People Have Trouble Identifying When Their Partners Are Lonely Or Sad, Study Finds

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If you feel like your partner doesn't understand your feelings, you're not alone. As a new study published in the journal, Family Process, found, people actually have a hard time knowing when their partner is feeling low. If not dealt with properly, it could be really harmful for your relationship.

The study looked at 51 couples who completed daily diaries on their mood and their partner's mood for seven straight days. While anger and happiness are pretty easy to pick up, researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas found that couples have a more difficult time reading "soft negative" emotions like sadness or loneliness. In other words, it's those occasional moments throughout the week when you're just in a funk.

The thinking is, your partner is typically your primary source of social support. So even if a negative mood isn't related to the relationship at all, it can still have negative effects. For instance, if your partner can't pick up on the little things, it can leave you feeling like they don't care or you don't matter without them realizing it.

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Researchers pinpoint the problem to people just assuming they know what their partner is feeling. But as relationship coach and counselor, Kim Leatherdale, LPC, tells Bustle, there are actually four common reasons as to why it's hard for someone to pick up on their partner's negative emotions:

  • They may mistake the negative feeling for something it isn't (i.e. they think you're angry when you're just really sad).
  • They become afraid or get overwhelmed by any type of negative emotion.
  • They don't know what to do about negative emotions.
  • They can't pick up on subtle cues of emotions and can only react when expressions are extreme.

It may all boil down to emotional intelligence, which is learned in childhood. "If someone does not see emotions modeled in a healthy way by parents and caregivers, they don't learn to deal with the whole range of feelings," Leatherdale says. "If a child is not allowed the whole range of emotions then they can't identify them in themselves or others as they grow older."

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If you want to help your partner better understand your feelings, here's what experts say you can do:

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1Let Them Know Empathy Is Important To You

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"Unfortunately, to those who aren't emotionally in touch, empathy looks trite and meaningless," Leatherdale says. But according to her, empathy isn't about saying, I feel your pain. It's more like, I see you, I hear you, I get what you're saying and feeling. Those words don't even need to be said out loud.

"It helps to let your partner know empathy has a meaning for you and to show them what different forms empathy can take from a hug to letting you know they believe in you," she says.

2Let Your Partner Know What You Need In The Moment

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"If you are not feeling seen or heard or understood in your relationship at that time, the best thing to do is to have an open and honest conversation with you partner about how you are feeling and what you need from them," relationship counselor, Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, tells Bustle. Many times, people do want to be helpful, but they just don’t know how. So if you're feeling sad and you need a hug, let your partner know that.

"Open and honest communication is key, but it also depends on you to know how you’re feeling and what would make you feel better in that moment," she says.

3Have Weekly Check-Ins

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"Setting aside time each week to check in with the other person about how things are going and to brainstorm alternatives can go a long way," Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Theresa Herring, tells Bustle. "It's about the two of you working together and being partners."

This problem isn't something just you or your partner can fix alone, researchers in the Southern Methodist University study said. Both partners need to do their parts. One of you shouldn't always have to ask the other how they're feeling every single time they notice something different, and it's important you each open up and let the other one know how you're feeling, too. After all, communication is a two-way street — even when one of you is feeling down.

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