Many couples will come into therapy and one member of the relationship will claim that their partner gets angry when they talk about their feelings.
My partner gets angry when I talk about my feelings
As a couples therapist, my job is to help people learn how to talk more effectively about their feelings. Feelings are just data points. However, when you’re not able to understand, categorize and share your feelings it’s very hard to be close with other people. This is especially true for romantic relationships.
Are feelings good or bad?
Many people favor some feelings over other emotions. For example, it’s not unusual to favor joy and excitement over anger and sadness. But you can’t pick and choose what feelings you have. Trying to control feelings is like trying to surf in the middle of a hurricane without a surfboard. You can numb out and have no feelings or you can have the emotions that you have. When we categorize something as good or bad, we’re judging it. And judgement leads to walls and disconnection.
Walking on eggshells
When feelings are not understood and talked about, sometimes one or both members of a couple can be left with the feeling that they’re walking on eggshells. Without a good method for navigating emotions, you never know when you might step on something painful. That puts your central nervous system into “danger” mode and you’re more likely to notice danger than pleasure. This can be amplified if you or your partner have experienced trauma in your past.
If you’re interested in reading more about attachment science, there are a ton of resources out there. In a nutshell, attachment science studies how we are able to attach to romantic partners in our adult life. The science is based on how we were shown and taught love from our primary caregivers as infants. Ideally, couples want to work toward secure attachment. When a couple is secularly attached they are able to express thoughts, feelings, needs, desires openly and safely. This builds on itself and the relationship continues to grow stronger over time, instead of more distant and painful.
Safety is the hallmark of secure attachment. It’s next to impossible for someone to fully trust and open up to another human being if they don’t feel safe. If your partner gets angry with you for sharing your feelings, it will be pretty difficult to feel safe. Without safety, there’s no connection. You see where I’m going here…
If you or your partner have a history of trauma, neglect or abuse this kind of communication can be tricky. Don’t force it. Find support outside of the relationship or marriage and defiantly seek professional couples counseling. As therapists, we are trained to help folks work through and navigate the ways in which trauma from the past shows up in the present. As corny as it sounds, and I say it a lot: you don’t have to do it alone!
**And if you’re experiencing domestic violence, abuse, manipulation or anything like that in your current relationship, you definitely need to seek professional support from a therapist or at the very least call the free and confidential National Domestic Abuse Hotline here: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)
There often are gender differences in the way couples talk about feelings. For most heterosexual couples, feelings can be harder for men to express. While this may seem like a stereotype, men are socialized different than women. It can often seem weak for men to have and express certain more vulnerable emotions like sadness and loneliness. This doesn’t give guys a free pass, though. There are ways for men to learn how to have and share their feelings in a responsible way.
There are cultural differences in how we have and express our emotions. This can be true for different cultures around the world as well as different family cultures from the same geographical region. Some families wear their emotions on their sleeve, and others keep them close to their chest. If you’re a member of a minority community, like the LGBTQ+ community, you may have learned how to silence and hide your feelings so you don’t stand out and make yourself a target. All of this affects how we develop the muscles we need to be able to share our feelings and have close relationships as adults.
How often should you talk about feelings?
Let’s say one member of a couple wants to talk about their emotions more than another member. How do you manage those differences? One suggestion I will often offer couples is to set aside a time each week for a check-in. It doesn’t have to be long, even thirty minutes can be enough time. A regularly scheduled time allows both people to set expectations and prepare. It gives the person who likes sharing their feelings more of an outlet and it gives containment to the person who gets overwhelmed with too much emotional talk.
Why do we need to talk about our feelings?
I’m not sure how you can have an intimate, connected, supportive relationship with someone without sharing feelings. By letting people in and being vulnerable, we allow ourselves to be seen and heard. Those are crucial and basic human needs that most of us have. Couples that aren’t able to talk about their emotions in constructive ways often have less sex, more fights, depression, anxiety, substance misuse…the list goes on.
The 15 minute Talk and Listen Exercise
Here is a simple exercise to try with your partner.
The purpose of this is to provide structure for having a short conversation about feelings, thoughts, or anything really. Set a timer for 15 minutes. One person will talk and one will listen for the entire 15 minutes. The person talking will share something from their heart or mind. The listener will listen and periodically reflect back what they are hearing without adding solutions, judgement or their own perspective. You will each be working different muscles with this exercise and depending on the subject you might feel worse afterward, but that’s ok. Like going to the gym, you’re building communication muscles that will get stronger over time.
What if my partner still gets angry with me?
If you’re reading this and thinking, wow, I’ve tried to explain this to my boyfriend, partner, spouse, wife and they just don’t get it. They still get angry with me when I try and talk about my feelings. Then it may be time to seek some professional support. Call a couples counselor in your area and schedule a time to talk this through. The pattern will only become more corrosive overtime and it will negatively impact most areas of your relationship. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone!