Expressing our feelings to one another is a cornerstone of successful relating. But it is not always easy to do – especially in a constructive manner. Few of us were shown in childhood how to express emotions in healthy ways. Some of us were discouraged from admitting that we even had feelings. Boys were often told not to cry or show fear, and girls were told that anger was not “ladylike.”

Over time, we may have learned to hold back certain of our feelings. We may now have trouble knowing how or when to express them. It may never seem to be the right time to talk. We may not report feelings at all, even when asked. On the other hand, we may express our feelings in ways that, at best, don’t get us what we really want – or, at worst, create even more turmoil. We explode if we’re angry, shut down if we’re hurt, or grasp if we feel afraid.

In healthy relating, it is vital that you express your feelings to one another. Feelings are signals. Not sharing feelings is like driving at night without lights. Nobody knows if someone might suddenly stop, turn, or back up. Nobody even knows where anyone else is!

Telling each other what you feel gives vital feedback about what’s going on in the relationship. If one of you is angry, hurt, or afraid, you need to report it. And you need to report it in such a way that your partner will be able to hear you without becoming defensive, closed off, or reactive.

The card EXPRESSION asks you to pay attention to how you express your feelings. Reporting feelings is a skill that can be learned and refined. The most important thing in reporting feelings is to do it in a constructive way.

What is constructive is determined by the listener – not by you! For example, if your partner closes off when yelled at, then yelling is not going to be constructive! If your feelings are intense, sometimes it’s best to take time out to process them yourself, instead of expressing them right away. Get some breathing room first. Perhaps talk to a friend – or write about what you feel. When you come back to your partner, you may be able to communicate better.

In sharing feelings, it is often best if one partner reports and the other listens, rather than both sharing at once. When it’s your turn to share, contact your true intention. Is it to dump your feelings and hurt your partner – or to share things that can benefit your relationship and promote understanding?

It is helpful to state how you feel in simple terms – “I feel unhappy,” “I feel afraid,” “I feel angry.” Use the word “I” – and beware of the word “you.” Keep it short. No judgments. No blame. No analysis. No statements like “I feel you are aloof” or “You make me angry because you are lazy.” Never make your partner out to be the cause of how you feel.

Report feelings because it is important to tell your partner what’s going on for you, not to try to get them to take care of your feelings. As the listener, respect a feeling by simply being present with it, rather than trying to fix or change it. This card asks you to develop constructive ways to express your feelings. In doing so, you truly honor your feelings – because you give their message the greatest chance to be heard.