We cannot expect our loved ones to guess what is going on inside our minds. This makes expressing our own feelings in a non-judgmental or blaming way critical to healthy relationships. Blame can be a quick route to arguments and resentment. Here are five tips for how to start expressing yourself with loved ones without blame:
1. Understand your emotions – before discussing our feelings with someone else, we must first understand them. Put a name to the emotions that you’re feeling. If you find that your main feelings are “mad” or “angry,” give yourself time to calm down before you attempt to have a discussion so that you can talk openly without anger with your loved one (Heitler, 2013). Further, think about what changes could improve the situation, from your point of view so that you have a good understanding of what you feel as well as how to start to mend any issues (Vilhauer, 2016).
2. Pick the right time – make sure that you both have time to talk, schedule time if you need to, but make sure that you don’t wait too long. We want to talk about things to resolve them, instead of bottling-up our feelings. Addressing problems as they arise, rather than letting them become too big to discuss in one sitting helps us stay focused on one issue at a time, and have open conversations with loved ones (Lisitsa, 2013).
3. State your feelings and solutions – emotions are not right or wrong but coping with them is exclusively the responsibility of the person feeling the emotion (Heitler, 2013; Payne, 2017). This means that nobody else can control how we feel individually, so when one person feels blamed by another, it can lead to conflict. To avoid blame, use “I feel…” statements (e.g., “I feel sad” or “I feel lonely”) to own your feelings. Stating our emotions directly in this way, without justification about why we feel that way, can make us feel vulnerable. However, it leaves the door open for loved ones to engage with us and enter into a conversation where both people are active participants. Avoid “You make me feel…” statements which can sound like accusations and lead to defensiveness (Vilhauer, 2016).
4. Avoid accusations and opinions – be careful to express what you’re really feeling and don’t confuse those feelings with your thoughts or opinions. It can often be hard to tell them apart. If you find yourself saying, “I feel that” or “I feel like” what you’re about to say is probably an opinion or thought masquerading as an emotion. When we present our opinions as emotions, agreement between people with differing opinions becomes harder to reach and opportunities to have open conversations with loved ones are minimized (Vilhaurer, 2016; Bernstein, 2018).
5. Bring Solutions and Listen – present your ideas for how to improve the situation. Focusing on solutions and validating both parties’ feelings can help people feel less defensive (Vilhauer, 2016). Some solutions will be best created together with open communication. Tell your loved one what you need, give them an opportunity to express their needs, validate each other’s feelings, and work on solutions to meet those needs together. Approach the conversation with the goal of making sure what you are feeling is clearly expressed, and you will be able to talk more openly with your loved one, without blame (Payne, 2017). “Problem-solving together makes negative feelings lift” (Heitler, 2013).
Rather than being afraid of expressing our feelings with loved ones, we can choose to look at these moments as opportunities to increase connection. Starting with gentle and non-blaming strategies, like the ones above, can help us do just that.
Bernstein, M. (2018). “I feel that…,” “I feel like”: Problems big and small. ETC: A Review of General Semantics. 75(3/4), 463-465.
Heitler, S. (2013, May 23). How to express feelings…and how not to. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201305/how-express-feelings-and-how-not
Lisitsa, E. (2013, March 15). How to fight smarter: Soften your start-up. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/softening-startup/
Payne, M. (2017). How to communicate anger without blaming. MarciPayne.com. Retrieved from https://marcipayne.com/communicate-anger-without-blaming/
Vilhauer, J. (2016, September 17). 3 ways to speak up without starting a fight. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-forward/201609/3-ways-speak-without-starting-fight
By Chapel Taylor-Olsen and Ashley Yaugher, PhD
Categories: Relationships & Marriage