Knowing how to express your feelings is key to having an emotionally fulfilling relationship. Opening up and being vulnerable creates intimacy. But having the ability to share your feelings goes beyond saying "I love you." Good communication also means being able to express yourself when you're feeling emotions that are uncomfortable like sadness, disappointment, or anger. Being able to share your feelings with your partner is something that doesn't come easily to everyone. But with some time and a little work, it is doable for anyone.
As Saba Harouni Lurie, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, it can be difficult for people to say how they really feel in a relationship for a number of reasons. For instance, a bad experience in a past relationship can make someone less likely to open up. Being raised in an environment where vulnerability wasn't respected can also make it difficult for someone to be vulnerable in a relationship.
"Healthy relationships require a degree of vulnerability and openness," Lurie says. "No matter what our starting point is, it's important to remind ourselves that being vulnerable is a sign of strength. Taking risks and sharing openly can potentially bring us closer to our partner. It can also open up a door for them to communicate more openly, too."
When you're so used to keeping things to yourself, knowing how to start opening up can be hard. So here are some women on how they were able to open up and get better at sharing their feelings with their partner.
"I got better at sharing my feelings with my partner when I was able to identify what my feelings and expectations were, by believing I was worthy of acknowledgement and effort, and by being able to set personal boundaries. Prior to being able to open up and share my feelings, I think I held back from sharing mostly because I was more concerned with pleasing my partner, avoiding confrontations, or inadvertently contributing to an insecurity he may have had. I didn’t want to 'rock the boat.' But sometimes rocking the boat is the only way to get the water out of it and avoid sinking."
"The main thing that made it hard for me to open up was my codependency. I feared that if I showed my true self — all my feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly — that I'd be less lovable. I felt I needed to mask my feelings, downplay them, or find an 'alternative way in' to sharing them, i.e. emotional manipulation. I started attending Codependents Anonymous meetings and working on becoming healthier in my own way of relating. When I started to heal from codependency my marriage broke down and I was free to practice opening up and sharing my feelings in all my relationships in a more open and mature way. Now I'm in a partnership with a person who has shown me that it's safe to share my feelings, and I do the same for him. We have a much more fulfilling and connected relationship because of it."
"I was accustomed to accommodating versus understanding that my voice mattered in the relationship, so I kept my feelings and opinions secondary to his. Once I did some self discovery through meditation and self-care, I understood that I was only hindering the growth of our relationship by subsiding my feelings. You also can't hold one accountable for what you expect them to know. You have to be sure they know by being vocal. It was an adjustment, but once I became comfortable speaking up, I found that there was a desire for my partner to know my thoughts and perspectives."
"Being vulnerable and exposing my true feelings isn’t easy, but it got easier. What’s been helpful is getting on a quest to know myself and accept my feelings in the first place. I’d think over why I’d feel a certain way (the answer often lying in my past relationships and childhood), and then work on being OK with that. The hardest part of exposing my feelings was thinking my partner wasn't going to accept or understand them, and that somehow I'd be judged. But by rooting for myself, by saying, 'Alright, this doesn’t feel comfortable but they’re my feelings and they’re valid,' it became easier to fear this judgement less. It’s also become easier with time. It takes practice. Having a partner that I feel safe with really helps. When I’m sharing, I’m not feeling judged or looked down upon. He's willing to understand me and me explaining things really helps."
"My boyfriend and I moved in together two months ago, so there's been lots more 'sharing' going on than before. The first thing I’ve started doing is that when I get upset about something, I try to figure out if there’s a bigger reason why I’m unhappy. For example, he promised me he would take out the trash on the way to work the other day (I know, really domestic over here). But when I came home, he hadn’t done it. I was initially upset, not because of the trash really, but because he told me he’d do something and he didn’t. So I pulled him aside and calmly explained. Growing up, there were important adults in my life who would make promises and then not keep them. This has really stuck with me as an adult. It's why now I try never to promise something I can’t deliver on. So instead of him promising to do something that he’s not 100% sure he can get done, I asked if he would tell me what he 'intends' to do instead. It’s such a small change in language, but it has a big impact on me."
