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October 30, 2012 7:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm a terrible communicator in relationships. If we're talking about feelings, I freeze up and can't say the simplest of things. How can I get past this?

I'm 24, female. Not a ton of dating experience... I've had a few shortish relationship-esque things, nothing longer than 7 months.

I'm really bad at talking about feelings in a romantic context. I have the hardest time articulating how I'm feeling. A lot of the time I have a hard time deciding on what to say and even if I know what I want to say, it's very hard for me to physically get the words out.

I've always been on the shy side, but not in an extreme way as an adult. I'm reasonably confident in my interactions with people in general and oddly I'm more confident in my interactions with guys before things are starting to get serious... I'm fine with flirting but if someone sits me down and tells me that he really likes me while looking into my eyes and I'll give him a deer-in-the-headlights look and start rapidly talking about the weather in a high pitched voice.

I need to change this. It makes things so unnecessarily hard. How can I get better?
posted by sockypuppeteer to Human Relations (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Two things have helped me: therapy, and being able to write it out for him. My guy is awesome and lets me journal it all out on-line to figure out my feelings, and then I let him read it.

So if a guy sits you down and you Do like him, tell him that, and say that you have a hard time talking about this stuff, though. Everybody has a hard time with emotions, and in my experience are understanding.
posted by ldthomps at 7:26 PM on October 30, 2012

Try starting with something other than talking? For this one

someone sits me down and tells me that he really likes me while looking into my eyes

you can smile, reach out and touch his cheek, kiss him.

For more complex issues in established relationships, you could write a letter. (Letter, not a text!)
posted by ecsh at 7:27 PM on October 30, 2012

So I definitely think I do rely a lot on nonverbal communication already (touch, expressions, etc). I think too much, in that I assume that it communicates more than it actually does in some situations. I want to get away from relying as much on it.

I like the writing it down/letter idea, but I also would like ideas on specifically how to get more comfortable talking (as a back and forth verbal conversation) about things like where a relationship is headed, boundaries... things like that.
posted by sockypuppeteer at 7:37 PM on October 30, 2012

Do you spend time thinking about where relationships are headed, what your boundaries are, etc. when you're not with your relationship partner, but then suddenly the words/thoughts leave your head when the conversation comes up? Or do you tend to be taken off guard when these topics are raised and that's why you're getting tongue-tied? If it's the latter, it might help to try thinking out some responses before the conversations come up, or even to bring up the issues in conversation yourself.

Also, it's fine to be honest about your occasional inarticulateness. My partner is a very quick thinker and fluid talker and I am not. Sometimes when we talk I have to ask him to put the conversation on pause so I can gather my thoughts and properly express them. I think this is pretty normal.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 7:47 PM on October 30, 2012

My husband has this problem (though he's gotten a lot more skilled in the past few years) I know it sounds silly but we made flashcards once with emotion words on them. He had a very limited vocabulary of emotional words and making vocab cards of emotion words and studying them helped him in two ways.

First, it gave him words to pin down his feelings with and second it often made him think at random times during the day, "Oh! This is [vocab word from yesterday] that I'm feeling right now!" Which he would them sometimes say aloud. It just made him more aware of his feelings and more able to label them.

He still needs a moment to gather his thoughts during very emotional conversations and often says, "I heard you and I am going to answer, I need a second to think." It's a little frustrating for me still but better than him clamming up or feeling like he has to rush.
posted by Saminal at 7:54 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

It took me a while to figure out that I am just dumber about emotions than I am about other stuff. Like, if you took me and someone who has a really hard time with long division and made us race, I'd be done while they were still working on the first step. If you took me and someone who is really good at expressing their emotions and made us race, they'd be done while I was still staring and going "uh ...." They seem to be totally different parts of my brain.

So that's OK either way, right? If it's important, the person who is slow at long division can keep working at it and eventually get the answer. And I can keep working at it and eventually figure out and express what I'm feeling.

So maybe when you're wanting to change the subject and start talking about the weather in a high-pitched voice (or you've already done that ...), you can stop and say "wow, uh, I have a really hard time talking about emotions. Can you give me a minute?" And then say something when you know what you want to say, even if it takes a while.

Everyone's different with this stuff. I have a friend whose partner froze up for literally 24 hours, couldn't even talk, when he was about to propose to her. She married him anyway. If someone's the right fit for you, they'll be patient while you take the time you need.
posted by jhc at 7:55 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you try varying the setting? I find emotional conversations much easier while walking around or driving because you have something else to do, that isn't too distracting, and you don't have to look at the person and that's ok because of the circumstances.

I think this is also one of those things that at least for me got easier with practice and it helped to start out with smaller stuff. Having someone sit you down and tell you they like you while staring into your eyes is advanced emotions. You could start off with telling your mom you love her or your best friend that you appreciate her support or other less charged situations just to get used to expressing what you feel emotionally.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:10 PM on October 30, 2012

I also would like ideas on specifically how to get more comfortable talking (as a back and forth verbal conversation) about things like where a relationship is headed, boundaries... things like that.

Is discussing "boundaries" a recurring issue? If so, it possible you're not actually comfortable with these guys when these topics come up, and maybe that's part of the problem? When someone sits you down and tells you that he really likes you while looking into your eyes, is the feeling generally mutual?
posted by wondermouse at 8:43 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am soooo like this. If you like exploring your feelings in writing, you could try using that as a bridge to having the actual out-loud conversation. I've written plenty of letters that never got sent or shared. I write a letter, re-read it a few times, and then leave it behind. I find that if I write it down first, it helps me remember the words I wanted to say when I'm face to face with the other person. Sometimes it's almost like I can read them off the page in my mind's eye. When I do know the right words but I'm having that physically-can't-get-it-out-of-my-mouth feeling, a little trick that sometimes works for me is to count down. Like "3...2...1...GO" and on go I have to say it. Another thing that helped me make a lot of progress in this area was having a partner for a while who always, always, always responded in an awesomely supportive way no matter what I was saying. I always felt like I was rewarded, not penalized in any way, for verbalizing my feelings. Maybe you could get some of the same benefits by roleplaying typical feelings-talk with a super-understanding friend?
posted by ootandaboot at 9:29 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am still learning to do this and it's fracking hard. I recently started to open up to my therapist a little. I found it way, way easier to talk about my feelings in third person, as if they were someone else's. I don't know how weird that would be in a relationship, though.

I also find practising alone at home helps. I find it easy to articulate my thoughts and experiences and ideas- and do so at length to avoid or workaround my feelings. But I gently pull myself out of that and turn back towards identifying my feelings, then making myself say them out loud. I have a hard time doing this in private, (so you can imagine what I'm like around guys I like), so it's good practise for just verbalizing the emotions and getting them out of my mouth.

I find that I have the most trouble with feelings that I'm scared of or don't think I should have. Telling myself over and over that it's ok to have those feelings, being accepting instead of judgemental about them, helps. Be gentle with yourself.

I have found the Focusing technique to be helpful. Sometimes I will have a lot of resistance to facing my emotions. That's when I know I need to.
posted by windykites at 7:34 AM on October 31, 2012

I also had the freezing up problem (and extremely shy, not a lot of relationship experience, etc.). What the mister and I would do is have me write an email. That way I can take my time, edit it to my satisfaction and then send it. Then we'd sit down and discuss it. This really helped me getting past the verbal issues. I don't have to email anymore, we can just talk about whatever the issue is.
posted by deborah at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2012

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