Monday 14 February, 2022

7 Steps to Sharing Your Feelings With Your Partner During Cancer

Maya Maria Brown, M.A. Counseling Psychology, is an international mental health professional. She is a full-time Relationship Expert at Coupleness, helping couples form healthy habits for their relationships.

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Ideas and tips for how to make room for your feelings and connect with your partner when going through cancer

Summary
Sharing our feelings can help us have stronger relationships.
There are 7 steps you can take to improve your relationship to your own feelings, and share your feelings with your partner.

This article is written in collaboration with Coupleness.

Why should we share our feelings?

Whether we like it or not, we all have feelings, and they affect nearly everything we do. Check out our article about understanding feelings to learn more about what feelings are and why they matter.

But understanding our feelings is one thing – sharing is another. But sharing our feelings with our partner is one way we can cultivate closeness and connection, build trust, and experience more intimacy in our relationships.

Research shows that learning there are concrete steps we can take when it comes to our feelings in order to happily and healthily navigate our relationships.

The seven steps below are informed in part by RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

1. Feel your feelings

Many of us have blockages that prevent us from actually feeling the emotions that our bodies are trying to go through. Going through cancer and not wanting to open the floodgates of our negative feelings is an understandable block. Yet these barriers stop us from connecting with ourselves and other people, and the feelings and emotions we don’t feel end up presenting themselves in other ways (built-up anger, chronic pain, trouble sleeping, digestive issues, etc.). Creating spaces that feel safe enough for us to feel our feelings is a great first step to lowering those blockages.

Practical examples:

  • Take time alone and let yourself cry, move, be still, yell, sing, dance, etc.
  • Ask someone you trust to just be with you, nonjudgmentally
  • Schedule a session with a therapist or doctor with the intent of connecting with your feelings
  • Set a timer (maybe 30 minutes) and put on a playlist that brings out your feelings. When the timer goes off, shake your body to shake through your feelings, and re-enter your daily life.

2. Be aware that you’re having a feeling

It’s easy sometimes to not be aware that we’re having a feeling. Maybe someone else points out to us that we’re clenching our fists tightly, or we have a facial expression that looks like something is bothering us. Even if you’re feeling a feeling, it doesn’t mean that you’re aware of it. We can learn how to recognize our body’s cues that tell us that we’re having a feeling. If we don’t, we’ll be emoting all over the place without any explanation or accountability for the impact our feelings are having on other people.

Practical examples:

  • Pick a few times throughout the day when you’ll stop what you’re doing, take 10 deep breaths, and notice what is happening in your body.
  • When you realize you are feeling something emotionally, ask yourself where in your body you are feeling that emotion (e.g. stress = shoulder tension, nervous = unsettled stomach, disappointment = lump in throat, etc.)

3. Identify and name your feelings

This is where we work on our emotional granularity. A great first step is to be able to identify our feelings with broad brush strokes – sad, happy, angry, scared. But we can then learn to feel and understand the nuances and intricacies of our feelings day-to-day, and develop our emotional vocabulary to more accurately identify what we’re really feeling. Without this, we are clumping together our experiences and are unable to be articulate when it comes to understanding and expressing our inner worlds.

Practical examples:

  • Use a tool like the mood meter or the Coupleness daily tracker to explore different words for different feelings.
  • Use a thesaurus to find similar words to the clumped feeling you are having.

4. Understand your feeling’s context

A lot of us default to assuming that a feeling we’re having is 100% a direct result of our immediate surroundings and circumstances. Maybe your partner pokes fun at your new hat, and you feel a wave of hurt and rage take over. Those feelings do not result only from that one joke. They are informed by the fact that you had a frustrating day at work, you felt disconnected with your partner for the past few days, memories of times you were made fun of for your clothes in school, how excited you were about your new hat, and more. If we don’t reflect on the deeper sources of our feelings – identifying different things that have affected us and led to this feeling – we might end up blaming our partner for things that are actually much older, and unrelated, to our partner.

Practical examples:

  • After you’ve had a strong feeling (this might be difficult when you’re in the feeling fully), draw a circle on a piece of paper and make a pie chart, estimating how much of that feeling came from different sources (e.g. 20% stressful work, 15% childhood memories, 35% hunger, 30% what your partner said to you).
  • Make a list of feelings you had often when you were growing up, so the next time you feel one of those feelings, you can consider if those childhood versions of the feelings are being activated as well.

5. Share your feelings

This is about communicating our feelings with our partner. This includes not only sharing our emotional vocabulary and the context of our feelings, but also creating the circumstances we need to be able to share and be heard. Choosing the when and where we share is key, and getting consent from our partner that they’re ready for us to share can help set the tone for a positive sharing experience. If we don’t learn how to share our feelings well, we’ll have a high wall between us and our partner and will have trouble communicating about anything at all.

Practical examples:

  • Use the app Coupleness to practice sharing your feelings with your partner in an app, which can be less scary than a face-to-face conversation.
  • You and your partner can practice listening to how you each feel without jumping in to change, “correct” or comment on the other person’s feeling.
  • Practice active listening techniques, like repeating back what you hear the other person saying, saying things like, “I understand why you feel that way,” and maintaining eye contact and open body language.
  • Practice nonviolent communication, which can help both people feel balanced and validated when sharing feelings.

6. Express your needs and boundaries

Sometimes, there are things we need – or don’t need – when we have certain feelings. We might need space, or comfort. We might want to talk about it, or not talk about it at all. Being able to identify and express our needs about our feelings can be crucial for our relationship. If we don’t, then our partner might not know how to best support us, and might end up making things worse. We might not always get what we need, and can feel disrespected or misunderstood. Yet we can respect our partner and their own needs and boundaries, even if they don’t align with ours.

Practical examples:

  • You can start by asking yourself, “What do I need?” before trying to communicate with your partner. We often don’t even get that far.
  • Make a list of feelings that you feel regularly, and for each one, identify 2-3 things that you usually want or need when you have those feelings. This can serve as a sort of “cheat sheet” for your feelings. You can choose to share it with your partner, or not.
  • With your partner, practice asking for something and the other person saying “no” with something emotionally neutral. Things like, “Can you do 500 jumping jacks please?” “No, that’s not something I can do right now.” If you can get more comfortable making asks and setting boundaries with silly things, you’ll be practiced for when more difficult things arise.

7. Manage and cope with your feelings

Sometimes, there are things we need – or don’t need – when we have certain feelings. We might need space, or comfort. We might want to talk about it, or not talk about it at all. Being able to identify and express our needs about our feelings can be crucial for our relationship. If we don’t, then our partner might not know how to best support us, and might end up making things worse. We might not always get what we need, and can feel disrespected or misunderstood. Yet we can respect our partner and their own needs and boundaries, even if they don’t align with ours.

Practical examples:

  • You can start by asking yourself, “What do I need?” before trying to communicate with your partner. We often don’t even get that far.
  • Make a list of feelings that you feel regularly, and for each one, identify 2-3 things that you usually want or need when you have those feelings. This can serve as a sort of “cheat sheet” for your feelings. You can choose to share it with your partner, or not.
  • With your partner, practice asking for something and the other person saying “no” with something emotionally neutral. Things like, “Can you do 500 jumping jacks please?” “No, that’s not something I can do right now.” If you can get more comfortable making asks and setting boundaries with silly things, you’ll be practiced for when more difficult things arise.

Want more support in this area? Here’s more about how to express your feelings and knowing where they come from. Or, download the Coupleness app to better connect with your partner on a daily basis.

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