Job responsibilities. To-do lists. Child care.
If your relationship with your spouse or partner is consumed with the day-to-day running of your lives together, you may not realize the toll it’s taking. Sure, you’re getting stuff done. Are you really sharing your lives, though?
You may be rolling your eyes and thinking, “Who has time for that?” All the more reason to listen up.
Over time, this happens with every relationship. And it takes work to shift from a superficial level to a deeper level.
At the beginning of relationships, we can’t get enough of discovering new things about our partners. As you get to know someone better, though, you evolve into a more comfortable level. You start to make assumptions about what they like and dislike. And that can lead to assuming you know what they think and feel.
Why talking about your feelings helps couples
While you’re going through your day — getting all this stuff done — the most important piece you should not gloss over is how you feel about what’s going on in your lives. And that can definitely get lost. These deeper conversations are essential to make the glue that holds you together and to create the intimacy couples desire, according to author Marni Feuerman.
Highs and lows
If you struggle to get your partner to open up, here’s a tip. I learned it in a movie I saw several years ago, “The Story of Us, ” starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. They would ask these two questions of one another every evening in a playful way: “What was your high? What was your low?”
Yes, this forces you to rewind your day to find those nuggets. At first, your partner may shrug and say, “I don’t know.” Just be patient, and ask him or her to think back and come up with two things. After a while, couples start to notice their highs and lows more, and they’re easier to share.
I once worked with a consultant who used a unique approach when clients responded with “I don’t know.” He’d say, “Well, if you did know, what would the answer be?” This sounds silly, although I witnessed time after time that people came back with an answer the second time around. Lots of times we’re just hesitant to speak up at first — even though we’re not being graded.
These highs and lows may come from outside interactions with others or something specific between you and your spouse. Both men and women can struggle with sharing feelings, although men seem to have a harder time, explains Feuerman.
While I’ll raise a caution flag regarding stereotyping, I’ll go on to cite Feuerman’s research that women often complain about the lack of intimacy or connection with the men in their lives. And much of this can be traced back to a lack of communication about feelings.
Benefits of sharing feelings
Feuerman says practicing this type of heart-to-heart communication can help in a number of areas:
- It prevents the resentment that therapists often hear about in their offices.
- It helps your partner to feel empathy and “walk in your shoes.”
- It keeps fights from escalating.
- It sets off bonding hormones like oxytocin.
- It gets you out of having only superficial discussions.
- It creates a deeper and more meaningful connection with your partner.
It may feel awkward to jump from, “Did you pick up the coffee?” to “What really jazzes you these days?” So here are a few ways to kick-start a discussion:
- “What do you feel good about?”
- “Did anyone let you down today?”
- “What are you grateful for?”
- “What are you finding that gives you the most joy?”
Struggling with deeper topics
Some of you may really struggle to bring up topics that affect your relationships. That’s because it can tap into your worst fears about being rejected or abandoned. While it’s certainly easier to just stay with your day-to-day thoughts about the tougher issues (parenting, money, sex, in-laws, etc.), they’ll likely come out some other way if you don’t address them.
When one partner avoids or reacts when broaching one of these subjects, it can indicate something deeper, explains Feuerman. This is precisely why it’s important to cut through tendencies toward defensiveness and shutting down to discuss underlying core emotions.
This is what keeps a deep and meaningful connection in a primary relationship. You’re much less likely to go toward absolutes like “He never listens” or “She always does this.”
Of course, this meaningful approach is not without its risks, and we all pick our battles. Timing is critical, too. In the long run, though, it’s much more productive to communicate real feelings, instead of giving the silent treatment, advises Feuerman. Or carrying a grudge, getting passive-aggressive or yelling.
A bonus is that it’s also easier for your partner to respond to these emotions. So, with practice, it can become a win-win situation.
To get the ball rolling, just remember those two sentences mentioned earlier, and have fun with them: What was your high? What was your low?
If you’re tempted to just stay in your lane so you don’t rock the boat, that’s certainly understandable. Just realize that always playing it safe can lead to feelings of boredom. And the comfort zone has also been described as the dead zone.