If you think the need to expand your vocabulary ended in high school, you're probably wrong.
There's some really good reason to think that we are born with just two emotional perspectives. The first can be summarized as, "I feel bad... uncomfortable... unpleasant." The second is, "I feel good... comfortable... pleasant." That's not a very rich description of experience. As we grow, our caregivers add vocabulary to our expressions. So, if an infant is showing signs of distress a parent might say, "You are angry." We then begin to assign the word "angry" to a given experience. This process continues with added words until we have a range of words to describe a range of emotions and experiences.
A problem arises when we weren't taught a wide range of emotion words. The consequence is that we can't express a range of emotions. It doesn't mean we don't feel a variety of things. It simply means we have no way of identifying them and then expressing them. This leaves us with a real deficit when conversations with an intimate partner require some complexity and nuance. It's a bit like an auto mechanic trying to fix a modern car with only a few tools and only the tools that are the most basic.
The solution is to learn new words and experiment with using them. Try them on. See if they fit. See if they allow you to express things more clearly and more precisely. See if they make your partner feel more comfortable because he/she has a clearer sense for where you are.
If you'd like to expand your emotion vocabulary, click here for a list of words that will help you describe your life experience more fully.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.