3 main reasons you can’t express your feelings.

And what to do about it.

  1. You have not seen effective communication in action.

    Your parents or grandparents probably did not communicate directly about how they felt about things. They communicated of course. Indirectly. They probably showed things with their actions rather than expressing things directly with words. As a result, you have learned to deal with uncomfortable feelings by keeping them inside. You hope that they will go away. Sometimes they do. The relief gives you temporary reinforcement of your position – avoidance is the best strategy. Sooner or later, the feelings accumulate inside you and… you overreact.

    You are surprised why you raised your voice or why you shut down and withdrew. Your reaction is disproportionate to the trigger – that is why you are surprised. You cannot express that surprise of course because that is the part of the original issue – you have a hard time expressing your feelings! You soldier on. Until the next time.

    Life becomes a pattern of “taking it” and “overreacting”. Longer stretches of taking it. Shorter bursts of overreacting.

  2. You use exits or escapes.

    In simple words, an exit or an escape is a way to act out your feelings rather than putting them into words. It is easier to stay late at work than to tell your wife that you feel unhappy when your walk through the front door. You do not want to say it to her directly because it will start a difficult conversation. That conversation will quickly turn into an argument. The argument will turn into a fight. The fight will turn into silent treatment. Things will get worse rather than better.

    So what do you do? You keep the feeling inside. Why? Probably because you never learned effective communication growing up. That is the vicious cycle. It is so much easier, in the moment, to stay late at work and avoid all the pain and the drama. Slowly, the energy goes outside of the relationship. For a functional relationship, you need to draw your energy back into the marriage.

  3. You developed an identity of being overly stoic.

    Maybe your father was stoic. Maybe your mother. Was it a grandparent who raised you? Someone significant in your life was overly stoic. There are many benefits of being stoic. You can regulate your emotions well. You can do well at work. You probably act well in short term stressful environments. When you overuse this strategy, you over-regulate your feelings. Eventually, you stop being aware of the feelings. You end up suppressing them rather than regulating.

Those are the main reasons you have a hard time expressing your feelings to your significant other. As a result of the above, you develop fear of expressing how you truly feel. You anticipate a negative experience. Then you use an escape or simply take it by being stoic. That gives you a relief. The behaviour is reinforced. The vicious cycle.

What can you do about it?

As with any other issue, there is a do-it-yourself solution and a professional solution. A professional solution is psychotherapy. A do-it-yourself is described below:

Do a simple experiment. Next time you notice an escape or an exit, ask yourself “If I sat down with my partner, what would I say to them?” Think in general. Do not get stuck in a tunnel vision of a recent argument or fight. How do you feel in the relationship in general? Are you content? Are you generally dissatisfied?

Write it down. If you are generally satisfied but discontent with something specific, write “I am generally satisfied in the relationship. I am discontent with this particular issue”. Then experiment approaching your partner differently than before. Ask them to sit down to talk in a regular calm voice. Hopefully they go along. Then say something like “I would like to talk about how I feel in our relationship. Would you be willing to listen?” They will probably oblige. You will probably feel awkward. Use your stoicism to take it and still continue. You’ll live!

Then say “Overall, I am happy being with you. I sometimes struggle expressing how I feel about things. There is one thing I want to discuss though…” Then simply describe the issue as you see it and state what would make you happier. For example: “I would like to discuss and maybe renegotiate how we run this household together. I am not really involved in the day-to-day decision making to my satisfaction…” You just expressed your feelings in a straightforward manner! Whether your partner reacts positively or negatively to that style of communication is less relevant for the experiment. The point is that you did it. Instead of being stoic or escaping, you expressed yourself directly. Hopefully, a productive dialogue follows.

If you cannot do the above experiment and you still want to work on expressing your feelings, I would recommend talking to a therapist about the underlying issues that may be preventing you from doing it.