Last week I wrote about the importance of using your voice in relationships, and this week I was reminded how challenging that can be! I was chatting with a very wise person recently who ignited my thinking about the challenge of finding words to express ourselves. I have had many people in therapy attempting to convey an experience to me only to say, “I don’t have the words.”
Many people attribute relational challenges to communication, stating “we need to learn how to communicate” and sometimes this means “we need to talk more”, but all too often I experience that people don’t have the words to express what they go through in a relationship. And there are times when we either use ‘hurtful’ words because we don’t have the right words to say what we feel, or we turn to silence because we don’t have the words. Both hurtful words and silence can be harmful to a relationship.
Life is complicated, and it can be challenging to share our experience about our life challenges with our partner. It can be even more challenging to find the words to express to our partner how they affect us. For example, I work with someone who is unhappy at her job. She is the breadwinner in the family. Her husband is very supportive and, for now, he works from home while caring for their two children.
She shared with her husband that she would like to try to get a different job. Her husband encouraged her to stay in her current position; he thought it was a better opportunity for her to move up in the company as she said she wanted to do. She finished her college degree even though she did not enjoy most of the classes, but it made logical sense to go to school because the company paid for her education.
However, she is learning that she is miserable in her job. As we talked, I realized that she needs to have meaning, passion and care in the work that she does in her career. Her current position does not provide this for her. But she did not have ‘these words’ (passion, meaning and care) nor did she recognize how important all of this was to her until our conversation. The only language that she had was that she was ‘stressed and miserable’. Her husband thought that when she moved higher up in the company, she would be happy. She knew that this was not the case, but she did not have the full understanding as to why she was ‘stressed and miserable’ at work. Her husband is very supportive of her and didn’t understand why she was so stressed and unhappy! Well…it was because she didn’t have a complete understanding why she felt as she did and more importantly…she didn’t have the words to express her feelings to her husband.
And this is just one story of the many thousands of stories, experiences, and emotions that all of you (and me) have experienced, struggling to find the self-awareness and appropriate “words” to express yourself to your loved one.
Think of all those times when you had an experience and felt challenged to put it into words. All of us have these experiences. Finding the words as well as the “best” words to express oneself to our partner is often an obstacle to communication. This is important to remember because there may be times when you think that someone does not want to talk with you when the reality might be that they simply do not have the right words to express their thoughts and feelings to you.
So, the question then is, how do we find the words to express our experience and emotions to our partner? Find someone who listens, REALLY listens. Someone who will not impose their thoughts, advice, opinion, and misinterpretation on you. There are times when I need to figure something out, and I will say to my husband “I just need to think out loud”. If someone simply listens to me, I can sort most of it out myself. Of course this is not always true, there are times when I need someone to give me feedback on what it is that they think I am trying to express. But whatever you do, find your words to express your thoughts and feelings!
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Details of the stories told in my blog have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit Renee Barron@flickr.comShare