Strong Emotions Can Be the Door to Healing Fractured Relationships

My wife’s eyes widened in shock as she took in the scene before her: our son, standing tall and fierce with a broom handle in hand, surrounded by shards of broken ceramic. As she recognized the fragments as a precious memento from her mother’s home, panic set in. Before she could even pose the question, our son nonchalantly replied with a simple “Nothing.”

As I watched this interaction, it made me think about how we often try to push difficult emotions aside, hoping they will disappear if we simply ignore them. Yet just like trying to hide a mess under a rug, those feelings will eventually come out one way or another. If we don’t address them directly and honestly, they can end up causing more harm than good. So let’s not be afraid to acknowledge and process our emotions, even when they seem scary or uncomfortable. It’s all part of being human and living a fulfilling life filled with open communication and genuine connections.

Relationships are all about feelings: the good, the bad, and everything in between. Passion, pride, peace, and even jealousy and anger are what make our connections with others so meaningful. But let’s be real here; dealing with those emotions isn’t always easy. Avoiding tough conversations or brushing off our feelings can cause serious damage to our relationships. The truth is our feelings play a huge role in how we interact with each other and how healthy our connections are. Don’t underestimate the power of emotions in any relationship.

Over twenty-five years ago, my then-fiancé, Jamie, and her mom, Earline, were discussing the budget for Jamie’s dream wedding. They sat across from each other at the kitchen table, but tension hung thick in the air. It wasn’t just about money; it was about their relationship.

Earline felt a mix of emotions as she thought about her little girl getting married. She was sad to see her youngest grow up and leave her, but also proud of the strong and independent woman she had become. Planning this wedding was like a final chance for them to bond before Jamie officially became my wife. Earline hoped Jamie would still come to her for advice and guidance, like she used to when she was younger.

For Jamie, this conversation was also more than just wedding planning. It represented her transition into a new phase of life, leaving behind her childhood, gaining independence, and becoming a wife. She wanted her mom’s support and understanding during this emotional time.

Their negotiation over the budget needed to address these underlying feelings, or it would never be successful. No matter how meticulously they planned out the costs, if they didn’t talk about their true emotions, they would both end up feeling unsatisfied with the outcome.

When We Crop Feelings from the Picture

Earline and Jamie had a disagreement about the wedding budget. Earline thought Jamie’s ideas were too expensive, while Jamie wanted to make her dream wedding a reality. As they talked, it became evident that there were deeper emotions involved in their discussion. They both focused on finding a solution to the problem rather than addressing their feelings. This is a common pattern; we often prioritize solving the issue at hand instead of acknowledging and discussing our emotions. However, it may be more beneficial to openly communicate and understand each other’s emotions before attempting to solve the problem.

Sometimes, we try to avoid dealing with problems by not sharing our feelings. It can be scary to open up, because we might hurt someone or get hurt ourselves. We may also be afraid that our feelings won’t be taken seriously or that the other person will say something we don’t want to hear. So instead, we focus only on the practical matters at hand in order to protect ourselves from these risks.

When emotions are involved in a situation, they are the main focus, not the practical matters. Our feelings cannot be ignored. Addressing these feelings is crucial for resolving relational conflict. If we avoid discussing emotions, it will only lead to unsatisfying outcomes for both parties. This avoidance also allows emotions to resurface in unhelpful ways later on. It’s important to address the underlying problem and acknowledge our emotions in order to move forward effectively.

Buried Feelings Don’t Stay Buried

My son was shocked to learn that his close friend and mentor was experiencing doubt about his ability to handle a new project, and had expressed this to the youth-run ministry board leadership. This revelation hurt my son’s feelings and made him question himself. When he confronted his friend, he explained that he was just concerned about his lack of experience and wanted to make sure he had the support he needed. However, my son felt blindsided and wished his friend had talked to him privately before bringing it up to the board. The two ended up arguing about communication practices in the organization instead of expressing their true emotions and concerns.

