Something he’s doing is bothering you.
You feel uncomfortable about the situation, so you call your best friend to talk about it.
You explain what happened, and you try to put words to how you’re feeling.
Are you mad at him? Do you feel left out? Do you feel triggered because of something that happened to you before? What are you feeling, really?
That half-hour conversation leaves you feeling at ease.
Nothing has changed, of course. The problem is still there.
But you feel better, because you finally feel like you understand what’s going on inside you.
A Key Part of Emotional Intelligence
Being able to find the right word for how you’re feeling is an example of emotional granularity.
Emotional granularity is the ability to make fine distinctions between emotions, so you can nail down how you’re feeling with clarity and precision.
You don’t just feel good. You feel jubilant, or exhilarated, or charged with energy.
You don’t just feel bad. You feel disappointed, or rejected, or offended.
Not everyone can do this.
Some people don’t have a large emotional vocabulary. Their curiosity about their emotional state goes no further than good, bad, sad, and mad. (Sound like some of the guys you know?)
Other people have a large emotional vocabulary. They’re curious about how they’re feeling, because knowing exactly what they feel helps them figure out what to do next.
People with this ability manage their emotions better, get sick less often, have better mental health, and enjoy better relationships.
Is This Why He’s Always Mad?
If you’ve noticed that your guy gets angry a lot, drinks excessively, and/or tends to retaliate aggressively against anyone who he thinks has wronged him, this could be the surprising reason why.
He may lack emotional granularity.
Guys tend to trail behind women in this skill because of the way they were trained to be men.
Until the ages of 4 and 5, boys tend to be very good at understanding emotions in themselves and others. They crave close connections. They cry.
But as they grow older, they receive repeated messages that “feelings are for girls.” They stop being curious about what they’re feeling. They soon learn to pretend they aren’t feeling anything at all.
By adulthood, a guy may only recognize two emotions in himself: either he’s okay, or he’s angry.
That’s not inherently male. It’s a learned response to the culture in which men find themselves. (Fortunately, this culture is beginning to change for kids these days.)
Because it was learned, it can be unlearned.
Men can improve their emotional granularity through putting words to their feelings.
They can explore the distinctions between various emotions. For example, how does it feel to be centered versus grounded? Peaceful versus content?
By bringing awareness to their emotional life, they learn that feelings don’t make them less of a man. It makes them whole.
Should You Make Him Talk about His Feelings?
Before you rush to tell your guy to start naming his feelings, a word of caution.
When you push a man to talk about his feelings, he may feel like you have an agenda.
He suspects you want to hear certain things from him and you’ll get mad if he says the wrong thing.
That’s why the best way to increase “feelings talk” in your relationship is to do it yourself.
Tell him that you want to get better at naming your feelings, and you hope he doesn’t mind if you practice on him.
You can challenge yourself to expand beyond the most common emotion words and try foreign emotion words that have no direct equivalent in English.
Like gigil from the Tagalog language, which refers to “the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are cute or cherished.”
Or koi no yokan from the Japanese, which refers to “the feeling on meeting someone that falling in love will be inevitable.”
Or zweisamkeit from the German, which refers to “the self-imposed isolation of a couple in love.”
The Positive Lexicography Project has collected over a thousand fascinating emotion words from other languages that you can explore here.
No Wrong Answers
One last note:
There are no “right” or “wrong” answers to the question of how you feel.
You get to decide what you’re feeling.
You take the signals from your body and combine them with your current knowledge, past experiences, and your level of emotional understanding to arrive at the word that best fits how you feel.
So if your guy says he’s feeling one thing when you suspect he’s actually feeling something different…
Don’t tell him he’s wrong.
He gets to pick the emotion word that best fits his experience.
But you could always say, “If I were in your shoes, I’d be feeling X, or Y, or Z.”
Throw different emotions out there. Leave it to him to decide if any of them are relevant.
If he feels safe sharing a feeling with you, he’s more likely to do it again in future.
And that’s going to bring you closer.