Expressing your emotions to your partner can feel challenging. Learning how to do so can help you strengthen your bond.
Diving into your own emotions can be tough enough. Discussing them with someone else, especially your romantic partner/s, may feel downright overwhelming.
But doing so is critical for your relationship: Talking about feelings builds trust and intimacy, says Laura Silverstein, a Pennsylvania-based clinical social worker.
“The more vulnerable we are, the closer and more connected we will feel,” says Silverstein, who’s also a certified Gottman couples therapist, and author of the book “Love Is an Action Verb.”
Sharing your feelings and emotions with your partner is all about being thoughtful, clear, calm-ish, and kind.
First, try to understand your emotions
Before talking with your partner, consider working on identifying how you’re actually feeling. Your partner may not fully grasp what’s going on if you don’t have this clarity.
Canada-based Michelle Baxo, who has a master’s in Counseling Psychology, suggests exploring emotions to “help you unravel the complexity of what you’re feeling.” This can be done with:
- journal prompts for emotions and feelings
- heartfelt chats with a close friend
- sessions with a coach or therapist
If you’re still not clear about how you feel, try to communicate this to your partner.
“’I’m experiencing some mixed feelings about this’,” suggests Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist in Long Beach and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.”
“At least that gives your partner a chance to understand the confusion better,” she notes.
Consider breathing a bit
Expressing your emotions thoughtfully is much harder when you’re wound up. So, before you start an emotional conversation with your partner, “take a deep breath, or 10,” suggests Baxo.
Calming your mind and body — even just a bit — helps you be intentional with your explanation and boosts the chances of your partner being receptive to what you have to say.
Any relaxation technique can help you balance your emotions and gain perspective on what and how you’d like to share with your partner.
Consider if sharing is helpful
“Not all feelings need to be shared,” says Rebecca Williams, a marriage and family therapist in Southern California.
For example, she notes, you might be annoyed with your partner. When you dig deeper, though, you realize that your irritation may stem from not getting enough sleep or from a stressful work project.
“You can deal with [these feelings] yourself,” says Williams, “and preserve goodwill in your relationship when you don’t take your stress out on your partner or tell them absolutely everything that bothers you about them — especially if [it’s] something they can’t control.”
Identifying your why helps
If you want to express your feelings in the relationship, consider your reasoning.
- Why are these emotions so important?
- Would you like your partner’s help with what’s going on?
- Will this strengthen your bond?
Francesca Parker, a psychotherapist in New York City, emphasizes reflecting on why you want your partner to know this particular piece of information.
To get some clarity, consider these questions:
- Are these feelings about my partner?
- Do I want my partner to make a change?
- Do I want to share something I’m concerned about?
- Do I want my partner to listen or problem solve with me?
Try to always ask first
Before launching into your emotions, consider asking your partner if it’s a good time to discuss how you feel.
“If it’s not a good time, find out when is a good time, and talk then,” says Baxo.
Your mental and emotional state is essential to meaningful conversations, as it’s your partner’s.
Contemplate stating your emotions
“When you start a sentence with the words, ‘I feel,’ the third word out of your mouth should be an emotion,” says Silverstein.
- I feel irritated
- I feel frustrated
- I feel misunderstood
Here’s an extensive list of emotions to help you pinpoint and articulate how you’re feeling.
If the third word isn’t an emotion, says Silverstein, you’re likely expressing something else — “a thought, opinion, or a judgment or criticism.”
It’s also important to request feedback. “Check in with your partner to see if what you’re saying makes sense to them and ask them what they think,” adds Silverstein. “Or, better yet, ask them how they feel.”
Try to request changes thoughtfully and gently
Sometimes, you’d like to share emotions and ask your partner to make some kind of long-term change. According to Parker, that’s when it might be helpful to think about specific actions.
For example, maybe you need a few minutes to yourself after coming home from work. Or, you’d like additional help around the house.
When making a request, Parker suggests using this approach:
- telling you partner what they’re doing well
- communicating what’s concerning you, and why and how they can help
- affirming that you love and care about them
Discussing emotions in general can help
You may not realize your upbringing greatly shaped how you view, approach, and express your emotions. Those belief systems may not be shared by your partners or be all that helpful.
For example, if you learned that it’s best to bury emotions because they’re a sign of weakness, you likely won’t share them in the first place, says Christian Bumpous, a marriage and family therapist in Nashville.
Bumpous encourages couples to have explicit conversations about emotions and the ways you learned to deal with them growing up.
According to Bumpous, try to take turns picking an emotion, like anger, sadness, or joy, and then consider discussing:
- what you learned about that emotion and how to manage it
- anything you like about what you learned
- anything you don’t like
- your current core beliefs about that emotion
Next, try to discuss how you’d like to handle emotions as a couple.
For example, Bumpous suggests exploring these questions:
- In this relationship, what do we believe about emotions?
- When we feel _______, how do we want to handle that?
- How can we support each other when we aren’t feeling well?
When your partner’s the one expressing their emotions, it’s important to create a welcoming space for them to share. These tips can get you started:
Try to chat about emotions regularly
Make discussing your emotions a regular routine, suggests Jared DeFife, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta.
Doing this may help both of you practice expressing your emotions, so the process is less intimidating and simply becomes something you do as a couple.
What if your partner isn’t ready to share their feelings at your regular session? Try to talk with them about rescheduling, he says.
Picking up on emotional cues may help
According to Tessina, “If something tells you your partner has feelings you should know about, say it.”
For example, she says, you might tell your partner: “You’re looking tense, do you want to talk about it?”
Consider accepting all of your partner’s emotions
Try to avoid judging what your partner shares. Criticizing your partner when they’re finally opening up to you can quickly lead them to shut down — in some cases, for a while.
Sometimes, you may not realize you’re being judgmental. DeFife shares these examples, which can make your partner get defensive:
- How could you be sad about that?
- That doesn’t really make sense.
- You shouldn’t be feeling that way.
Instead, underscores Williams, try to focus on being open, asking curious questions, and validating their emotional experience.
Try to listen intently
Listening and paying attention are critical for healthy relationships.
For example, a
Try to give your partner your undivided attention by:
- putting your phone away
- not interrupting them
- not rushing the discussion
Consider learning to manage negative reactions
Despite your best efforts, when your partner reveals they’re upset, you might still lose your cool.
DeFife suggests acknowledging any negative behaviors you’re prone to. For example, you might tell your partner: “I know I can get defensive when I get revved up. Please let me know when I start doing that, so I can correct it.”
Another option is to take a time out, so both of you can calm down.
Try to remember the power of a genuine apology. Consider admitting your misstep and explaining how you’ll work on not doing it again in the future.
“All emotions are important in relationships, not just the loving ones,” says Tessina. When you bring up your emotions in a thoughtful, kind way, you can work on the challenges as a team. This can increase your sense of emotional security.
The key is to pause and explore:
a) what you’re feeling
b) whether sharing that feeling with your partner is important to you and the relationship
As Silverstein notes, “Getting in the regular habit of emotional expressing and sharing your inner world will become easier over time and help you slowly build a stronger, deeper connection.”