Help me learn how to NOT talk about my feelings
February 9, 2017 2:53 AM   Subscribe

I am in a new relationship, and it is going well. I am a talker, and if we want to go there, my "love languages" are words of affection and quality time. He is more reserved, and speaks more through action than words. I am enjoying learning new ways to show and receive affection, but I also need words to feel secure...How do I learn to navigate this new communication landscape without sacrificing my needs?

We were FWB for a year. Then, we decided to try 'real' dating. It has been six weeks, and so far it is wonderful. Still very new, but given the fact that we are far from strangers, it's not THAT new.

and yet...

I am getting attached, and as my feelings grow stronger, two things are happening:
1. I want to talk about our feeeeelings, and
2. The more we don't talk the more insecure I get.

Let me say this: I KNOW it is not time to push the issue. Six weeks? Yeah, down girl. I know. Also, I am really enjoying learning how to say affectionate things without words. Sex was always part of our relationship, but now it's more intimate, more cozy.

Still, I am a words person, and while I want to let him tell me things in his way and his time, I am at that horribly scary point where I am going to fall hard and fast, and if he isn't in it, I want him to cut me loose before that happens.

I want to give it time to unfold, yet I want to honor my need for verbal communication and connection.

And, with it being such a tender and scary time for ANY relationship, how can I tell whether I NEED to talk, or I am just REALLY feeling the early relationship jitters?

Can a talker and the silent type make things work?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's okay to talk about your feelings at six weeks. For instance, you could say to him, "I really like you, and I'd like this relationship to be exclusive. What do you think?" Or you could say, "Hey, I'm feeling sort of anxious today. Could I have a hug?" Remember that there are ways to talk about feelings that are sort of low-key; it doesn't have to be a big deep discussion every time. I also think that a good relationship should be able to weather you asking your partner for something you need, even if it is still relatively early. If a guy freaks out on you because you ask him about making the relationship more serious, then he's probably not the right guy for you.

So while I think it's technically possible for a relationship to work between two people when one person is responsible for all of the heavy-lifting, conversation-wise, personally I've gotten pretty wary of that dynamic. In my experience as a woman who dated men, that usually meant that the man expected me to twist myself up into a pretzel and ask him something using the exact right words in the exact right way at the exact right time in order to get him to listen to my concerns or to get him open up himself (although those men also never really explained what the magic formula was), and that gets deeply exhausting after a while.
posted by colfax at 4:03 AM on February 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think it's OK to recognize and be responsible for your own relationship anxiety. However, I second colfax in thinking very hard about whether you want to be in a relationship where you're not sure you're going to be "met where you are" in terms of communication ability, or if you're fearful that your partner will not cope well or treat you well if you show your vulnerability.

I say, if you have something to say, say it. If he doesn't cope well, it tells you something important. It's great that you're being thoughtful and sensitive and accommodating about his communication style. If he doesn't show that same thoughtfulness and sensitivity and accommodation in return--well, it doesn't pay to be more compassionate to your partner than you are to yourself.
posted by Sublimity at 4:09 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm reading a book about attachment styles (called 'attached') and one of the things the book cautions about is pretending that your needs for attachment are less than they are for a partner. Some people just have more of a need for reassuance and often these people are attracted to avoidant partners (and vice versa). Unfortunately the more anxiously attached person may push down their needs to accomodate the avoidant but this doesn't really work on the end.

So, i don't think you should be saying 'down girl' to yourself about your expression or needs. The book suggests that those with anxious attachment style date securely attached people, who don't have problems with intimacy or reassurance.
posted by bearette at 4:28 AM on February 9, 2017 [22 favorites]

Talking about your feelings is a fine thing. Having that desire and being with someone who can't or won't do that may not be best for you. However, if you truly feel it's a burden for you to express these feelings, or even have these feelings at all, maybe you have gotten the wrong message somewhere down the line, because there is nothing wrong with it. But a great tool could be to keep a journal and write your feelings down. That may help you feel less need to tell him more than you are comfortable with and provide that outlet of expression.
posted by waving at 5:30 AM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I feel like you're setting yourself up for failure here in how you're framing all of this. You're 100% entitled to need what you need and to ask for it, yet you're putting all the control in this guy's hands.

I am at that horribly scary point where I am going to fall hard and fast, and if he isn't in it, I want him to cut me loose before that happens.

