When your partner can’t hear your emotions

In my family I was the black sheep, the odd one out and they didn’t understand me, I used to question why they thought the way they did. They said I was too sensitive. I was too vulnerable. I used to talk to myself but somehow I knew this behavior wasn’t acceptable to others, so I’d stop the talking as soon as someone else came into the room. I developed the art of hiding my thoughts and feelings as a child. In my head there were a thousand others who would listen to me, but with my family I just expected them to dismiss any expression of emotion as something not important or as annoying or too troublesome.

In my relationships as an adult, I have realized how much I keep my emotions to myself. As a child and young person I was so hurt that not sharing my feelings became a survival technique, which ended up hurting me more than anyone. It was from seeing how much I was drowning in my own hurt that motivated me to change my behavior. Not speaking up is as much a habit as it a character tendency. Some of us may be born with the tendency to keep things close to out chest, but we also learn to keep things close to ourselves because someone else responded really badly in our early experiences of expressing our feelings.
Can you remember a time when you expressed how hurt you were and someone just talked all about themselves with not a word about you? Do you remember a time when you told someone how you felt and they didn’t know what to do and they just ignored what you said? Maybe you remember a time when you shared your feelings with someone and they got angry or rejected you.
All the bizarre and uncomfortable experiences we have when we express our emotions can create crazy judgments in our minds about how and when and why we should tell someone how we feel.

Just this week, I had shared a feeling of sadness and I got two different reactions from friends. One of my friends was saying sorry. And I was thinking, why are you sorry, you didn’t do anything to create the sadness. But that’s what came up for them. Another friend said it was teaching them to be ok with saying you feel sad rather than trying to cover it up. We are programmed to feel we need to have a reaction to another person’s emotion – rather than just feel it without doing anything, except listen to what the person is feeling. We hardly have anyone listen to our emotions, so the first thing we want when we express our feelings is someone to just listen.

If you notice your partner is reacting as if they have to do or say something when you are expressing your feelings, they are coming from their conditioning around expressing emotions. If your partner can’t just be with you without feeling they have to do something – then there is a part of them you are triggering and bringing their awareness to. This part of them is the part that is uncomfortable with feelings or the part of them that feels unable to support others. They may not be aware that’s what you are doing. They may get upset. But anytime your partner is upset, there is something that needs their attention about how they are feeling.

Your partner is more than capable of supporting you, but because they may have had a bad experience in the past with someone else expressing emotions, they may think they are not good. Whenever your partner grew up not able to deal with strong emotions, they are bound to react negatively to hearing your emotions, by withdrawing, deflecting, avoidance, suppression or aggression.

Sometimes your partner misinterprets your emotions due to the tone of voice. We are raised through our culture to hear certain tones and expression and associate them with different emotions. So a family in China will express anger or fear in their voice with a different tone to a family in the USA. Even within certain ethnic regions you will have a difference of expression of emotions. The way you may get angry in the Bronx will have subtle differences to someone in San Diego. It all depends on what tones you are used to growing up with in your environment.

We all grow up to express our emotions differently. And we all grow up with very different reactions to our emotions being expressed.

The first thing to ponder when your partner cannot hear your emotions is: what do you feel? Spend as much time as you can really sitting with this. In the moment, it can be hard to drop everything and just sit with yourself. But if it means not reacting in a huff or saying hurtful words back to your partner, then it’s a lot more productive to sit with what you’re feeling. I’ve even found myself watching a film or playing music that will help me connect to the feeling.

I’m not the kind of person where I know instantly what I’m feeling. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Feelings are like a color wash on a theater stage. In one moment it could be a sunny day on the beach, the next moment is a dark corner of a nightclub. Emotions are like filters that color our lives and they’re not easily expressed in concepts or words. Emotions take time to emerge. So give yourself time to allow them to come to clarity and awareness. Sometimes a talk with a friend will shed some light and sometimes just doing nothing and sitting with yourself will be more effective.

Over your life, when have you found yourself gaining the most clarity around your emotions?

After you have connected to what you’re feeling, imagine what your partner is feeling. This is where you get to turn on your empathy buttons and understand that we are all the same. We either desire to be loved or to love. If you’re feeling an emotion and your partner is not ready to hear it, what could be making it difficult for them to hear you? Try not to intellectualize here, listen to your most immediate first answer. Your first answer is the closest one to your intuition and isn’t likely to come from days of mulling over why your partner is not available for you. The less you judge your partner, the less anger and unresolved feelings you will create. Its best to focus 90% of your energy on what your feeling and about 10% on what conditions could influence your partner’s ability to hear you.

In order to be heard, really heard, you first have to listen to yourself. Then you get more clarity on your insecurities, fears, what you need and want and what the actual emotion is. Your partner will be able to do so much more for you when you have got a greater sense of what you are feeling and you are not projecting your fear onto them that they cannot be available to you.
Its too easy to blame your partner for not being there for you because you have not given yourself the time to really listen to what’s going on inside of you. Over time, the more you listen to yourself, the more you will become skilled at sensing when it’s the right time to share your feelings and when its time to sit with your feelings and listen – really listen to yourself. The words to express your feelings will come from a more authentic, pure and beautiful space when you have truly felt what’s inside you.