This post is part of a series on resolving conflict. It is of course recommended that you read all parts of the series. Here are the posts you might want to catch up on if you have not already:
- Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 1 – The Importance of Good Communication Habits.
- Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y. – Part 2 – TIME OUT’s Are Not Just for Kids.
Feelings? are they good or are they bad? Do they make us weak or strong? Well, there might be some situations where feelings are unnecessary or irrelevant, but a marriage is not one of those situations. Does that surprise you? Have you been taught or conditioned to stuff or ignore your feelings? Are you a man and at this moment you are thinking, “I am closing this post right now!” PLEASE DON’T. Man or woman, feeling person or not, this post will help you improve your marriage and will be worth the read…I promise!!
The idea of discussing feelings probably insights one of these thoughts in you:
- Feelings are important and I like talking and thinking about my feelings.
- Feelings are for someone else (my spouse), not me.
- Feelings are not for me and they only get in the way.
No matter which of these three thoughts describe your natural response to feelings, feelings play an important role in a successful marriage. Feelings are a part of life. They help us process events in our lives, and they help us understand ourselves and others. Understanding each other is imperative to good communication and ultimately a great marriage.
The first thing to know about feelings is that they are not wrong. It is easy to get trapped into thinking feelings we cannot relate to are wrong. When our spouse’s feelings are different or foreign to us, our default reaction can be to think their feelings are wrong. Instead of dismissing our spouse’s feelings as not being valid, we need to understand and empathize with our spouse’s feelings. Because my spouse feels it, the feeling is real. I need to figure out how to respect my spouse’s feelings and understand them, even though it is not how I feel.
This was a hard concept for me to swallow. I have mentioned in previous posts that I tend to have a personality that has not always been very humble; a personality that believed “I am always right.” Being the person that was always right about things made me insensitive to how others felt, including my husband. I do not think it was a conscious thought but underneath I believe that I was thinking or rationalizing that if I am always right then what ever my husband has to say, including his feelings, would be unimportant or wrong. Not only did I believe his feelings were unimportant; I also believed I did not have time to talk about and understand his feelings. In order to improve our communication and ultimately our marriage, I had to realize that how my spouse thought and felt about a situation was part of the equation and that ignoring or dismissing my spouse’s feelings was disrespectful. Even if my answer to a problem or situation seemed to be the “best” logically, any conclusion I drew, without including my spouse’s thoughts and feelings as being equally important and relevant, was an uninformed and irresponsible conclusion.
The second thing to know about feelings is that YES, YOU DO HAVE THEM and it is ok to have them!! There might be situations where you look at an issue and think “I do not have any feelings about this issue.” Sometimes this is also accompanied with “it’s their issue, not mine.” Both of these thoughts are a red flag!! The red flag is that you have feelings but have no idea what they are or how to identify them. Often times it is the men that struggle with this most, but it does affect some women too. When this happens you have a choice: 1) continue to think and say “I do not have feelings about this issue” and create a wall between you and your spouse or 2) decide your marriage is important and pray about identifying your feelings.
- Assuming you choose #2, how do you identify meaningful feelings that will benefit you and your spouse? It takes prayer, patience, and humility.
A suggested prayer for identifying feelings is “Dear Lord, my God. You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. It is you that created me in your image, feelings and all. Currently I am struggling with my ego and I am unable to identify my feelings. Finding my feelings will help me communicate better with my spouse and honor her/him as we work through our issues. Help me to be humble so that I can see myself as you see me. Reveal my feelings to me in a way that I can understand them and communicate them to her/him. Grant me patience as I endure this process and fight my ego. Bless our marriage and my desire to love my spouse. Make up for what I am lacking so that I can love my spouse in a way that can only exist when you are part of us. I trust you to guide me in this way. In your name I humbly pray, Amen!!”
The third thing to know about feelings is that identifying and communicating them is a learned skill, something that needs practice and patience. Unless you are the person that is thinking “Feelings are important and I like talking and thinking about my feelings,” the idea of communicating your feelings is close to repulsive, it possibly could require you to fight several natural responses for you to learn. BUT it will be worth it. Take the time to practice identifying your feelings. Even when you think you do not have them, you do; you just do not yet know how to identify and communicate them.
Why are my feelings important to my marriage? Understanding our feelings helps us express not only how we feel about something but also the magnitude and severity. Even when our feelings go unidentified they do impact our behavior. If a situation scares us, even if our fear goes unrecognized, we will most likely change our behavior. When our spouse sees our behavior or actions changing without a know cause, our spouse tends to think that the change in behavior is due to something they did, causing them to think things that are untrue. Then a terrible cycle begins resulting in poor conclusions and reactions; we end up pushing each other away and building up walls that we never intended, all because we are reacting to a situation we thought existed.
