Why Feeling Questions? – Emotional Expression Enhances Bonding

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Quick summary: Exciting new research done by therapists such as Dr. Sue Johnson (the pioneer of emotionally focused therapy) have added efficacy to therapeutic interventions which help clients to express emotions. By sharing your most intimate feelings to your partner you can increase the overall intimacy and relational strength of your union. This makes common sense if you think about it – when you decide to trust someone and to confide in him or her – most believe that this makes you closer or more bonded to that person.

Couples therapy can offer a safe place for partners to finally release the emotions that they have been holding; the therapist is available to help the couples to sit with and to support the expressed feelings. – In this way there does not need to be anything ‘wrong’ in the relationship for people to seek couples counseling; If a person chooses to heal with their partner present they will gain in two ways – they will overcome their difficulty and they will strengthen their relationship.

Need the scientific answer? – new research is finding that emotional intimacy (which can be arrived at by sharing emotions with your partner) can increase Oxytocin levels – (there is too much information about this for this blog) – in short Oxytocin is the hormone/neurotransmitter that is released during birth which elicits the love and bonding feelings. Oxytocin is also thought to be responsible for that “crazy – can’t sleep at night – miss the partner after minutes” type of love found typical in the beginning of relationships – this, by the way, goes away naturally (the ‘honeymoon period’ in biologically substantiated – so if after between six months to a year and a half do not fret when your love changes in feeling). So in short, there is a biological explanation for why sharing emotions increases bonding.

The “how do you feel” question has long been the punch line for satires about therapists… In reality some therapists are very interested about the client’s feelings, but they are significantly more tactful in their questions than Hollywood typically portrays.

The goal is for the clients to feel the emotions (both for themselves and empathetically for their partner), the reason that therapists get the reputation for asking lots of feeling questions is that it is very common for people to ‘tell’ about their emotions without allowing themselves to experience the emotions.  Most people have probably witnessed what I am talking about (as we all do it) – we watch people talk in a ‘matter of fact’ way about something incredibly emotional… it is not that these people are cold – they have just learned throughout life that restraining emotions in adaptive. For example -after a job I had in which I had to display and extremely high degree of emotional control I had to re-teach myself to cry… there was nothing to cognitively fix… I just needed the comfort of my wife’s presence and the freedom and safety of our bond to express myself.

Telling about your emotions instead of allowing yourself to feel your emotions has become very important in today’s professional cultures. There are unwritten rules at work which state that you are to restrain from expressing emotions fully (both laughing hysterically and crying tearfully tend to be looked down upon.)

Restraining emotions is also an adaptive way of ‘getting on with life.’ For many it would be hard to function if they were not avoiding, denying, or rationalizing etc. their emotions.

We all do it (or most at least) and I can only begin to tell you how good it feels to have your partner hear and care for the emotions that you express. A therapist can be very helpful as we have a tendency (men and women) to try and ‘fix’ our partner’s ‘problem’.

Emotions can get really bottlenecked… which often leads to stress, anxiety, and irritability.  Sometimes acknowledging an emotion to your partner is the best way to unburden yourself while reaping the benefits of increasing your intimacy. Again, a therapist can help to ensure that your partner does not “pick up” the emotional weight that you are sharing – supporting an emotional does not need to involve taking the emotion.

We can all struggle with blaming, defensiveness, avoidance and denial – so sometimes it is best to let a therapist help you on this journey.

In closing, I had a teacher who used the word dignity in relation to how to empathize with a person expressing emotions that you are supporting.

Allow your partner the dignity to carry his/her own emotions – your partner’s emotions are not for you to carry, but for you to support with your love, hope, compassion and trust.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.


51 thoughts on “Why Feeling Questions? – Emotional Expression Enhances Bonding

    • Hi james

      thank you for the compliment… My inspiration is the wonderful benefits that I have enjoyed through a healthy emotional expression in my own realtionship (12 years) and my ambition is to help move therapy into the proactive wellness service that it can be. I believe that it is my job as a therapist to to make therapy less mysterious – perhaps then more people will see how beneficial the art can be. thanks for reading

      -Will

  1. This is the second time I have visited your Why Feeling Questions? – Emotional Expressing Enhances Bonding | Thoughts from a Therapist blog and found an interesting article perfectly matching what I was searching for so I decided to add your feed to my RSS Reader. Thanks for all your hard work.

    • good question – the answer is that I have experienced it in my own relationship – blissful after 12 years – and I have watched the process in others – as a therapist (though a lot of focus is on couples – emotional expression has done exceptionally positive things in helping parents and their kids – this can also be used in trauma recovery)

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