It’s fascinating how unexpressed emotions can significantly alter our conversations without us even realizing it. These concealed feelings can seep through our body language and facial expressions, causing us to become sarcastic, aggressive, or defensive. Interestingly enough, while most people struggle to detect lies based on facts, we are remarkably adept at sensing when someone is concealing an emotion. It’s as if we have clogged emotional pipes that eventually burst and betray us. This tension from suppressed emotions can even lead to disengagement, such as avoiding certain colleagues or becoming distant from loved ones due to unresolved feelings. In fact, the power of unexpressed emotions is so strong that it can cause us to disengage altogether. Truly, these hidden feelings have a powerful impact on our daily lives and interactions.

For some of us, the issue is not our inability to articulate our emotions, but rather our inability to control them. We fly into a rage or burst into tears at the slightest provocation, much to our embarrassment and detriment. While there are various psychological factors that may contribute to these outbursts, one explanation may surprise you: we don’t become emotional because we express ourselves too frequently, but because we suppress our emotions too often. We are like a dormant volcano, with emotions bubbling and boiling beneath the surface. Much like how a volcano can become explosive when pressure builds up, we too can have explosive outbursts when we suppress our emotions for too long. The consequences are bound to be explosive.

Meet Richard, a client at Shield Bearer Counseling Centers who struggled with an all-too-common issue. Frustration was his Achilles heel, causing him to burst into angry tirades and shout at his wife and children in moments of distress. Seeking help, he hoped to gain control over his emotions. Yet despite his best efforts to suppress them, the dam eventually burst. He rationalized this pattern as being overly emotional. Little did he know, his attempts to stifle his feelings were actually contributing to the problem. 

Buried Feelings are Loud

One of the most underestimated hindrances to effective communication is the impact of unexpressed feelings. Expressing emotions and actively listening are crucial aspects of effective communication, yet their dynamic relationship often goes unnoticed. In our years of experience, we have observed a recurring pattern: when individuals struggle with listening, it is not due to a lack of understanding but rather an inability to effectively express themselves. Unspoken emotions can act as barriers to active listening, hindering progress in positive and effective conversations.

Truly attentive listening necessitates a genuine and relentless curiosity towards the other individual, along with the ability to keep the attention solely on them. Yet, underlying emotions often cause us to redirect this focus back onto ourselves. Rather than actively seeking to understand their perspective and gather further information, our minds incessantly replay our own emotional record. “I am so furious with him,” “She simply doesn’t seem to care about me,” and “I feel incredibly vulnerable at the moment,” flood our minds, drowning out the sound of another speaking. It is difficult to fully listen to someone when we feel unheard, even if the root of this feeling stems from our own reluctance to share. However, once we have effectively expressed our own intense emotions, our capacity for active listening can vastly improve.

Buried Feelings are Unfair to You and Others

Suppressing our innermost emotions is like locking away a part of ourselves, denying it the chance to grow and thrive. It can lead to a lack of self-confidence and an inability to assert our needs. Further, we hinder the growth and evolution of those around us by denying them the opportunity to understand and adapt based on our true feelings. And perhaps most damaging of all, we put strain on the very relationships we hold dear. Our true emotions are a crucial element in forming deep connections with others, and by withholding them, we deny these relationships their full potential.

Navigating emotions can be a tricky task, but it’s important to find ways to address them in conversations. Deliberately incorporating feelings into the discussion is typically beneficial, as long as it’s done with intention. While avoiding emotions altogether comes with inevitable consequences, expressing them with skill can actually lead to unexpected advantages and mitigate potential costs.

By following a few essential principles, you can greatly enhance your ability to communicate and manage your feelings effectively within relationships. First and foremost, it’s crucial to identify and understand your own emotions; then, you must negotiate and come to terms with them. Finally, when sharing your feelings, it’s important to express your honest emotions, rather than placing blame or making judgments about the other person.

Uncovering Your Actual Emotions

Emotions can be tricky to understand. We think we know how we’re feeling, but it’s not always that simple. It’s like exploring a new city; we might recognize the main roads, but there are still many hidden parts to discover. Before we can make sense of our emotions, we need to learn more about them, just like learning your way around a new city. Our feelings are complex and nuanced masters of disguise. Often, they transform, and we turn them into judgements and accusations. 