The fourth thing to know about feelings is that communicating the magnitude of our feelings is important. Not only should we communicate that we are hurt or scared but how hurt or scared are we? For example: assume the issue at hand is my 9 year old walking by himself to get the mail. In general I think he is old enough to get the mail, so when my husband expresses concern that our son is not old enough to walk and get the mail, it would be easy to dismiss his concern because I do not understand his feeling. But if my husband were to express that our son walking to get the mail by himself creates a fear for my husband that our son will be kidnapped while getting the mail and on a scale of 1-10, the fear is a 9. That fear is something I can understand and relate to; maybe not in this situation but in general. Even if the current situation does not evoke that level of fear in me, it does not mean that the feeling is wrong. It is not my job to “vet” my husbands feeling but to recognize and empathize with it. Remember….feelings are not wrong.
We can express the magnitude or severity of our feelings using the scale of 1-10, a color, a taste, a sound, a past experience, etc. My husband and I learned how to express our feelings to each other at a World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend sponsored by our diocese, they call this process using Descriptive Feelings (http://www.wwme.org/describing-feelings-and-feeling-words.html).
Using Descriptive Feelings helps better explain to our spouse how we feel. In stating our feelings, “angry” or “scared”, our feelings could be misunderstood or minimized. Descriptive Feelings can help to put our feelings into perspective. Here are a few more examples of how to use Descriptive Feelings:
- I am angry. My anger is RED HOT; a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.
- I am frustrated. My frustration is like putting a square peg in a round whole while the whole world is watching.
- I am scared. Scared like being trapped in a small box with no way out.
- I am hurt. My hurt is Blue in color and it is like getting cut from the basketball team.
Descriptive Feelings can also be used to describe good feelings.
- I am happy. Happy like the smile I get when the sun rises over the mountain.
- I am satisfied. Satisfied like the look on your face when you get to sleep in on Saturday.
Descriptive Feelings Table from Marriage Encounter
This table can help guide you as you explore your descriptive feelings.
|Category||Ways to Describe the feeling||Example|
|Intensity||Rate feeling from 1-10||“My feeling is a 10”|
|Taste||Sour, sweet, bitter, etc||“My feeling would taste sour like a lemon.”|
|Touch||Scratchy, soft, prickly, etc||“It has a softness like silk”|
|Color||Red, blue, black, etc||“My anger is red hot”|
|Sound||High pitched; screech; thunder, etc||“It sounds like a singing bird on a spring morning” or “like fingers on a chalk board”|
|Physical reaction||Sick, chilled, giggling, etc||“It was like an upset stomach”|
|Similar Past Experience||Childbirth, riding a bike, etc||“My feeling was excited, like the time our child took their first step”|
|Nature Scene||Beautiful sunset, crashing waves, etc||“My joyful feeling has all the colors of a sunset at sea”|
|An image||Hitting a home run, etc||“I feel excited, like a kid who hit his first home run”|
Right about now you are most likely thinking one of 2 things. You are either excited about the idea of Descriptive Feelings or you are thinking they would be a huge waste of time or very silly. Originally I was in the huge waste of time or very silly category, but I have since learned to appreciate the process and the results. Choosing to learn Descriptive Feelings to better communicate with my spouse and choosing to understand my spouse’s feelings more deeply was a step I needed to take to save our marriage. The process helped me grow in empathy and humility all while increasing our communication and intimacy.
Suggested Prayer (by Melissa B):
Dear Lord, my God. You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. It is you that created me in your image, feelings and all. Currently I am struggling with my ego and I am unable to identify my feelings. Finding my feelings will help me communicate better with my spouse and honor her/him as we work through our issues. Help me to be humble so that I can see myself as you see me. Reveal my feelings to me in a way that I can understand them and communicate them to her/him. Grant me patience as I endure this process and fight my ego. Bless our marriage and my desire to love my spouse. Make up for what I am lacking so that I can love my spouse in a way that can only exist when you are part of us. I trust you to guide me in this way. In your name I humbly pray, Amen!!
- Compete the “What Are My Feelings Exercise” below. This exercise is meant to help you recognize that each situation evokes different responses and that when given choses you do actually have feeling.
- Practice identifying your feelings and using Descriptive Feelings to express the magnitude or severity of the feelings. If you are not yet comfortable expressing these feelings to your spouse, try journaling your feelings.
What Are My Feelings Exercise
For each situation stated below circle which of the 6 feelings listed best describes your initial reaction.
Your child comes home with all A’s on their report card
Happy Proud Hopeful Surprised Joyful Inspired
Your spouse thanks you for doing a chore that you normally do not do
Appreciated Loved Trusted Courageous Joyful Competent
Your spouse receives a raise at work
Pleased Thankful Proud Relieved Secure Jealous
Your spouse receives a raise at work ALONG WITH A PROMOTION
Proud Happy Enthusiastic Exhausted Annoyed Hesitant
Your spouse is in a car accident
Angry Sad Worried Guilty Scared Shocked
Your boss gives you a poor review
Embarrassed Shocked Frustrated Confused Guilty Ashamed
Your spouse nags you about leaving your clothes on the floor???
Inadequate Unappreciated Worthless Unhappy Regretful Uneasy
Your spouse spends $200 on something and it was not discussed ahead of time
Surprised Overwhelmed Enraged Frustrated Angry Worried