As we all know, emotions are devious creatures. They elude our understanding for a vast number of reasons, among which are the inescapable facts of daily life. Unfortunately, with so much focus being invested in the small crises and stressors that arise in our jobs and daily activities, it is difficult to find a moment to truly connect with what we are feeling.

As a result, our emotional lives often spiral out of our control, and internal pressures build up. At a certain point we explode, and this affects our relationships with those we are closest to – potentially harming our bonds with those we care about the most.

If we cannot identify our own emotions, how are we supposed to understand them or process them? If we cannot understand and process them, how can we communicate about them with others? How can we expect our partners to be a source of comfort and support?

These are problems we all struggle with! If you feel frustrated in your inability to have intimate conversations about your deepest feelings with your partner, you are not alone. Right now you’re probably thinking that “misery loves company” isn’t particularly helpful. But that’s not our message. Our message is that we can help.

As exhausting and frustrating as all of this is, Dr. Gottman encourages us not to feel too overwhelmed. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, have designed an incredible approach to help us achieve focus and explore our feelings, ultimately gaining the skills we need to discuss them with our partners.

In What Makes Love Last, Dr. Gottman describes some incredibly effective and largely unknown techniques for identifying our emotions. Identified by renowned scientists, including a number of research psychologists, there are certain physiological signs that can help us to understand what we are feeling. This week, we are excited to offer you a few tips that you can use in your own home to build intimacy with your loved ones. We wouldn’t want to reveal all of Dr. Gottman’s secrets, but here’s a teaser!

Ask open-ended questions

If you ask questions that require only a yes or no answer, you are destroying conversations before they even have a chance to begin. You are accidentally slamming the door that you are trying to open. This door is unfortunately labeled “Intimacy.” Instead of “Did you watch that movie?” ask, “What was your favorite part?” Instead of “Are you upset?” ask, “You seem upset – what’s going on?”

Stop and breathe

If you are bothered by your inability to label your emotions, stop and meditate for a moment. Clear your mind. Search for a word. When a word comes to mind and your body relaxes, you have hit the spot. Here are a few examples you can use in this activity. Remember, these are just a starting point!

Positive Emotions

  • Amused
  • Appreciated
  • Lucky
  • Satisfied
  • Silly
  • Turned On
  • Joyful
  • Safe
  • Proud
  • Powerful
  • Playful
  • Fascinated

Negative Emotions

  • Alienated
  • Tense
  • Misunderstood
  • Powerless
  • Ignored
  • Inferior
  • Criticized
  • Ashamed
  • Betrayed
  • Numb
  • Unsafe

We share a few more skills for building intimacy with you in our following blog post, What Makes Love Last: Expressing Compassion and Empathy. This post will show you the fundamentals of deepening connection in your conversations and expressing compassion and sympathy.


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More in What Makes Love Last
Putting Your Feelings Into Words and Asking Open-Ended Questions

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.