"I'll be honest, learning to share my feelings with my husband of nearly 10 years has been a work in progress. We started dating when we were only 19, and I was raised in a home where expressing emotion was often met with anger and/or shaming. It often didn't feel safe to share, so I kept things to myself. The short answer to how I've learned to open up to my partner is a lot of therapy. But beyond that, I've learned over the years that he's not the same as my family of origin, and that it's safe to express how I feel when I'm upset. I've learned how to (usually) express feelings as 'I' statements. I'm also learning how to better interpret responses. If my husband has a problem he shares with me, that isn't a rejection of me as a person or a threat that he'll leave; I use it as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship."
"I have a significant trauma history, it was pretty rough for me growing up and I spent a lot of years pushing people away, testing my romantic partners, and breaking hearts to prove I was loved. This was generally unsatisfying, and I felt awful about not being able to say what I was feeling.
Although it’s a little cliche, going to therapy was the beginning of opening up. With my partner, it was harder because the risks there were so high. I finally decided that I had to open up, because we were headed to a deadend, where I was just stuck inside and he was just looking everywhere for me.
So I warned him that I was going to try to start sharing, and we built in time and space to practice. We would get physically close, snuggle up in bed or on the sofa, some safe place, and then tell stories about our real childhoods. We would go a little at a time, and take a lot of breaks, and do a lot of checking about how each shared thing landed. I asked for, and got, a lot of reassurance.
Those hours invested in me practicing sharing my feelings while he shared his right back (he was naturally good at it) gave us the foundation of a 25 year relationship. I think the key was safety, slowly, and tiny bits at a time."
"As women we tend to overanalyze our partner's motives. But it's therapeutic to express your thoughts, frustrations and all. Writing my emotions and sharing these feelings with my partner was how I became a spoken word artist. My piece entitled 'Trail Blazing' was my way of sharing with my partner my feelings in starting a new relationship with him, from the sexual attraction to the fears of being inadequate. He absolutely loved it. He's very supportive of my art and this particular piece is his absolute favorite because it's so raw and vulnerable. Me showing this side of myself helped him open up and express his feelings as well, making us closer. 'Trail Blazing' most clearly defines the last two years of our relationship. We really are trail blazing as we navigate through this life together, making our own rules as we go."
"I used to feel a lot of fear in sharing my feelings with my partner. I worried I would come across as too emotional or irrational or otherwise undesirable. So for a long time I would shut down and withdraw during times of hardship. But through my own mindfulness practice I started to realize what I was doing and that by choosing to withdraw, I was only creating more separation and angst between my partner and I.
It started with a pause. If we were in an argument or otherwise emotional conversation and I felt myself beginning to withdraw, I would take a deep breath in and just observe. [...] We started to get better at pausing throughout arguments and actually understanding what the other person felt and why. It made us more kind to each other and more capable of having productive (as opposed to destructive) arguments. It also empowered me. I began to realize that my thoughts and feelings were not my fault; they were simply experiences I was going through. I released judgement of myself and stopped worrying how I might come off to my partner, which was a truly liberating action."
"For me, it came down to trust. The sad fact is, due to past experiences, trust didn't come easily with my husband — I was too cautious. What helped me to overcome that was his loyalty and gentle encouragement. And the fact that I realized we could never have a proper relationship until I was able to let him in. Being vulnerable is hard, but you have to take that risk in order to fully connect with someone. It doesn't always pay off, but when it does, it's worth it."
If opening up and sharing your feelings is challenging for you, it doesn't have to be like that forever. Going to therapy, expressing yourself through art, or even doing some self-reflection can help you become more comfortable with the idea of sharing your feelings with your partner. Being comfortable with it won't happen overnight. But if you're constantly working at it with your partner, you'll notice some really positive changes in your relationship.
Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, founder of Take Root Therapy