“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.” –Arnold Bennett

I married into a family whose primary operating principle was “If something is wrong, don’t talk about it.” Even as a young woman in my early twenties, I knew instinctively that silence in the face of difficult emotions is a mistake. In the years of therapy that I undertook during adolescence to deal with my own family’s dysfunction whose version was “If something is wrong -scream about it,” I learned the power of giving language to emotions.

Talking about feelings requires learning the nuances of first identifying them. Many children grow up not knowing the difference between basic emotions like fear, sadness and anger. Anger is the easiest emotion for most people to express, whether inward or outward, and many grow up without the emotional support to experience these other more vulnerable and painful emotions.

Emotional intelligence is perhaps one of the most sorely missed and profoundly necessary skill sets in our culture. As an often frightened and sad teenager, I realized that putting words to feelings and having a framework to understand the range of emotions that occurred inside and around me was a way out of the insanity; or at the very least brought insanity into an easily recognizable light.

This week I had an experience with a co-worker that brought back many memories of the power of the dangling conversation that hung perpetually around any attempts to relate to my in-laws. To the degree that nothing was ever resolved in their family, all the issues and hurt feelings that ever happened between them and now me, was up for grabs.   Everyone had to walk on egg shells because almost any comment could set off a chain reaction that led back to that huge sack of unfinished conversations.

If I did anything right in my own family, it was making sure that every difficult emotional meeting found some kind of conclusion. If not an apology or an emotional coming together, at the very least I always demanded closure that included true listening and attempts at empathy. This practice allows the past to be over when people leave the room, even if both people walk away with less than they want.

The alternative makes relationships unsafe, only increasingly so over time. Dangling conversations that leave hurt feelings fester; even if the people practicing them can come back looking like nothing happened the next day. Emotions are real things that live in our bodies with more power and force than our thoughts. Respected, they are the most powerful form of bonding that a relationship can hope for. Silent, ignored or left hanging, they are the most prevalent form of cancer that eats away at the health and longevity of loving.