Expressing upset feelings like anger, sadness, hurt, or fear presents a dilemma. On the one hand, sharing them is vital to the health of your relationship. It allows both of you to see and deal with what is really going on. But, on the other hand, expressing such feelings could set off a counterreaction in your partner. They might become hurt, afraid, or defensive and then attack back, withdraw, or shut down – leading to a downward spiral of further reactions and upset feelings.
While expressing feelings may stir things up, suppressing them is not the solution. Avoiding anger does not create true harmony. Withholding hurt won’t heal the pain. Feelings are a basic part of our human anatomy, and, as such, each serves an important purpose. Emotions act like the indicator lights on your car. Upset feelings signal that something isn’t working for you in a given situation – for instance, that your boundaries are being violated, that you are being pushed into a corner, or that you aren’t getting what you really need.
As in using your signals when driving, it is important to give your partner clear messages about what is going on for you emotionally. Not to do so leaves them in the dark. As in driving, this can lead to unfortunate results: They won’t get the information they need to be able to respond to you. But just as important as giving a message is communicating it in a way that will be constructive. If you feel a strong urge to pass a car, it’s far more constructive to flash your brights at a distance than it is to tailgate and ram into them!
It is the behavior used to express a feeling that is usually problematic – not the feeling itself. The card CONTAINMENT asks you to pay attention to how you express your feelings, so that your true message gets delivered in an appropriate and constructive way. In the heat of emotion, we often react in ways we later regret – yelling, grasping, blaming, judging, name-calling, or running away. Such reactions only disturb a partnership and keep us from communicating our real needs.
The card CONTAINMENT suggests that it’s often fruitful to contain your feelings before expressing them. If you are on the verge of reacting, you may need to leave the situation. It may be wise to spend time apart to process your emotions, rather than dumping them raw onto your partner. Do this alone or with a friend who is able to just listen.
Containment is going within yourself to fully experience whatever you feel. It is neither suppressing nor acting out your feelings. In containment, you are not concerned with who to blame for what you are feeling. You are instead concerned with feeling it fully – yourself. In doing so, healing can happen. You may also get more clear about what message you actually need to share with your partner.
In expressing feelings, it’s your job to speak in a way that your partner can hear. Yelling may feel good in the moment, but unless your partner likes being yelled at, it won’t get your message heard. Through containing feelings, you honor them. Containment allows you to take the time to sort out within yourself what your true message is. It allows you to grasp what your feelings are really saying – and clarify how to deliver that message to your partner in the most constructive way.
Get the effective coaching you need for lasting relationship change. Learn about our couples retreats and marriage retreats »