Larchmont Family Therapy

4 Chatsworth Avenue
Larchmont, NY 10538

The Importance of Feelings in Relationships

Anthropologist Helen Fisher notes that mystery and novelty increase brain chemicals associated with falling in love and more importantly, with staying in love. In marriage your partners habits and opinions typically become predictable over time. Mystery and novelty seem to naturally wear thin. You may feel bored spending time together and unless you are sharing information about work or the kids, you may not have much to talk about. The one thing that makes you consistently interesting and new to your partner, and which has tremendous potential to fuel passion, is sharing your feelings. Why? Because our feelings are the most unique aspect of our personality and because they are fairly changeable. In truth we only know each other up to the point of our personal development at any given time. We are constantly evolving into newer versions of ourselves and sharing our internal changes is integral to a vibrant relationship. 

There are three main reasons why couples do not share their feelings readily. One is not having a good grasp of what your feelings are in the first place. Second is fear of creating conflict, and third is there is not an emotionally safe space or in worst cases a physically safe space, being made for the sharing.  

1. If no one guided you through the process of naming your feelings while growing up, you may not have developed a vocabulary for your internal experience. So even if you want to share what you are feeling you are uncertain about how to do it. I often find that people confuse feelings with thoughts. When asked how they feel about something they tell me what they think instead. For example, if your spouse uses your car and consistently leaves your gas tank empty you will likely have a reaction. If asked how you feel about it you may say “I think he/she has a lot of nerve and I would never do that.” This is what you think, not how you feel. Now if you say it makes you “upset”, that is indeed a feeling, but it doesn’t say a whole lot about you as a unique individual, because it is a vague, broad feeling, encompassing loads of other feelings. For example, the empty gas tank may leave Viola feeling disrespected, Mike feeling taken advantage of, Mary feeling ripped off (gas prices are awfully high these days), and John feeling fearful because his new wife does lots of things that he thinks are selfish. I think you get the picture. With an openness to learning a feeling “vocabulary” you will be better equipped to have an honest and frank exchange. While it may lead to conflict, so will acting out your reaction in a seemingly unrelated way, or trying to ignore the situation to keep the peace. Feelings demand expression and they will always find their way to the surface. 

2. Each of us has a deep down primal wish to be truly known and accepted by another, first by our primary caretakers, our parents, and then by our spouse. We equate this feeling of being known and accepted, with being loved. When we fall in love we want to believe that we have selected that person who deeply knows and accepts us. Meaningful sharing can occur only in proportion to the level of trust you have established in your marriage, and in your willingness to listen and to talk non-defensively. Sometimes you or your spouse feel safer sharing your true feelings with your hairdresser, a friend, a co- worker or even your child. I can determine your level of emotional trust as a couple in just a few sessions and that is how I will know where we need to begin the work. Yes, you can learn trust building skills and finally be on the road to having a more satisfying relationship than you ever thought possible. Sharing your ever widening feelings with your spouse is literally the lifeblood of healthy intimacy. 

3. Where the threat of domestic violence exists couples therapy can not take place, because emotional sobriety does not exist. In these cases couples will be instructed to take the necessary steps to address the violence in the relationship. In most cases like this the violated partner is the one to reach out and she will be given resources to help herself and the other family members.