An abundance of research demonstrates the association between emotion skills and relationship satisfaction. Emotion skills can be defined as the ability to identify, manage, and express emotions. Emotion skills offer the ability to genuinely express your emotions, identify with your partner’s emotions, and to improve one’s ability to tolerate distress.
Emotions cannot damage relationships; rather, emotional expression can be helpful (via promoting connection) or harmful (via promoting distance). Lack of emotional expression decreases ability to be genuine with self and others. Research shows that interactions with others unable to self-regulate causes stress. Likewise, people unable to use healthy patterns of emotion regulation find close relationships to be uncomfortable, and they avoid such relationships.
If you have ever told your partner, “at least…,” “it could have been worse,” or “look at the bright side” following their expression of pain, you might benefit from increased emotional skillfulness. Though rooted in good intentions, these types of expressions minimize pain and turn others off to continued expression. Those truly comfortable tolerating their partner’s pain might respond with an invitation, such as, “that sounds painful, can you tell me more about that?” Other types of unhealthy expressions of emotions (aggression, avoidance) can trigger opposition from others, increasing interpersonal conflict and decreasing interpersonal support.
If you’d like to start increasing your emotion skills, consider self-disclosure, “I feel” statements, use of feelings words, perspective taking, reflections, identifying one thing you can empathize with, and validate. Invite your partner into emotional conversations and into an improved relationship.
Article by Dr. Catherine Asber-Lowrey, Psy.D.
“The discomfort and fear of remaining emotionally vulnerable and engaged tempts me to find the familiar comfort of isolation and managing on my own.” – Dr. Marcus Earle, PCS Clinical Director