Three Reasons Why We Need A Better Emotional Vocabulary

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.


A heart is a vast continent of unexplored and undiscovered imaginations, hopes, and passions. Words are the heart’s compass.Click To Tweet


We all want deep, meaningful relationships. Individuals, couples can strengthen their emotional vocabulary and discover more connection and intimacy than they ever thought possible. 

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. 


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.


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, Ihave 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.


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.Click To Tweet


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.


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.


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.  ***Plus, this week only, those you subscribe to the blog will get a free feelings chart PDF!!!


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.


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?


About This Community

Don’t we all want a little peace?  My heart for this community is to provide just that – a needed refuge from all the burdens that weigh us down, some encouragement and inspiration to keep us weary travelers moving forward on our journeys, and some practical advice to help each of us navigate the challenges of life and relationships.  Whether in our parenting, our marriages, our faith, or the broken places in our hearts, this place is for anyone who dares to reach beyond the hopelessness that surrounds us and embrace a lifestyle of emotional abundance and peace!  

About Peace for a Lifetime

In my new book, Peace for a Lifetime, I share the keys to cultivating a life that’s deeply rooted, overflowing, and abundant, the fruit of which is peace. Through personal and professional experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve discovered how to take the broken pieces of life and find indestructible peace with myself, God and with others. Through my story and other’s stories you’ll realize that you can experience the life for which you long. You can experience abundance beyond anything you can imagine. You can experience peace, not just for today, not just for tomorrow. You can experience peace —for a lifetime!

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  1. I had the same thing happen to me in Germany! I asked one sweet couple for directions in German, so why did it surprise me when they rattled off their reply in high speed (and incomprehensible) German??
    Your great thoughts have made me wonder if one effect of the fall was our need for ESL-like training in emotional-ese. Humanity has “forgotten” how to talk about our rich emotional selves that God created. Imagine the amazing conversations we will be able to have in heaven!

  2. I am hopeless at learning a second language. I don’t do well with emotional language either, but your words cause me to think more about the importance of this.

  3. What wise thoughts! Visiting you today from the purposeful faith link up.

  4. What a great post, Lisa! I speak two languages fluently but I’ve been learning three others on top of those two so I could totally relate to this! And you are so right, improving our emotional vocabulary is important for healthy relationships. Thank you for linking up over at GraceFull Tuesday today!

  5. What a wonderful post. We do need more than a three-word emotional vocabulary. I have found that if my husband and I are specific when we communicate how we are feeling, a lot of hurt feelings and resentment can be avoided. Your story made me remember the time hubby and I went to Chile and struggled, in our high school Spanish, to order breakfast in a restaurant in Santiago. The server responded “Oh, you want blueberry muffins” in English! Ha!

  6. So true, Lisa. I have referenced that chart and this concept so many times since my first reading of Peace for a Lifetime. What a difference it makes! Thanks for the reasons to share!

  7. Same for me going to Spain after years of Spanish class. Totally different words! 🙂
    I love your reasons!

  8. Excellent analogy. We are so illiterate when it comes to really getting to the source of our emotional issues and poorer at trying to help other people understand. Love this post!

  9. Rebecca Jones

    June 14, 2018 at 8:54 AM

    I sometimes have people acting like I’m speaking another language, there is an art to listening and paying attention, and communication, not just in marriage but all relationships, including with God, is paramount. Sometimes, I think God is talking and it is one sided, people aren’t responding because they’re not listening.

  10. As a teacher, I remember how my students had a difficult time moving past the words mad, sad and glad when writing. Their limited vocabulary limited them. I appreciate how you point us to expanding our emotional vocabulary and in the process our emotional capacity. Blessed to have you at #TellHisStory.

  11. Just when I think I’ve learned Spanish a little better, I’ll be confronted with a real live Hispanic speaker and understand NOTHING that they are saying. lol.
    Being able to name things has such intrinsic value, you’re right. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa!