6 weeks in is a perfectly reasonable time to talk about being exclusive. In fact, I'd not wait any longer. So talk to him and see if he's on the same page as you. If he's not, then YOU make the decision to cut HIM loose. Don't tell yourself "down, girl" because you have feelings; embrace those feelings. Be with someone who joyously talks about their feelings for you. But it may not be this guy, sorry.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:34 AM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's for you to say, but I would describe it as a year and six weeks, not six weeks. (the year wouldn't count if it hadn't been leading anywhere, but it was so it did.)

it's honestly upsetting to see someone take this patronizing scolding tone towards any woman and I'm not sure it's better when it's yourself you're doing it to. if it's a joke mostly, it's a joke, and fair enough. but do you think he is fretting and worrying and schooling himself to repress his natural instincts in order to force himself to talk more just to keep you happy? does he say to himself "Heel, boy!" when he starts to drift away on a wave of stoicism?

I guess you wouldn't know if he does or doesn't, if he doesn't talk about it. but he probably doesn't, is the thing. If you're going to train yourself to be more like him, for the good of the relationship, take this part of his character as your model -- the confidence, not the silence.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:49 AM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I was actually thinking about exactly what bearette said. I'm totally ask culture, and I'm someone who often needs to just say what I'm feeling in completely overt, entirely earnest, overly verbal fashion and feel like that's heard and accepted. While there's really something to be said for the exercise of intuition in a relationship—to be guess culture, to be able to intuit and meet without words the feeling or needs your partner has—you need to make sure that you're not just suppressing your own self-expression or denying your own needs to achieve some simulacrum of that. There's a difference between wanting your needs met and being needy. You shouldn't sacrifice the former for the sake of avoiding the perception of the latter.
posted by limeonaire at 8:00 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

I also think you're not being fair to yourself here. You sound so apologetic! In prior relationships I probably sounded a lot like you. I felt guilty/needy/selfish/pathetic for wanting/asking for things I wasn't getting.

But what you want in a relationship is valid. You might not get it. And that's where the risk comes in, isn't it? That he might say nope, I can't fulfill that, bye.

But him saying nope, and it ending, and you grieving, being alone, and starting over is INFINITELY BETTER than you not respecting yourself enough to express your needs. Or not giving a partner the chance to grow and learn with you. You say "I am enjoying learning new ways to show and receive affection" - but you're not giving your partner an opportunity to stretch his relationship skills too. He might not. But take the risk anyway. You deserve it.
posted by headnsouth at 8:03 AM on February 9, 2017 [13 favorites]

Does he know about love languages? I didn't give much credence to love languages until my partner asked me to spend 20 minutes and understand mine/hers (she also likes to talk, I'm much quieter). I was open to it and it changed the ways we interact in very positive ways. Hopefully he's open to it as well.
posted by homesickness at 9:40 AM on February 9, 2017

In general, a talker and silent type can work, but neither of your natural tendencies is likely to change, so some amount of this tension may always be there. You'll figure out over time if that's a deal-breaker for you.

It's worth knowing that early infatuation includes brain chemicals like adrenaline. The anxiety that you're describing may in part be completely physiological. And at this stage of falling in love, it's possible (? you know yourself better than we do) that no amount of reassuring talk can eliminate the jitters that are natural for this phase. It may smooth out on its own over time.

But I do think that it may well be worth it to talk, if not about your level of commitment to and feelings for one another, then about your desire to talk about those things, and your perception that he doesn't / wouldn't want to. E.g., "I sense that we have different ways of expressing connection and closeness. Because I really like you, I'm wanting to connect by talking about it, but I also sense that maybe you wouldn't want to do this talking so I've been trying to hold back on initiating a talk like this." The goal of this would just be to share that this is where you're at, and to check if it's even true that he wouldn't want to do this kind of talking. If you guys do want to make a run at this, your relationship is going to have to accommodate both of your styles, so it's worth starting the meta conversation about the differences there.
posted by salvia at 9:42 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Consider what you want, what's your objective?

1. Do you want to tell him how you feel? (why? what's the need underneath this desire? Is it security? Is it feeling heard/understood?)

2. Do you want him to tell you how he feels as part of this conversation or series of conversations?

3. Do you want to not feel any insecurity or anxiety about the relationship?

For #1 you could say something like "For me to feel safe (or whatever your need/desire is) I need to be able to talk about my feelings, so if it's ok with you I'd like to share how I feel about our relationship with you". This should be good even if it's scary.

#2 you can't control. If you want to ask him to tell you how he feels about you/the relationship you have to be really specific and again tie it to your needs like "As I become more committed to our relationship I'm scared that I'll get hurt if you don't feel as strongly about me as I feel about you. It would make me feel more secure if you could __________(specific request). It could even be "hey babe, it makes me feel awesome to hear that you think I'm awesome, can you tell me I'm the best once in a while?" If he's not ready to go there or not comfortable you have to try to be understanding of what's holding him back.

#3 if you just want to not feel anxious it's unlikely that talking will change anything, unless it's really tied to #2, to just wanting some verbal validation from him about his commitment/feelings for you and that would alleviate the anxiety.

