Express Yourself Are you one that holds back in an argument? Do you always think of something better to say after the fact? This week, Dr. Scott let you in on some little tricks. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
It's diffifcult sometimes to express how you really feel while engaged in an arguement.
Why do I never share my true feeling in an argument?
Not that there’s anything wrong with arguing. All married couple disagree about something. The most common issues that bring about conflict are money, sex, in-laws, housework and the birth of a new baby. These can be very serious concerns. Even on the minor issues, though, things can get very heated.
Sometimes you may find that some very strong feelings creep up, and overpower you. You know what you’re supposed to do when you recognize these feelings: you’ve seen the routine countless times on "Friends," "Dr. Phil" and even the "Jerry Springer Show." You’re supposed to let it all hang out, and make sure your partner knows what’s what.
But things are different when it comes to you; when you reach that point of self-revelation in the argument, you shut down. You don’t speak your piece. And, what’s worse, once the dust is settled, you mentally recap the details of the debate word for word and kick yourself for not saying what you really wanted to say.
People hold back in arguments for a number of reasons. Some people just aren’t good under pressure, and can’t think of what they want to say until the opportunity has passed. Some people were just raised not to talk about their emotions. Other people (men more than women) often don’t really know how to describe the emotions they are feeling. In all these cases, it’s important to recognize that you don’t do things like they do in the movies, and that it may be a good idea for you to set realistic expectations for how you and your partner can accommodate your style of handling conflict.
But there’s another reason why you may be holding your peace, and it’s more worrisome. Some people pull away from saying how they really feel because they do not feel safe talking about their feelings. That should be a big red flag. It may be that your partner gets so upset when you reveal your feelings—either enraged or crushed—that you take on the burden of keeping things from getting ugly. Another scenario is when you reveal your emotions, and sometime later that hour, day, year or century, your mate brings it up against you. In extreme cases, self-revelation leads to extreme defensiveness or aggressiveness by your partner, and you fear for your physical safety.
The key to being heard when it comes to disagreements is to trust your partner. Building trust is no easy task, so here are some ideas for helping you have the kind of conversation where you can really express yourself.
Before you try to get your needs met in a conversation, first make sure your partner feels heard. Once people know that their thoughts are valued, they are much more open to your ideas.
Take responsibility for how you say what you feel. It’s a mistake to think that you have the right to say how you feel in whatever way comes to your mind. Avoid deliberately hurtful jibes or accusations. Just because what you’re thinking is "true," doesn’t mean you should say everything that comes to mind.
Be prepared to stand by your feelings. You have the right to say what you want, but if you hem and haw, you lose your main message. But also…
Be flexible. You should be talking about your emotions in order to stimulate discussion, not shut it down. When you partner wants to address your emotions, be open to his or her response, and allow your feelings to adjust accordingly.
Be ready to come back and patch things up if either of you feels hurt. This requires a genuine wish to heal for both and may entail taking a short break if things get heated.
As you work on being able to open yourself up to your partner, keep the big picture in mind. Being part of a committed relationship means learning how to enter into conflict with the long-term goal of growing together and learning about each other. Becoming comfortable with sharing your feelings, even if it’s during a time of heightened emotions, is an important stepping-stone to a better connection.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com