Explore Your Emotional Landscape

Our emotional landscape is shaped by our upbringing and the societal norms surrounding emotions. Take a trip down memory lane. How were feelings handled in your household? Were certain emotions encouraged or suppressed? Did you play a role in creating the emotional climate of your family? As an adult, which emotions do you feel comfortable expressing and to whom? Which ones do you struggle with? By exploring these questions, you can begin to understand the unique topography of your emotional landscape. Perhaps you believe anger is acceptable, but vulnerability is not. Or maybe you find it natural to express disappointment, but showing affection or gratitude feels foreign.

In examining one’s emotional landscape, it becomes clear that the intensity and expression of emotions vary across different relationships and contexts. Through intentional introspection, one can gain a deeper understanding of their emotional tendencies and triggers.

Yet, in our society, there is an underlying belief that having emotions is somehow wrong or shameful. This toxic mindset is instilled in us from a young age, often passed down through generations, causing many to repress their feelings completely.

While emotions can potentially lead to negative outcomes if not managed properly, they are simply a part of being human. Similar to our limbs, which can cause harm if used aggressively, emotions are not inherently good or bad. It is how we handle them that determines their impact on ourselves and those around us. So let us shed this harmful misconception and embrace our emotional complexity without shame or fear.

We All Have Feelings

Our assumptions about emotions can have a profound impact on our lives, as we carefully craft the perfect image of what a “good person” should feel. However, even the most saintly among us has felt anger, sadness, and failure at some point. We all have moments where our loved ones drive us up the wall. It’s human nature.

Complexly, at times, denying our true feelings can serve a greater purpose: shielding us from overwhelming anxiety or trauma. As they say, don’t tear down a wall until you know why it was built. However, ignoring our emotions can also affect our ability to communicate effectively and jeopardize our relationships. It is in our best interest to acknowledge and understand even our traumatic feelings, with the help of a therapist or trusted confidant if necessary. By addressing the root causes of these emotions, we can navigate difficult conversations with ease and improve our relationships with others. So let’s not be afraid to embrace all of our emotions, for they are what make us truly human after all. 

Feelings Are Important

As humans, we are often programmed to prioritize the feelings of others over our own. This was ingrained in you at a young age, and it continued through adulthood; your father’s health deteriorating meant that he would move in with your family, and any negative emotions towards this arrangement were brushed aside. But now, as his constant demands and moodiness weigh heavily on top of your already busy schedule managing his medical needs, and you can’t help but feel exhausted and resentful towards your brother for not doing his share. Yet, instead of addressing these concerns with your family, you remain silent and avoid “rocking the boat.” Similarly, when your girlfriend cancels plans for a friend’s visit and suggests a different day, you immediately agree despite having prior commitments. Your desire to please her outweighs your own wants and needs. It’s a common trait seen in many individuals, the tendency to put others before ourselves, even at the expense of our own happiness and wellbeing.

In each of these scenarios, you have subconsciously prioritized the emotions of others over your own. But is this truly logical? Is your father’s frustration or your brother’s serenity more important than your own? Whose desires hold more weight: your girlfriend, and her request to see a movie with a friend, or you, and your longing to attend a baseball game? Why is it that others freely express their feelings and preferences while you suppress yours?

There are multiple factors that may contribute to this inclination towards pleasing others at the expense of yourself. You may have internalized the belief that sacrificing your own happiness for the sake of others is noble and expected. However, this mindset is unfair to you. Your emotions hold just as much validity as those around you.

Some may argue that it is simply easier to avoid confrontation and maintain peace by going along with other people’s desires. But in doing so, you are undervaluing and disregarding your own feelings and interests. This can create a dynamic where others feel they can manipulate and take advantage of you. By consistently prioritizing the feelings of others, you unintentionally train them to disregard your own.

Furthermore, avoiding conflict in order to preserve relationships can ultimately backfire. The resentment that festers within you will eventually erode the very relationships you sought to protect by remaining silent. It is crucial to realize that suppressing your own needs and emotions for the comfort of others will only lead to long-term damage for all parties involved.

Correctly Interpreting Your Feelings

As she relentlessly nagged him about his job search, Alex couldn’t help but feel frustrated and annoyed. His mother’s incessant calls and lectures about networking and sending out resumes only served to fuel his rebellion. But when he confided in a close friend, she gave him some unexpected advice.

“Don’t shut her out,” she said. “Tell her how you’re really feeling.”

