Relationship Tips

Relationships Struggle When Partners Lack Emotional Integrity—Here Are 4 Ways To Boost Yours

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While communication is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship, being mindful of what you’re communicating is also crucial to consider. Even if someone is talking with you, if they're not authentically sharing what's happening in their head, real connection can be tough to strike. However, when someone is honest with themselves about their feelings and fair in sharing them, mental health experts say that person has emotional integrity, which is a key component for healthy connection. And, in fact, the absence of it less than ideal.

When integrity—characterized by being honest, complete, and adhering to a moral value system—is paired with the concept of emotions, we're left with the concept of emotional integrity. “Emotional integrity is being true to yourself,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Karla Zambrano-Morrison, LMFT. “A person who has emotional integrity will identify what their feelings are and make them well known to other people. That way, their actions and how they carry themselves matches what the person is feeling on the inside.”

Because open, honest, and intentional communication is such an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship, someone lacking emotional integrity may find it difficult to build that, says psychologist Paulette Sherman, PsyD, author of Dating From the Inside Out and host of The Love Psychologist podcast.

“It’s hard to be intimate with someone who won’t share, or even acknowledge, their true feelings.” —psychologist Paulette Sherman, PsyD

“It’s hard to be intimate with someone who won’t share or even acknowledge their true feelings,” says Dr. Sherman. She adds that folks with low emotional integrity might often say, ‘I don’t know,’ when you ask them what they’re feeling or what they want, which can make it “hard to make authentic choices [and] to make progress as partners.” When someone says they don’t know what they’re feeling, but they know it’s not good, there may be a lack of honesty present, which might ultimately make trusting your partner trickier, says Dr. Sherman.

That said, a lacking of emotional integrity may not be coming from a malicious place. “In some cases, it might just be that they’re unaware of emotions—perhaps because feelings were not acknowledged in childhood and, therefore, they never learned to identify them or express them safely,” says Zambrano-Morrison.

All that said, and regardless of the root cause, to have the best relationships possible, it may be wise for folks to tap ways that help increase their emotional integrity—which is certainly possible.

4 tips for upping your emotional integrity game

1. Talk to a professional

If you opt to see a therapist, Dr. Sherman says you should make it a point to focus “on understanding [your] feelings and desires on a regular basis” for full benefits.

A therapist can also point out when you might be shutting down instead of properly communicating. That self-awareness can work wonders for your emotional integrity levels. It can help you “begin to identify and express [negative emotions] more directly in relationships,” adds Dr. Sherman.

2. Use a feelings wheel or chart

If therapy isn't an option or best fit for you right now, you can still work toward identifying your feelings and then sharing them with others. “Try using a feelings chart to help,” Zambrano-Morrison says. “You'd be surprised how many more feelings there are than just happy, sad, and angry.” When you’re aware of what to name feelings, it can become easier to identify them within yourself.

From there, Zambrano-Morrison says you should allow yourself the space to actually feel those feelings, “even if it's uncomfortable and painful, [because] it will slowly become easier to get through the painful feelings once you face them.” This may, in turn, be useful when you want to share your honest feelings with others.

3. Try to honestly communicate a range of feelings

While there's certainly something to be said about the joy people experience when they share happy feelings with others, it's also important to communicate when you may not be feeling your best. To be sure, Dr. Sherman says you should be honest, “even when this means engaging in vulnerable or difficult conversations.” It's also critical not to lie or engage in conflicting behavior, says Dr. Sherman, because doing one thing when you said another may be confusing to your partner.

4. Identify how you react in conflict

Taking a look at your defensive styles, which are ways people protect themselves against previously experienced dangers, can also be helpful in boosting emotional maturity. “For example,” says Dr. Sherman, “if someone is passive-aggressive, they may pretend they aren’t angry—and then subconsciously do things to upset their partner, so that their partner will act out their anger instead.”

Once you know how you react when you’re not feeling your best, Dr. Sherman suggests talking to your partner about what they experience when you, um, lash out. “Then, you can identify some goals and journal about your progress to make this more conscious. You can try to take more emotional risks with your partner and see how it goes.”

Perhaps you’ll talk to them about how you’re feeling in terms of work, family, or the relationship itself. As long as you’re identifying what you’re feeling and openly communicating that to your partner (or whomever, honestly), you’re well on your way to boosting your emotional integrity.

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