How to Express Your Feelings in a Respectful Way

woman-arguing-with-her-partnerPeople often tell me that they have problems maintaining calm and respectful communication with their partner even though they intended to. They start out fine, but can’t follow through when their partner responds in disrespectful or angry ways. Some of these couples need the presence of an experienced couples therapist to be able to maintain calm and repair disruptions.

This article offers a communication model that outlines how to practice maintaining communication regarding how you feel in an honest and open way while keeping your calm. This is not about feeling good or even comfortable. This is about practicing staying calm even though you feel hurt and angry.

The rationale for this is having a fuller understanding of each other’s perspectives. Feeling angry doesn’t necessarily mean that you are bound to break up. It means that there is something you need to take care of.

If you manage to find solutions together, you will feel closer, safer, and understood on a deeper level. Imagine explaining to your partner that you are hurt and angry in a calm way. Also, imagine that your partner is able to hear you and respond in a loving way.

Because it is easier to express positive feelings and talk about what’s right in your relationship, I will recommend that you start with five positive statements about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. Build from the following, if you like:

  1. What do you love about your partner?
  2. What do you love about the relationship?
  3. What is most important to you?
  4. Give a concrete example of what makes you feel loved.
  5. Give a concrete example of what you look forward to.

Expressing your love, appreciation, and willingness to stay connected and find solutions together is essential for your partner’s willingness to hear you out and consider your requests and proposed solutions to problems you are having.

Expressing feelings of frustration, anger, fear, and sadness is a lot harder and takes some consideration. If you are able to stay calm and collected while you talk about your feelings, your chances of staying on track are higher. If you avoid blaming your partner and instead talk about what you feel, think, and what is important to you and why, it is more likely that your partner will respond positively.

Try to make it easier for your partner to listen to you and refrain from interrupting you and subsequently defending herself/himself. Try to make your statements more about yourself than about your partner. This is probably one of the hardest things to do. Self-expression is about defining yourself and what is most important to you, which is not easy when you are feeling upset and hurt.

It is natural in a relationship to feel at times that the other person is to blame. However, if you consider the matter, you will become aware that you have a responsibility for your own responses and reactions, and how you function as a partner has an influence on the relationship. Your feelings are your own, and to blame others for them is not conductive for your individual or relationship growth.

Before you start expressing feelings of anger and hurt, I recommend that you think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Consider the following:

  1. What are your feelings? Do you feel angry, hurt, sad, scared, lonely, jealous, guilty, etc.?
  2. Give concrete examples such as, “I feel scared when you don’t call.”
  3. Focus more on what you feel, think, and want, not on your partner’s shortcomings. “I feel lonely and I miss what we used to do together.”
  4. Tell your partner why it is important to you that you honestly and openly express your feelings. Make sure you explain that self-expression goes both ways, and that it takes courage to talk about feeling vulnerable. Showing vulnerabilities is a sign of strength, and talking openly and honestly about how you feel is not a weakness.
  5. Be mindful of how you express yourself. Tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and eye contact are more important than most people think. Most of what you actually communicate to your partner has to do with how you communicate.
  6. Be open and explicit about your intentions for having the conversation.
  7. Make sure you are not having this conversation to get back at your partner. If you are very angry, you might feel vengeful. If that is the case, calm yourself and consider what is most important to you and what kind of partner you would like to be.

Don’t expect immediate success. Self-expression is a skill which takes practice to master. Ask for professional help if you need to.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • julian

    July 17th, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    This is a very difficult task when both partners are not willing to reciprocate respect toward one another. I will give you an example. I am not bragging but I think that most others would find that I have a fairly calm demeanor, except my wife that is. When something comes up and I try to broach the subject with her she immediately goes on the defnsive which then brings me to lose my cool. This is not my usual MO but she brings out the very worst in me, I hate to say, when it comes to talking things through. Even when I have tried to talk to her about how this little thing of hers makes me even crazier, well let’s just say that doesn’t go over too well either. All in all, things pretty quickly deteriorate until we aren’t speaking for several days. What starts out as an honest effort on my part really turns into quite the challenge for both of us. I fear that this is going to lead to larger problems somewhere down the road, but again, getting her to talk about it without turning into WWIII seems next to impossible. #frustratedhubby

  • Kathy Morelli,LPC

    July 17th, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Hi Irene this is a great list of caring, grounded questions for couples to ask each other, nice work, Warmly, Kathy

  • Louise

    July 18th, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    Many times in the heat of the moment it is very seductive to focus only on what you think is right. . . not remembering that this is how you see things and not necessarily the way that someone else is experiencing the same exact thing.