Alex scoffed at the idea, convinced it would do no good. But after some prodding from his friend, he took a hard look at his emotions. And what he found surprised him.

Underneath all of the anger towards his mother’s pushiness, Alex was actually feeling hopeless and fearful about his job prospects. Avoiding the search was just a way for him to avoid confronting those anxieties.

And as for his mother? It wasn’t just annoyance he felt towards her, but also a deep sense of love and gratitude for her care and concern. With this newfound understanding, Alex approached their conversations differently, realizing that his mother’s pestering came from a place of genuine love and support.

Alex grappled with a sense of inadequacy. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was letting down his mother, who had high expectations for him to follow in her family’s successful footsteps. Yet, amidst the shame, Alex also felt a glimmer of pride. Many of his peers had settled into jobs and prestigious management programs, but Alex refused to conform to societal norms. He was holding out for something that truly ignited his passion and purpose. In the meantime, he hustled with odd jobs to support himself, never once asking for financial help from his parents.

It was only when Alex’s friend pointed out that he was experiencing a range of emotions beyond just anger that Alex gained a profound realization. What started as one negative emotion blossomed into a spectrum of feelings that displayed his true complexity and depth.

In countless scenarios, our emotions are clouded by one dominant feeling that overshadows all the others. For Alex, it was fiery anger. For others, this may manifest as a variety of different emotions.

By becoming acquainted with the intricate spectrum of emotions, one may experience an “aha!” moment of recognition. Take a look at a partial list of possible emotions to help navigate those challenging feelings that can be difficult to pinpoint or articulate. 

Unexpressed Feelings are a Roadblock 

It’s a curious phenomenon, but often our most influential emotions are the ones we aren’t even aware of. They shape our interactions and perceptions without us even realizing it.

Lila struggled to express her love for her grown daughter, Amber. “Of course, I love her,” she insisted, “she’s my daughter after all. She’s a remarkable person, both inside and out. I am so proud of the woman she has become. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to show it.” There was an invisible barrier blocking Lila’s ability to express her affection, and she couldn’t figure out what was causing it.

Initially, Lila blamed herself, thinking she was simply not good enough as a mother. “Maybe this is just another failing of mine. A true mother should be able to openly demonstrate her love for her children.” In our attempt to help her, we probed further and asked if she ever expressed any other emotions towards Amber. Specifically, we were curious if she ever showed anger or disappointment. “You’re missing the point,” Lila retorted. “I am trying to learn how to express love. If anyone has the right to be upset, it’s my daughter for having to deal with me all these years.”

This response raised some red flags for us. In any parent-child relationship, or any relationship in general, there will always be moments of anger and disappointment towards each other. “Have you ever felt angry or disappointed with your daughter?” we inquired again. After much hesitation, Lila finally admitted, “perhaps on rare occasions.” This led us to ask, “If you could let go of all your barriers and freely vent your frustrations at Amber without consequences, what would you say to her?”

Lila hesitated at first, but eventually opened up. “I know I’m not the perfect mother,” she began, “but it can be hard when you never seem to appreciate my sacrifices and constantly criticize me. Maybe I don’t handle it the best, but your constant complaints can really get to me sometimes. Of course, I would never say any of this to Amber, and maybe it’s not entirely fair for me to feel this way.” However, Lila acknowledged that these buried emotions were impacting her ability to express love towards her daughter and even hindered her from expressing any feelings at all. She realized that if she could share these hidden frustrations, it would be easier to balance them with the love she felt for Amber.

Let’s consider the implications of expressing emotions, specifically anger, while we delve into negotiating with your emotions. 

Blame Is Red Herring

Emotions are a powerful force, one that often clouds our judgment and leads to misunderstandings. When we make assumptions about others’ intentions, it can lead to defensiveness and miscommunication. This is exactly what happened to Janine in her relationship with her friend Rich.

Janine felt like she had been there for Rich through thick and thin, always offering support and companionship during his tough times. However, she couldn’t help but feel like he never showed any appreciation for her efforts. When she tried to talk to him about it, she immediately felt attacked as he dismissed her feelings as oversensitive.

