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Does Venting Emotions Help in Relationships?

It's better to try these 3 tips for managing your upset emotions.

Key points

  • Venting often doesn't help one get something off their chest, but it risks pushing the other person away.
  • Tips for managing emotions include taking a break, talking with someone supportive, or giving yourself an encouraging statement.
  • You can give yourself encouraging statements anywhere at any time and reduce upset emotions while maintaining relationships.
Studio Romantic/Shutterstock
Source: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

With the pandemic, many couples and families found themselves getting on each other’s nerves and occasionally or frequently venting their anger at each other for little things they might have ignored in the past. In addition, this meant that many couples and families spent more time watching television, including fictional dramas, romantic comedies, and news programs—all of which typically show a lot of venting of emotions. In fictional dramas, such venting is often followed by some kind of reconciliation or even growth in a relationship. Is this a characteristic of healthy relationships? Or of entertainment drama?

The 2022 Academy Awards included a moment of Will Smith venting his anger by slapping Chris Rock for a joke he made about Smith’s wife. While this might have been the most memorable moment of the program, it was universally criticized as wrong. Smith apologized the next day but may face further repercussions. It is a good example of how releasing the full intensity of one’s emotions can lead to violence and make things worse, not better.

What is Venting?

The venting of emotions in relationships is usually considered to be the expression of the full intensity of extreme anger, sadness, blame, resentment, and so forth toward the person considered to have “caused” those feelings: “Look at what you made me do!”

Typically, people who vent say they are “getting it off their chest,” and they often report feeling better after having done so. Sometimes an angry outburst is followed by a reconciliation and even deeper intimacy. But there are two potentially significant problems with this approach:

  1. For many people, venting does not get it off their chest and actually reinforces or intensifies their upset emotions. This often leads to regrets and sometimes violence. (For example, people with borderline personality disorder often face emotion dysregulation as one of their primary issues. Rather than needing to express it intensely, they benefit by learning to manage their emotions better and sometimes learn to outgrow the symptoms.)
  2. When you vent emotions onto another person in a relationship, it often increases that person’s upset emotions because emotions tend to be contagious. While the venter may feel better, the recipient of their venting may feel worse and even change their feelings about the relationship.

To better manage your emotions, try these three simple methods:

  1. Take a Break. Most marriage counselors recommend this simple technique for calming down without needing to vent your emotions. The adrenaline and cortisol coursing through your veins when you are upset can wash out of your blood system in about 20-30 minutes. Taking a walk or some other simple (non-violent) physical activity can often make a world of difference in how you feel. You may need to tell the other person how long you need to take a break, such as 30 minutes or a couple of days.
  2. Talk with Someone Supportive. Simply talking about upset emotions with someone else (not the person you are upset with) can quickly help you calm down. It helps if the person stays neutral on the issues and doesn’t tell you what to do or take sides in a conflict. Primarily listening and giving you some empathy can be the most helpful way for someone else to help you calm your upset emotions.
  3. Give Yourself an Encouraging Statement. Many people say that they have to release their anger, hurt, or resentment verbally or physically so that it doesn’t get bottled up inside of them. However, cognitive therapists have found that you can actually simplify your emotional life by recognizing and changing the thoughts you are having while feeling intense emotions. By changing your thoughts, you can change how you feel. Giving yourself an encouraging statement is one of the easiest ways to do this: “I will get through this. I’ve gotten through more difficult situations before.” “The other person’s opinions, emotions, or criticisms are not about me, but about them.” “I don’t have to respond to this statement. I have better things to do.” By telling yourself such encouraging statements, you may be surprised how successfully you can change your own mood. Even just naming the feeling that you are having can reduce its intensity.

Communicating Instead

Whether you are in a relationship with family members or co-workers or someone else, intense emotions are normal. However, expressing the full intensity of your negative emotions can get you into trouble and possibly put the relationship at risk. By using the above tips, one can manage their emotions enough to maintain a healthy and happy relationship. However, it can still be important to communicate the information related to why you felt upset, even if you do not communicate the full intensity of your emotions. By calmly stating a request for future behavior, you can usually resolve whatever the intense emotion was about in the past. This way, you can maintain positive relationships while also making things better.

Venting is not necessary to reduce an intensely upsetting emotion. There are other, simpler ways, although they take some practice. Taking a break, talking to someone supportive, or giving yourself an encouraging statement can be just as effective and can avoid harming a relationship. These are three of the tips that we teach parents going through a divorce with our New Ways for Families method and those having workplace conflicts with our New Ways for Work coaching method. They seem so simple, because that makes them easier to remember when one is upset—and helps to avoid having to apologize afterward.

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