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  • Writer's pictureLisa Jones

How do you feel?

This may seem like an easy question. When someone asks you this, you pause, notice your thoughts and how your body is responding and you give your answer. Your answer will reveal how in touch you are with your emotions and your ability to identify and describe them.

For example, the answer might be "hot". Your body feels hot and you want to cool down. This is an accurate description of how your body feels and it's a good start to identifying what emotion you are feeling. You may feel an emotional response to feeling overheated or you may be experiencing an emotion that has caused your temperature to rise.

As another example, your answer might be "angry". You quickly identify your emotion and may also notice how your body feels in this moment. Your heart rate may be elevated, your body tenses and you may find it difficult to say more. Soothing your body first helps to calm the mind, then you can expand on what other emotions are happening underneath the anger. You may feel let down or betrayed. Identifying the deeper layers of your feeling will lead you to express them effectively and in turn increase your ability to be understood and supported.

For some people this question is extremely difficult. It could be a barrier to seeking therapy or maintaining relationships with others. Sometimes our ability to identify and express emotions is diminished when we're depressed or, in rare cases, as a result of brain injury or other neurological conditions.

Learning to become more aware of your body and thoughts can lead you towards identifying emotions and being able to communicate them. In a relationship this also means you can start to read the emotions of your partner. If this is missing, it becomes impossible for two people to experience an emotionally available relationship.

Over time, living with a partner who finds difficulty in identifying and expressing their emotions accurately can lead to confusion, anger, depression and low self-esteem. You may feel like you're not having your needs met or you feel ignored on an emotional level. As hard as you try there is an invisible barrier to emotional intimacy and understanding. If these symptoms start to take hold, the relationship can move into a downward spiral and the emotional gulf becomes more apparent.

If you identify this issue in your relationship you cannot start to address the problem until you restore yourself back to health. Take more time alone and focus on self-care. Eat healthily, exercise gently and manage your sleep as well as spending time with supportive friends and loved ones. It may also be the time to book some counselling sessions to bring yourself back to you and re-acquaint yourself with your own values, thoughts and feelings.

Only then can you address the issues in the relationship. Use plain language with your partner to state what your needs are and instil boundaries. There are challenges in all relationships and consider the limitations you each have in meeting expectations and needs. Couples counselling is a useful way to re-negotiate the terms of the relationship and whether you can move forward in your partnership.

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