But let’s take a closer look at what Janine actually communicated to Rich. She made statements like “you are self-absorbed” and “you are thoughtless,” both of which are judgments rather than expressions of her own emotions. Luckily, she was able to reflect on this and recognize that she was hurt, confused, angry, and even embarrassed about the situation.

This is a common trap we fall into, blaming others instead of taking a closer look at our own feelings. But once we introspect, we can better understand ourselves and communicate effectively with others. So, perhaps Janine should try expressing her own emotions instead of making assumptions about Rich’s intentions next time. After all, how can we expect others to understand us if we don’t understand ourselves?

The distinction between passing judgment and expressing our own emotions may not always be immediately apparent. In fact, the two can often feel indistinguishable in the moment. When we are caught up in anger, frustration, or pain, it is easy to assume that others can sense what we are feeling. However, this is rarely the case. While it may seem natural to cast blame and make assumptions, it is crucial to recognize that these actions do little to effectively communicate our true emotions.

In order for genuine understanding and connection to occur, we must dig deeper and identify the underlying feelings beneath our initial judgments and attributions. This step is essential in bridging divides and facilitating meaningful conversations. So next time you find yourself quick to judge or point fingers, take a moment to pause and reflect on your true emotions. It may just lead to a more fruitful exchange of ideas and emotions.

When we have a problem with someone, our first instinct is to blame them. We do this because we feel like they are the ones causing the issue. But what we often overlook is our own contribution to the situation. However, just talking about contributions without addressing our feelings can leave us feeling unsatisfied. This is because those unexpressed emotions are still there, lurking beneath the surface and urging us to cast blame. Instead of jumping to blame, we should recognize that our urge to do so is actually a sign that there are deeper emotions at play. By acknowledging and expressing these feelings in a conversation (like saying “I felt abandoned when you did this”), we may find that the need to blame disappears, and we can work towards a solution together.

Your Emotions Need Translation

As we explore the two guidelines for communicating our emotions, we must first address rule number two: Do your best to convey all that you are feeling in a conversation. This concept may seem terrifying to many people, as we often believe that certain feelings should be kept hidden and not expressed. However, this brings us to rule number one: Before sharing our emotions, it is essential to truly understand them.

Many of us assume that our feelings are fixed, unchangeable reflections of reality. We believe that in order to express them genuinely, we must share them exactly as they are. In reality, our emotions are influenced by our perceptions, and our perceptions can shift depending on how we view the world. Therefore, before we open up about our feelings, it is imperative to take a moment to reflect and navigate the winding paths of our thoughts in order to accurately interpret and communicate our emotions with ourselves.

But what does it mean to interpret our feelings? It means recognizing that our emotions stem from our thoughts. For example, imagine you are hiking with your family in a state park when suddenly you come upon a mother bear and her cubs. Your heart races and anxiety floods your body, a completely understandable reaction. Now, let’s say you have hiked this trail countless times and have taken survival classes. You feel prepared and even expectant of encountering wildlife. In this scenario, your anxiety dissipates, replaced with excitement and curiosity as you observe the bear’s behavior. The bear hasn’t changed; it is your perception and story about the situation that has shifted. Our feelings are intricately tied to our thoughts in any given situation.

To truly change our feelings, we must first transform our thoughts. We must scrutinize the narratives we tell ourselves, for they shape our emotions. What crucial details may be missing from our story? Can we see beyond ourselves and consider the other person’s perspective? Often, simply acknowledging their story can shift our own feelings.

But it doesn’t end there. We must also examine our assumptions about their intentions. Are we acting on untested beliefs about their motives? Could their actions have been unintentional, or driven by conflicting desires? And what of our own intentions? How might they have impacted the situation and influenced our reactions?

Lastly, we must acknowledge each individual’s role in the problem. Can we honestly see our own participation without casting blame upon others? Can we recognize how our actions feed into a cycle of reinforcement that exacerbates the issue at hand? By exploring these questions with mindfulness and fairness, we can start to disentangle ourselves from intense emotions like anger, hurt, betrayal, abandonment, shame, and anxiety. Though definitive answers may elude us until we engage in open conversation with the other person, asking these questions alone is enough to begin shifting our feelings toward a more manageable state.

