaction from me or this can remain unresolved as I may continue to nurture the feeling for a long time. I may either withdraw emotionally or I may well react with anger and resentment instead of expressing to my partner that, “I really feel hurt and sad that you chose to spend time with others rather than me”.  There could be other emotions too like shame or fear attached to it. However, what my partner sees here is only anger while the real feelings remain unexpressed. This then gets into a conflict situation where each of us attack the other personally or withdraw more from the relationship and that gets on to a vicious cycle of not expressing the feelings we go through. Conflicts and issues begin to mount and cause emotional detachment in relationships.

With this awareness of emotions it would be good for us to ask ourselves some questions:

  • What am I really feeling? What am I expressing?
  • Can I label the actual feelings…is it sadness, loneliness, fear, shame or guilt?
  • What is stopping me from expressing my real feelings? How would it help me and our relationship if I can express my primary feeling?
  • Do I attack or withdraw in a bid to hide my actual feelings because of a sense of shame, embarrassment or the fear of not being understood?

Emotional transparency establishes a strong bonding between partners and is essential for a good and healthy relationship. Being able to understand our own emotions helps us manage our emotional reactions better and, understand our partner’s emotions, reactions and responses, there by paving the way for better understanding, enriching and enhancing relationships.

Would you like to understand more about emotions and the expression of it in relationships? Do reach out to us at LeanonMe. We would be happy to help you.


AUTHOR: Portia
, Lead Counsellor

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