The flights were booked. The car rented. We had anticipated this trip for years and I wanted to be prepared.
Though I had studied Italian in college, I knew my skills were rusty at best, so I purchased an online study course so that I could maximize my experience.
As time passed and I moved from level one to level two, then to level three, I grew confident in my language abilities, but as soon as our flight landed, something strange happened. Maybe it was because they spoke ten times faster than the lady online, maybe it was because they weren’t telling me about the apple on the table, I don’t know.
What I do know is that once I arrived, my Italian vocabulary shrank to about three words —bathroom, restaurant, hotel.
Even though those three words were important, they did little to help me navigate the complexities of a foreign country, much less to communicate what I needed to anyone around me who was in a position to help.
A heart is a vast continent of unexplored and undiscovered imaginations, hopes, and passions. Words are the heart’s compass.
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Needing a Better Emotional Vocabulary
Many of us grow up believing our three-word emotional vocabulary (sad, mad, glad) is all we need to successfully navigate our lives and our relationships. We resist the muddy terrain of human emotion and yet we wonder why our relationships resemble a barren wasteland of confusion, loneliness, and heartache, a shallow wading pool for desperate souls, looking, longing, hoping for something more.
There are three reasons we need a better emotional vocabulary to navigate our relationships well and build a foundation of strength, stability, and peace.
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1. To Know Our Own Souls
How can we make contact with another human soul if we have never discovered the depth of our own? Our feelings give us access into the deepest places of knowledge, acceptance, and wisdom within us.
Emotions force us to face the questions in our hearts about God, about ourselves, about our identity, our likes and dislikes, opinions, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. They lay us bare as we struggle to come to terms with and unearth the answers that will provide strength and direction for every twist and turn, every winding road on our journey.
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If We Don't Know Ourselves...
Psalm 77:6 (NIV) states, I remember my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
Psalm 119:59 (NIV) also encourages, I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to Your statutes.
All that we long to find in another person, we must first find in ourselves and in our relationship to our Abba, Father —acceptance, safety, belonging…love.
If we don’t know ourselves, really know ourselves, we have little of ourselves to give to anyone else. The deeper, richer, fuller our emotional vocabulary, the clearer we can lean in and hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit leading and directing us, the deeper the well of beauty and grace we have to pour into and over our loved ones.
2. To Find Our Partner’s Emotional Location
Couples desire connection, they long to be heard, considered, and understood, yet many are reluctant to share their emotions with each other. Somehow they believe their partner should already know where they are emotionally, they should instinctively feel what they are feeling.
For a long time in my marriage, I think there was a part of me that wanted to be found. Like the starlet in the old Hollywood movies, I had these romantic notions of wanting to be pursued, and held, and known by my leading man just for being me. I wanted this all without ever having to say a word, or awkwardly explaining the whys and wherefores of my complicated and often unpredictable heart.
Unfortunately, real relationships don’t work quite like my youthful fantasies.
If They Don't Know Where We Are Emotionally...
Feeling words provide the most direct and accurate information about our emotional location. The broader our vocabularies, the more precise our words, the better the odds that our spouses can lean in, hear, connect with, and understand us, therefore the more help and compassion they can offer us on our journeys. If they don’t know where we are emotionally, they will be helpless to find us, nor will they be able to bring us insight, comfort, or encouragement for the steps ahead.
If you are not sure where to start, my book, Peace For A Lifetime, includes a great feelings chart that will help you begin to feel, name, and speak your feelings to those in your life.
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3. To Fall In Love Over and Over Again
I’ve heard people say they think they know everything they need to know about their partner. Yet somewhere along the way of life when they stopped asking questions, stopped staring at the stars, stopped sharing the music in their hearts, there comes a day when they wake up to wonder how they fell out of love, how they lost sight of each other, became strangers sharing a home while feeling worlds apart.
Communication is the fuel that keeps the fire of your relationship burning, without it, your relationship goes cold. -William Paisley
When my emotional vocabulary is rich, when I can let my husband know what I am feeling —disquieted, unsettled, concerned, overwhelmed, lonely, hopeless, frustrated, angry, afraid, betrayed, resentful, joyful, grateful, excited, satisfied, —there is more for him to know, to discover, to grow with, to respect, more reasons to fall in love, over and over again.
Designed for Feeling, Connection
We were designed for feeling. We were designed for connection. There is a whole world of people and relationships out there waiting to be explored. Is our emotional vocabulary what we need in order to know ourselves more deeply, to communicate our emotional location more clearly, and to discover deeper love than we ever thought possible?
This article originally appeared on LisaMurrayOnline. Used with permission.
Originally published Monday, 25 June 2018.