Recall Lila’s situation with her adult daughter, Amber. Their tumultuous relationship was a constant source of pain and frustration. Lila initially channeled all her anger towards Amber, but upon deeper introspection, she realized it was not solely Amber’s fault. By attempting to see things from Amber’s perspective and acknowledging her own role in their issues, Lila’s understanding of the situation became more nuanced. Her perception of the situation became more complex, as did her feelings. She bravely confronted Amber, admitting her own contributions to the problems, yet also expressing her deep love for her daughter and desire for their relationship to improve. In doing so, she broke down the barriers that were blocking her from reconnecting with the love that a mother and daughter long to share.

Express Feelings Carefully

Discovering and understanding our emotions is just the first step. The real challenge lies in deciding when and how to express them. Sometimes, it may not be necessary or beneficial to share our feelings, and other times, they will demand to be heard. It’s important to distinguish between being emotional and effectively expressing emotion. Sharing our feelings requires careful consideration, and there are three key guidelines that can help alleviate anxiety and lead to a successful conversation.

To effectively express emotions, one must recognize their significance. Difficult interactions often evoke strong feelings. While it is possible to address a problem without acknowledging emotions, this does not lead to true resolution. If emotions are the root of the issue, they should be acknowledged and dealt with.

One’s feelings do not have to be logical in order to be expressed. Attempting to suppress or invalidate them rarely leads to change. In fact, at that moment, one’s emotions play a vital role in the relationship. It may help to preface the expression of these emotions with an acknowledgement of discomfort or confusion, but ultimately, they should still be communicated. The purpose is simply to release them and later decide how to proceed. 

Explore the Full Emotional Chasm

In the case of Alex and his ongoing conflict with his mother, it is clear why he may hesitate to divulge his true emotions. His primary feeling is anger, which he suppresses out of fear that his mother will mirror it back onto him. This would only breed more hostility between them.

But what if Alex took a different approach? Instead of lashing out in frustration and saying, “You’re driving me insane,” perhaps he could calmly articulate, “When you inquire about my job search, I experience a range of emotions. Yes, I do feel angry because of your persistent questioning despite my previous requests for space. But at the same time, I appreciate your concern and support. It means a lot to me that you care.”

And even when his mother continues to push for an explanation as to why he hasn’t found a job yet, rather than succumbing to frustration once again, Alex could try communicating, “It’s not easy for me to talk about this. Just thinking about it brings up feelings of shame and inadequacy, like I’m not living up to my potential or letting you down.”

By expanding the emotional scope of their conversation, Alex has fundamentally changed its dynamic. It is no longer a simple confrontation fueled by anger, but a complex exchange with layers of emotion. As a result, Alex’s mother gains valuable insights into her son’s inner turmoil and how her actions may contribute to it. While expressing a full range of emotions does not guarantee a seamless resolution, it can certainly pave the way for better understanding and collaboration, ultimately leading to more harmonious interactions between the two.

Sharing Without Analysis

In order to effectively address and resolve conflicts, it is crucial to acknowledge and validate everyone’s emotions. Jumping straight into problem solving without acknowledging feelings can hinder the process of understanding each other and reaching a deeper level of resolution. It is important to follow these guidelines: Express your feelings without assigning blame, save solution-seeking for later, and avoid dominating the conversation.

Learning to express emotions without placing blame is key. Many people have experienced trying to share their feelings only for it to result in a fight instead. Janine and Rich’s story highlights this common issue. Janine initially blamed Rich for being thoughtless and self-absorbed when she expressed her hurt over not being thanked for her help during a difficult time. However, once she reframed her approach and simply expressed her own feelings, Rich responded with contrition and gratitude.

Mastering the art of discussing emotions requires a keen awareness of removing accusations from your words and focusing solely on expressing how you feel. It is crucial to carefully examine your choice of words, ensuring they accurately convey your intended meaning. For instance, stating “You are completely unreliable!” reflects a judgment on the person’s character, rather than conveying how the speaker feels. It’s no surprise that the response may be defensive, such as “I am not unreliable!”

In contrast, saying “I felt frustrated when you didn’t send out the letter” removes any blame and shines a light on the underlying feelings. While this approach won’t magically solve all problems, it is more likely to lead to a constructive conversation.

