In the world of dating, we tend to look for partners with brains, kindness, and attractiveness—the usual. But another quality might be just as important if you’re looking for a long-term, healthy relationship: “emotional fluency.”
In a recent interview with Science of Us, therapist Brian Gleason (and co-author, with his wife, of Exceptional Relationships: Transformation Through Embodied Couples Work) discusses the importance of voicing your emotions with your partner (which he dubs emotional fluency).
One of the biggest reasons couples have trouble is because they have not developed emotional fluency, he says.
“We’re just not trained to speak in emotional language,” says Gleason. Good news: He says it’s a skill we can improve. “The more [feelings] that we’re able to put into some sort of language and convey it to our partner—that these are my inner experiences right now—the more empathy there is in the relationship.”
What happens when you aren’t open about your emotions? Most people—when they’re stressed, angry, or sad—tend to withdraw and perhaps glue their eyes to their phone, shutting off from the rest of the world (including your partner), Gleason says. Sound familiar? (Guilty.)
“The less I can say, this is my inner experience, the more my partner is going to be reacting to [just] my outer behavior, oftentimes with judgment and frustration,” says Gleason.
By explaining your particular 4-1-1 du jour in a direct way, you’re giving your partner what he or she needs in order to react with affirmations, advice, and other positive reinforcements.
In other words, as mom always said: Use your words! If you do, it can bring you closer together, instead of creating conflict, Gleason says.
Having an a-ha moment? The next time you’re stressed or angry, try to close Instagram and talk about it with your partner instead (could be easier said than done, but worth a try).
Originally published on June 30, 2016. Updated on September 15, 2018.
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