An Amazing Tool To Make Emotions Easier To Talk About

Let’s start by acknowledging one thing. Talking about emotions can be hard. It takes practice to be able to tune into them, to describe them in ways that other people can understand, to listen to them and figure out what they need, and to hold onto the complexity of multiple simultaneous (and sometimes, contradictory) feelings. Doing all of that is an essential part of creating healthy relationships, and there are several different skills that you need to make it flow. Lots of people never learn these important tools, which makes relationships tricky, to say the least.

Some coaches and therapists will offer clients a list of emotions or a feelings wheel, which can help you describe what you’re feeling. But I find that a list or a wheel can be a bit overwhelming because you have to filter out all of the other words in order to figure out if the one you’re looking at fits. Also, there isn’t as much nuance in a simple list.

My colleague, Kate McCombs, has developed a deck of Tea and Empathy cards that I find a lot more useful. The set includes 150 cards, each of which has a primary feeling and three adjacent feelings. For example, “in pain, ill, hurt, aching” or “satisfied, content, fulfilled, gratified.” As you look through the deck, you can pull out any of the cards that resonate with whatever is going on for you. Once you have them, you can do lots of different things with them.

Probably the most useful way I’ve worked with them is to simply lay out the cards that I’ve pulled so I can see them all at once. If I try to feel my emotions, I might be able to identify three or four. But when I pull the cards, I might have stack of eight or ten of them, which gives me a lot more information. Seeing my cards makes it so much easier to look at the connections between my emotions, to explore how they reinforce or play off of each other, and to find patterns that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t had the cards right in front of me. I’ve also grouped the cards that fit together and discovered ways they related to each other that would have taken me a lot longer if I was trying to talk it out.

Another way I’ve used them is to take the cards I’ve pulled and share them with my partner. It makes it much less scary to share how I’m feeling because it offers it all at once, without getting stuck in the story of how I got there. I’ve even taken a photo to show my therapist, and those sessions were much more productive because she could see what I was feeling without having to describe it all. A photo also gives me a visual record of what was going on for me, and when I make a few notes to describe the situation, it creates an easy way to journal. Kate has other suggestions here.

There are lots of additional good reasons to use the Tea and Empathy cards. Plenty of folks (especially cisgender boys and men) find it challenging to name their emotions. The cards really help with that. They also make charged conversations simpler by reducing the cognitive effort you need to identify what’s going on for you. That frees up more attention and energy for other things, like talking about what to do next. Plus, it’s much easier to ask someone the kinds of open-ended questions that deepen dialogue because you can see the array of emotions that are going on for them. And the more you practice with the cards, the more you’ll be able to talk about your feelings, even when you don’t have your deck handy. I also expect that they’d be useful for teaching older children about the nuances of their emotions. I’ve found the Tea and Empathy cards to be so useful that I bought a second deck to use with clients.

Whether you want to use them solo, with a partner, a therapist or coach, or with the people in your life, I think the Tea and Empathy cards can go a long way towards building compassion, reducing miscommunications, and helping you develop your emotional skills. It’s a simple idea that is executed beautifully, and it has the potential to truly improve how we talk about our emotions. Get your set for $39.99 here. It’s an investment that will pay off.


As a somatic sex educator and relationship coach, I want to help you find new ways to create the relationships that support you and make you thrive. Get in touch with me to schedule a free 30 minute Get Acquainted skype call. Let’s talk about what’s going on for you and how I can help you make sex easy.