I think it's fine to want all three things but #3 is unlikely because it's tied to limerance, and #2 you can request from him but you might not get it.

Agreed to not stuff your feelings because you think he doesn't want to go there, if he cares about you he will want to understand where you're coming from.
posted by lafemma at 10:06 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, am I ever this.

And after a long hard look at myself, I had to realize that (especially early on), what I perceived as an unmet need for more communication was, actually, rampant insecurity longing to be assuaged. You seem to be somewhat aware of how this can insinuate itself into the early stages of a relationship, from what you wrote- "I also need words to feel secure."

I was a bottomless well of insecurity, and felt every time that words filled the void. "I always feel better after we talk." But what really was happening was, my insecurity well was replenished by the attention and the quality time, and the WORDS. But no matter what, eventually, whatever security I had always ended up draining out. I needed more words, more validation. Saying things once was never enough.

I am not saying you are like this- but ultimately, what I had to learn about myself was that insecurity was not something it was my partner's job to alleviate. I had to become very good at recognizing when communication was truly the issue, or if in fact it was my insecurity holding things hostage.

Does he talk enough, and with sufficient depth, about other things? In general, is he a willing, compatible conversationalist? If so, and it's only in the feeeeelings realm that he seems to be failing you, that is worth noting. It may be that you are overlaying one issue onto another.?

If in general, he is taciturn, and you ALWAYS have to carry the conversational water regardless of topic.... that's different- but also worth noting. Personally I could not be in a relationship with Mr. Taciturn. But that's me, and YMMV.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:54 AM on February 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

My instinctual response on reading this was "go ahead and make some mistakes." Say some stupid thing that's on your mind and then go through the process of seeing how the two of you right your balance if indeed it's too much. It could be good practice, if this is really going somewhere. You're being mindful about it and could probably make it a medium-sized emotional conversation instead of a HUGE ONE, and so, manageable for both of you if you're both trying.

A friend once told me "there should never be anything that you can't say in a relationship." I'm not absolutely sure she was right but I think about it a lot.
posted by Smearcase at 11:23 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Can a talker and the silent type make things work?

I am a talker. I have been involved with taciturn men.

One of those men let me gush all I wanted about how in love I was, how much I wanted to marry him and have his baby and so on. He was older than me and he felt no obligation to respond in kind. Instead, he would say things like "You make me feel good when you say that." and "You stroke my ego." and "That sounds nice."

I have never felt so completely accepted, secure and well cared for before or since. He never once said he loved me and he was reluctant to talk about marrying me, but it was fine for me to feel what I felt and to express that.

My take away from that is that you get friction when a) this person who presumably likes you as you are starts pressuring you to not be yourself for some reason, such as not verbally expressing how you feel even though you being expressive and emotive is probably part of the draw in the first place and b) this occurs when both parties operate on the assumption that burbling about your feelings has all kinds of contractual obligations for them to feel exactly the same, express it the same and for serious commitments, like marriage and children, to automatically grow out of permission to burble.

And none of that has to be true. You can learn to burble about feelings in an extremely "This is how I feel right this minute, and it says nothing about contractual commitments for the future" kind of way. And then you can be you and he can be him and it is fine if it takes him a week or six months to warm up to ideas you are burbling about currently.

One of the tricks here is that you need to make sure you do not start making life choices on the assumption that, obviously, he will marry you (or whatever). You keep pursuing your career, keep your health insurance and do the practical things you need to do to take care of yourself and do not give anything up "for" him unless and until he actually marries you (or whatever). Big feels type (often but not always women) frequently seem to move in, start doing the cooking and so on and just expect that, obviously, what they are pouring into the relationship will be reciprocated and somehow come back to them. They are frequently disappointed and find themselves in a pickle because of it.

So, as long as you don't start rearranging your life for his convenience while he does no such thing for you, it can be okay to burble. It is also possible to learn to pay attention to the actions he takes that mean something, even though he isn't verbally expressive. I prefer the actions speak louder than words type romantic partners because talk is cheap and I don't put up with having my chain jerked. So I get along just fine with such men. The trick is to not expect him to be like you.
posted by Michele in California at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

So my bf is the talker and emotionally expressive one while I am the silent one who has a very very hard time communicating emotions. We're making it work, but I just want to say that you can't be the only one compromising here. I used to think that way with guys, thinking that's just how guys are and I don't want to be that kind of girl who's pushy and annoying, but that's such bs. Traditional gender roles push for that kind of dynamic, so it's hard to tell when you're being "too much" or just normal, but don't let your needs go unmet. I would definitely think about how you guys can meet in the middle re: communication methods and not just adjust entirely to his standards.
posted by monologish at 3:04 PM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

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