Another pitfall to avoid is blending a pure expression of emotion with a statement of blame. For instance, saying “You promised to call me but you didn’t. That’s why I’m hurt” includes both a feeling (“I’m hurt”) and a conclusion about who is at fault for causing that feeling. This can lead to the other person feeling attacked, rather than understanding the true emotion behind your words. A more effective approach would be to start with expressing the pure feeling, “When you didn’t call like you said you would, I felt hurt.” This allows for deeper exploration and understanding, rather than placing blame.

Contradicting Emotions Do Exist

When newlyweds move into their first home, it is expected that both will imprint their personal touch on the space. The same concept applies to emotions; just as you may feel indignant toward your boss for berating you over your tardiness, they may feel annoyed towards you for lack of punctuality. In such cases, it is crucial to recognize and address the strong, potentially conflicting emotions of both parties in order to foster healthy communication and understanding. After all, one set of feelings does not invalidate another’s. Rather, these contrasting emotions provide valuable insights and demonstrate the complexity of a nuanced relationship and communication.

Say, ” I feel …”

Beginning a statement with “I feel…” may appear commonplace, yet its benefits extend beyond the surface. By centering on emotions and explicitly stating that one is speaking from their own perspective, the trap of assigning blame is eliminated. A phrase such as “Why do you insist on undermining me in front of the kids?” immediately sets the stage for an argument, leaving no room to properly address one’s true feelings. On the contrary, commencing with “When you disagree with me about child rearing in front of the kids, I feel betrayed and also worried about the message it sends to them,” removes any opportunity for counterattack regarding one’s emotions. This approach minimizes defensiveness and amplifies the chances of a fruitful discussion encompassing not only one’s sentiments, but also potential disciplinary tactics that can be mutually agreed upon.

Acknowledge & Validate

Expressing emotions is a vital first step in resolving conflicts. It shows that you are willing to acknowledge and validate the other person’s feelings before diving into problem-solving mode. This creates a sense of understanding and allows for a more effective resolution. Taking the time to genuinely listen and respond with phrases like “I hear you” and “Thank you for sharing your emotions” can go a long way in diffusing tension and building rapport.

However, beware of taking shortcuts and jumping right into solutions. Brushing off emotions and focusing solely on fixing the issue may seem efficient, but it often misses the mark. Instead, steer the conversation back to understanding by encouraging the other person to share more about their feelings. This shows that you value their perspective and allows them to fully express themselves without feeling dismissed or ignored.

Remember, understanding is key. Take the time to truly comprehend why certain actions or words have hurt someone. Don’t just assume good intentions or try to make up for it with quick apologies or solutions. Show genuine empathy and ask questions until you fully grasp the depth of the situation.

And don’t be afraid to speak up when something truly matters to you. If others fail to recognize the weight of an issue that holds great meaning for you, it’s important to bring attention to it and advocate for yourself. After all, if you don’t stand up for what’s important to you, who will? 

Sometimes Feelings Are the Heart of the Matter

As soon as Earline, my wife’s mother, expressed her mixed emotions of pride and loss to her daughter, the issue of wedding expenses became easily solvable. The underlying tension of their past conversations, filled with feelings of rejection and control, was openly discussed and no longer hindered progress toward finding a solution. With a newfound sense of honesty and understanding, they were able to reunite, and their relationship strengthened rather than fractured.

However, in some cases, emotions are not the only factor at play. There are times when difficult and troubling feelings must be set aside in order to fulfill responsibilities or raise children together. This process may be long and arduous, but effective communication about both emotions and problems is crucial for success.

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Thad Cardine

Thad Cardine is the Chief Executive Officer of Shield Bearer Counseling Centers and author of Solutions to Common Parenting Dilemmas: Answers to Issues that Drive Moms and Dads Crazy. With over 30 years devoted to leading nonprofit organizations, writing curriculum, teaching in private and public schools, speaking, and raising five wonderful children with his wife and best friend Jamie, Thad Cardine feels he has found the true definition of success. "Success for me is when your faith, your values, your passions, your work, and your family all coalesce." Shield Bearer removes the barriers to receiving mental health services and provides licensed counseling, support groups, educational workshops, and seminars to help families and individuals better their lives and heal since 2005.