  12. I commend you at least getting those three words out.
    I live in Quebec and am English. I am not brave enough to try ❤

  13. I have seen this problem in marriages but not thought of it in terms of vocabulary. The word communication (which is the word I use) is broader. I think that “vocabulary” may point people more to the crux of how to relieve the problem of miscommunication or no communication. Thanks so much. I am sure I will use this!

  14. This was wonderful. I’ve been working on this myself…especially the part about communicating those feelings to others. It’s a challenge but it’s worth it because as you said, it gives you more to discover in a friendship, relationship and a marriage. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  15. I’ve read concepts about Emotional Intelligence, but haven’t before seen the phrase “emotional location”. I do know that I can not expect a loved one to just “read my mind” or be able to assume how I’m feeling about something. But as I read your post, I realized that having a deeper understanding of my own “emotional location” would certainly help me in expressing those feelings to those in my life.

  16. I think you are absolutely right. I remember when my son was a toddler and so angry. I read somewhere that he was even more frustrated because he couldn’t verbalize his emotions, so I remember trying to say stuff like, “Ugh, you dropped your toy! Poor you. I bet you are so upset and frustrated about that!” And his little face would just light up because I “got it.” I wonder how we could help other adults if we did the same thing with them.

  17. The importance of vocabulary is difficult for me because I process more from the intellect and thoughts than feelings. In all the personality tests, I am a high “T”. Because of this I often blow right past people’s feelings, no small talk, no personal greeting- I tend to get right down to business.

    With five kids, I have learned the art of listening to others pour out their deepest feelings. But truth be told I would much rather tell you what I am thinking than how I am feeling.

  18. Dear Lisa,

    Your blog post made me think of the development or change we’ve seen in our culture over the last 10-20 year. I’m glad to see that it has become more common to talk about the hard things in life.

    You wrote:

    “If we don’t know ourselves, really know ourselves, we have little of ourselves to give to anyone else. ”

    I’ll allow myself positively disagree with that one 🙂

    To me, Christianity is 100% about moving focus from ourselves to other people.

    I think there’s a huge problem in contemporary culture focusing on what we see when we look in the mirror (or doing soul searching).

    I don’t know what it is people are expecting to find there 🙂 To me, it’s much more interesting engaging in other people, helping them, serving their needs. I don’ t need to search my own soul to do that.

    You wrote:

    “We were designed for connection. ”

    I agree – that’s what life is about 🙂

    Best wishes for your new book Lisa.

    Edna Davidsen

  19. What an excellent anology! Trying to communicate with only a few words limits out ability to connect more fully with others. When you wrote: 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.
    You are right. We need the precise vocab to capture the nuances of our emotional experiences, otherwise, our loved ones can’t fully meet us where we are. Praying for more thoughtful communication in the coming year.

  20. Very thought provoking! Thank you for sharing this. Learning emotional vocabulary can bring a whole new dimension to our lives and alleviate fears in communication.

  21. Interesting post! Mad, sad and glad really do sum up many communication styles. Here’s to more effective communication within our marriages for 2019.

  22. This discovery of ourselves and our emotional language seems to be the challenge of each generation, even those brought up by emotionally aware parents, who begin with a fuller vocabulary. When we’ve been raised by stoic parents whose emphasis is on hard work and intellect, we often are starting at the basement floor learning to name our emotions, or even to recognize them. I think a good part of our marriage is providing the unconditional love and the jointly shared language of emotion so that the other recovers from their upbringing, whatever it is, for no parents are perfect. The longer we’re married and the more we work at this, the more tightly bound together we are, our love growing deeper and richer. This is a gift from God, I believe, for it mirrors the way our relationship with Christ also grows and deepens the nearer we draw to him throughout our lives and the more communicative we become. This is such a thoughtful post. Very thought provoking. Thank you, Lisa.

  23. “Words are our compass”. Yes, they are. They are the gateway to healthy boundaries in life. Necessary for peace. Thank you for this really great article!

  24. We can say so much with just a few words — or without any words at all! A squeeze of the hand. A stern or loving glance. My family has a very good idea what I’m thinking or feeling without my opening my mouth. Perhaps you’ll blog about non-verbal communication next time! 🙂

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