Communication Tools: Communicating Your Feelings

September 5, 2022

In pre-marital counseling I tell couples that many think the big causes of divorce are money problems, sexual problems, the in-laws, or adultery. They need to guard themselves against adultery at all costs, and they will experience at least two of the other three in their marriage, if not all three. Let’s face it, there is never enough money, our bodies change and so do our sexual desires, and who knows what the in-laws are going to do next? The key is to have the communication skills to work through these problems as they arise. Over these last two weeks we have looked at three ways to communicate: reflective listening, stings, and rationalization. Today I write about how to communicate feelings.

Listen to the talk show hosts and their professional marriage counselors, and they will come up with all kinds of crazy things to say about feelings. One says, “We must share more feelings.” Another says, “We share too many feelings.” I say when we share our feelings, unless we know something about communication, we usually share smoke screen emotions. For example, a couple is struggling with a real problem, and the wife asks the husband, “What are you feeling?”

In most cases the husband will respond with a smoke screen response like, “I feel surprised we’re having this problem!” What does “surprised” mean here? Feelings like surprised, bored, and confused have many different shades of meaning that leave the other person even more confused by what you are feeling after you say it.

In arguments and discussions, where important things must be resolved, I have found that if a couple uses only four main feelings they will cut through all the smoke screens. Those feelings are mad, sad, glad, and afraid.

To properly communicate one of these four emotions to our spouse or someone else we must use a simple statement that has three parts. You must start your sentence with, “I feel…,” then use one of the four emotions, mad, sad, glad, or afraid, and then close with a description of what is causing you to have that emotion.

When we start a statement with the words, “I feel…” then we are owning our statement, and our spouse cannot say in response, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” We don’t make up what feelings we will have, we respond to our feelings.

Next, the person must look within and decide if they are feeling mad, sad, glad, or afraid. This is hard. The first time my wife asked me to communicate using this tool it took me about five minutes to decide. I had to do some soul searching, as well as blow away all the smoke from the smoke screen emotions I wanted to use to keep from facing my own emotions and sharing them with my wife. Don’t be afraid if this is hard. Take the time and begin learning to understand your basic emotions.

Finally, what is the event that is causing the emotion. Sharing that with your spouse can be especially difficult when it is your spouse that has done something to make us mad, sad, or afraid. I have seen that we honor our spouse when we share what seem to be negative emotions they have caused, and they honor us when they help look for a solution rather than being defensive. The honesty and trust we build when we realize we need each other to deal with our most difficult emotions can really build a great marriage. Plus, our spouse is probably the only one that can help us with emotions s/he has caused in us, at least on the short term.

I hope you will find this communication tool to be a great help in the relationships that matter to you. I encourage you to practice when times are good. Tell your spouse three feeling statements, and make one of those statements a compliment for your spouse. When was the last time you complimented your spouse? Can you imagine how the flames of romance will burn so much brighter if you complement each other at least once everyday? Then when you get in an argument the practice will help you when your spouse asks, “How do you feel?”

It is God’s great desire that our marriages should be a blessing to our lives. Jesus said, “…a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” (Matthew 19:5). Healthy communication is a critical tool to experience the miracle of God’s plan for marriage. It is hard work, and it is worth every minute.