How to Respond When Your Spouse Shares Their Feelings
Ways that Reject Feelings
Defend / Explain
A common way to reject a feeling is to defend or explain yourself after your spouse tells you how he or she feels. The effect is to tune in to how you feel and to miss how your spouse feels.
‘The reason I said that .. “What I meant was ..
Apologies offered too quickly before you let your spouse know that you understand the feelings that were shared usually mean nothing. They really amount to the message “I don’t want to discuss this further and I don’t really want to hear how badly I hurt you. Maybe a quick apology will end this painful conversation.”
“I’m really sorry that. . ” I shouldn’t have said that
If your spouse tells you when you made her feel bad, then informing her when she made you feel bad is a subtle but very real and devastating Attack. The result will be either a long and heated series of counterattacks or a retreat into cold silence.
” I admit what I did was wrong, but you … “Well, maybe you’re right, but what I can’t understand is why you ..
When your spouse shares a burden or struggle, don’t immediately offer Advice. The discouraged husband desired the encouragement of a wife who respected him, not the ideas of a counselor who thought he needed “help.” Well meaning wives often offer advice to troubled husbands, not realizing that the message their husbands hear is “Listen, you weakling, I’ll tell you how to handle this, since you’re making such a mess out of it!”
“Maybe you should …” ” It seems t o me that if you ..
When your partner shares a feeling, never Disdain – telling him or her not to feel “that way.” Even when you are trying to be encouraging, to inform someone not to experience an emotion he or she has just expressed often comes across as a putdown. Sentences like “Honey, you shouldn’t feel that way” or “There’s no reason to feel so worried (hurt, etc.)” should be avoided.
” I don’t really see why you feel . . “Gee, honey, there’s no need to feel . .
Another effective but subtle technique for rejecting feelings is to correct a person’s evaluation of the problem that is generating an emotion. To tell the person what the problem “really is” and what he or she should therefore be feeling does not communicate acceptance. At some point, of course, it may be necessary to suggest an accurate perception of events, but to do so immediately after a feeling is expressed conveys rejection
“What I think you really mean is .. “I don’t think you feel . .
Ways to Accept Feelings
Reflect the feeling back like a mirror
” It sounds as if you feel …” “Guess you really felt . . when .
Clarify by describing what you heard and asking if you heard correctly.
“Are you saying that . . . ” I wonder if you feel ..
Explore what was meant by asking questions.
“I’m not sure what you mean … “When else do you feel like that? I don’t quite understand how you feel l about . .
Extend by suggesting other feelings that are related to what has been shared.
“You really felt . . . Did you also feel . . . ” I can see that you feel.. . If I were in your shoes, I might also feel . . Do you feel like that?”
How to Respond When Your Spouse Shares Feelings Worksheet
One of the most difficult but important skills, to develop is the ability to help our spouses feel accepted when they share a feeling with us. Many of us are not aware of the dozens of ways we convey criticism or intolerance or insensitivity when our spouses express their feelings.
Whenever we respond negatively, our mates feel hurt and hide behind whatever mask protects them from further hurt. This exercise is designed to help you learn how to respond to your spouse’s feelings in a way that will increase a sense of warmth, understanding, and closeness.
When your partner tells you how he or she feels, you must treat that feeling with care. Remember that when someone really accepts your feelings, you tend to feel understood and respected and you are inclined to share warmly more of your own feelings.
Couples should complete this exercise together. Read through the following interactions between a husband and wife in which one partner shares a feeling and the other responds. In each case decide whether the partner who responds (the second speaker) really communicates acceptance (+) or rejection (-) of the feeling.
Wife: ” I really felt hurt last night because it seemed to me that you were demanding sex from me
whether I felt like it or not. I just didn’t feel very important to you.
Husband: “Honey, I really didn’t intend to force you into anything. I thought you wanted to make love.”
Husband: “At the Bible study last night, when I said what I thought that verse meant, you frowned and
said, ‘Oh, I don’t think it means that.’ I felt like walking out and never coming back. I’m still mad about it!”
Wife: “Oh honey, I’m so sorry, I really feel bad that I did that to you.”
Wife: “Every time you mention my weight, I just get so frustrated that I feel like eating more, especially
when you say something in front of others. I feel absolutely crushed when you say anything about my
weight. I already feel bad enough about it.”
Husband: “I think I sometimes say things like that just to get even for your remarks about our finances.
When you tell people that we drive our old car because we can’t afford a new one, I feel like it’s a slam at me, and I get mad!”
Husband: “Business pressures are really getting to me. I’m sick and tired of going to work. All I do is
worry all day whether I’m going to make any sales. It’s just too much pressure.”
Wife: “Dear, maybe you should look for a job where there aren’t so many pressures.”
Wife: “Tomorrow I have to get up and address our women s group to give a report on our project. I’m
really a nervous wreck about it!”
Husband: “Honey, you’ll do great! You always get nervous before something like this, but it always goes
super. You don’t need to be afraid.”
Husband: “I’m really feeling guilty about the amount of time I’m away from the family. I haven’t sat down to play a game with you and the kids for months.”
Wife: ” I think the real problem is that you worry too much about our financial situation. That’s what keeps you working so many hours. We’d all rather have less money and more of you.”
Using the How to Respond Chart, evaluate the ways the above expressions of feelings were rejected in the responses. On a separate piece of paper, Husbands, read the feelings shared by the wife in interactions 1,3, and 5. Write out a response for each one that you think would convey acceptance of the feeling. Wives do the same for interactions 2,4 and 6. After you have completed your responses, give them to your spouses to respond as to whether the new response would have helped them feel accepted. Then using the same Interactions, write new responses that will Reflect, Explore,
Clarify or Extend the feelings expressed. Use the Guidelines for help if necessary.
(from The Marriage Builder, Larry Crabb)