How to Vent Without Hurting Your Relationship Getting your frustrations and negative feelings out don’t have to hurt your relationship. Use these 5 tips to vent your frustrations successfully. BY MELISSA ORLOV
Learning how to vent your feelings is important to successful communication without causing more damage.
“ Venting can be a useful way to express negative feelings that would otherwise fester and grow worse.”
If you are like many women, the act of venting your frustrations can be healing—you get out all the bad feelings, work through them a bit, and start to move on. Just talking about it makes you feel better.
Except that often it is not better for your relationship. Your partner—on the receiving end of this venting—can end up feeling bruised and resentful, particularly if the venting was about him personally, or about his behaviors. Learning how to air your frustrations positively and respectfully is an important part of every successful marriage. Does that mean there is no place for venting? Not necessarily.
Some of the issues around venting are gender-related. Two gender-specific communication issues seem to come up over and over again in my couples counseling. First, many women find the act of talking things out therapeutic. They like to talk about their feelings and what these feelings mean to them. This is in direct conflict with men, who often seek to fix things and move on. Extended talking can seem beside the point.
Second, it is physiologically harder, on average, for a man to be in conflict with a loved one. Research shows that both men and women respond to conflict physiologically with elevated stress chemicals, higher heart rates and faster breathing. Women, however, have the advantage of being faster self-soothers after conflict than men. This has the effect that many men are conflict avoiders in relationships because it’s physically uncomfortable for them and they have trouble recovering. Moreover, 80% of all emotionally intense conversations are started by women as a result.
Venting can be a useful way to express negative feelings that would otherwise fester and grow worse, but it is only constructive if you do it properly. Committed couples can talk about venting and set up an agreement that will make it easier. In essence, they agree that they will only vent to each other if the person on the receiving end agrees they can handle it. You agree to ask permission before venting.
Does that sound strange? Then put yourself in your partner’s shoes. You may want to vent because you are really frustrated, but that does not mean your partner is in a mindset that can deal with your frustration right at that moment. If he’s not in the right frame of mind, your "getting it all out" will likely inflame the situation, rather than provide the relief you seek.
How would you respond if you were feeling sick or tired or stressed out and your spouse suddenly started complaining? Pretty testy might well be the answer. The bottom line is that you work against yourself if you choose to vent at a time when your husband or wife is not ready to hear you.
There is actually a process for "good" venting. Here’s how to vent productively, if you must:
1. Ask your partner if this is a good time to vent.
2. If your partner says "no" then come back later. He has a right to tell you it’s not a good time.
3. If your partner says "okay," give him a moment to prepare. (He wants to get himself into a mindset where he can hear you without getting defensive. One man I know calls this "putting on the Teflon suit.") Make sure not to attack your spouse, even if you are struggling to express negative feelings.
4. As much as possible, use "I" language and take responsibility for your feelings, rather than attacking. "I feel lonely these days and miss you" is much easier to hear than "You never pay enough attention to me."
5. Ask for problem-solving help at the end of the venting to include your spouse in figuring out how to address your concern.
Like many things in healthy relationships, you have to think carefully about the best way to proceed.
Melissa Orlov is a marriage consultant who specializes in working with couples impacted by adult ADHD. She is an award-winning author of two books about this topic, and has been interviewed on CNN, Today, the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report and many others. Melissa’s new book is "The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD" with co-author Nancie Kohlenberger, LMFT. You can find out more at www.adhdmarriage.com.