    This is a great time to learn about yourself and your partner. Try to see the moment from their perspective, and I think that a respectful partner will take this chance to learn something about someone in their life who is obviously quite important. If you make it all about you all the time, then there is nothing to learn from that other than just how narcissistic you could be.

  • Rosa

    July 20th, 2013 at 2:32 AM

    The thoughts i have and the way i react are completely different when i am angry compared to when i am not.this is something i am sure a lot of people have a problem with and dealing with it is the biggest challenge.i am yet to find a single method that works well to dissipate the anger in me.

  • Isobel

    July 20th, 2013 at 6:09 AM

    You have to remember that there are always going to be those people who have to be right, and there is no way that you are going to get any respect from them as long as you are being disagreeable. And the only way that they like you is for you to give in to what they think, and not allow you to have any thoughts of your own. If you are with someone who demeans you like this, then I suggest turning around and going the other way. This is not someone who is going to be healthy for you to be involved with.

  • reena

    September 6th, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    I used to keep quiet whenever my husband start to scream etc. After 10 years, or perhaps as earlyas in my 7th year, I started to yell back to him. He is a softspoken guy but his abusive language is intolerable no more.

    And.. yeah, currently I have no other way of expression but yelling to him and my daughters. It is frustrating but I cannot contain my frustration, the hurt feeling he has caused from his abusive words to me.

    I know this is not healthy as my daughters (10 & 7) are yelling at me as well… but not to my husband.

    So… I decided to communicate less with everyone in the house, rather have longer working hours and trying to figure out whether to stay in this marriage, and looking for a reason to hold on.

  • Katherine

    September 7th, 2013 at 2:30 AM

    I have learned that talking about your feelings are good for you. Listening to soft music when I get upset. Going for walks on nice days and listen to the birds sing. One thing they don’t worry about what people think. I have enjoyed this site very helpful.

  • irenesavarese

    September 9th, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Communicating less to avoid conflict is often what happens after years of hostility and hurt feelings. Neither hostility nor avoidance is the right answer. Assertive expression of thoughts and feeling is always more constructive.
    reena, have you tried showing your husband these articles and talk about how you feel at a time where you are able to stay calm?
    Many people tell me that their biggest problem is that they can’t stay calm. However, the benefits of practicing staying calm when you are upset are huge for you personally and in your important relationships; with your partner, parents, children, etc.
    Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • Mike

    June 27th, 2019 at 5:04 AM

    We have been married over 40 years. There was no physical or verbal abuse even though early on I drank almost every night. There was no communication, she tried. Then later on, I tried to open communication. She had become exhausted trying earlier so there was still no real communication. Then, for a period over 5 years, I had a series of affairs, hurting not only her but the women who were involved. This stopped ten years ago, I DO truly love my wife. Since then, I’ve done everything I could think of to make her happy. She has control over the finances. This is where the problem comes in. I have to ask to spend even a small amount ($50) This also is my fault for allowing it. She’s a wonderful cook, we share the housework and grocery shopping. I take care of the maintenance and also the phone calls when there is a dispute. We talk AND listen. She has no problem letting me know if something is bothering her. It’s just that when I have a concern, especially when it comes to a purchase, she is now usually, not always against it. We are Ok financially with assets well into the 6 figures, no house or car notes. When I attempt to bring this up, she becomes defensive and says “YOU can take over the finances. I wouldn’t mind, we are both retired. Today I wanted to tell her that this is OUR retirement. I almost said that prisoners are released from prison after 10 years for non-violent crimes, when will I be treated as an equal? How do I approach this?

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