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Communicating Feelings

Topics: Couples

 

 

 

It is important that partners find ways to express their feelings to each other. This can be more challenging for some than others. The ability to recognize emotions and put words to them is important. Openly expressing feelings is vital for a healthy relationship.

 

Things to consider…
  • Listening, showing empathy, and actively trying to understand each other’s feelings.   
  • Taking responsibility for your own feelings by saying “I feel” or “I’m feeling” instead of “you make me feel”, which puts the responsibility on the other person.   
  • If emotions are connected to someone else’s behaviour, referring to what was specifically said or done (instead of making it personal). For example,    
    • If your partner leaves a mess in the kitchen after you have cleaned it, instead of saying, “you’re so inconsiderate!” try saying,
      “I feel
      frustrated (feeling) when you leave dirty dishes out (behaviour), because I think you don’t respect the work I just did (interpretation).” 
Do you want to know more about this?

Being able to express and talk about how we are feeling takes practice. Reviewing Speaking and Listening Skills can be helpful. Some couples find it easier to communicate about certain emotions compared to others. Consider the following: 

Labelling emotions

Being aware of our feelings is an important first step in communicating how we feel. Labelling emotions may seem straightforward but can be challenging at times. Finding the right words can help us better understand our emotional experience and help communicate with others.  

Sometimes feelings can be complex, and the feeling we immediately identify with and express may be made up of other underlying feelings (e.g., expressing anger when we are scared, hurt, or jealous). Also, we can experience more than one feeling at the same time. 

The Feeling Wheel is a tool that can be used to describe feelings in a more detailed and accurate way. It includes six core emotions in the center of the wheel. More detailed emotions related to the core emotions are listed in the middle and outer circles. It does not include all possible feelings, so feel free to make note of any additional feeling words you may want to use.  

Give it a try: 

  • Right now, or the next time you’re together as a couple, take a moment to practice focusing your attention on how you are feeling and label the emotion(s).  
  • Use The Feeling Wheel to help pinpoint the word that best fits how you are feeling.
  • Do this exercise several times over the next few days. Print a copy of The Feeling Wheel or save the image on your phone, so that you will have it handy.   

Was labelling your emotions easier or more difficult than you first expected? What did you both learn by practicing the skills of recognizing and labelling emotions?

G. Willcox. The Feeling Wheel. Used with permission from The Gottman Institute.

Expand and Download: The Feeling Wheel

communicating feelings checklist

When it comes to communicating feelings, couples have both strengths and areas that they would like to improve. Communication about emotions takes continuous practice. Taking time to practice effective communication is an investment in maintaining a healthy relationship.  

 

Download: Communicating Feelings Checklist

sharing and listening exercise

Both sharing feelings and “just listening” can be surprisingly difficult. To practice both sets of skills, try the following:  

  1. Set aside a designated amount of time together each week (e.g., 30-60 minutes) to listen to one another.  
  2. For half the time:
    • One person shares how they have been feeling throughout the week (remember to focus on your feelings about what’s been happening).  
    • The other person listens without offering advice or opinions (remember to use active listening skills)
  3. At the halfway mark, switch roles.  
  4. After the allotted time, discuss the following: 
    • How did each of you experience being the speaker? Was it easy or challenging to focus on feelings when sharing?
    • How did each of you find being the listener? Was it easy or challenging to actively listen without interrupting?
    • What was it like to have each other’s undivided attention when sharing feelings? 

Exercise adapted from: “Dealing with Feelings” chapter in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook [7th ed.], by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D.

References for this page (click to expand)

Bourne, E. J. (2020). The anxiety and phobia workbook (7th ed). New Harbinger Publications.

Wilcox, G. (2020). The Feeling Wheel. Positive Psychology Practitioner’s Toolkit. https://www.gnyha.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/The-Feeling-Wheel-Positive-Psycology-Program.pdf  

Willcox, G. (1982). The feeling wheel: A tool for expanding awareness of emotions and increasing spontaneity and intimacy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 12(4), 274-276. https://doi.org/10.1177/036215378201200411 

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Managing Worries About Risk

Topics: Couples

Skill building:

Everybody worries at times. PSP family members may worry about the risks and dangers associated with PSP work. This is understandable. Worries can be helpful, as they can urge preparation and planning for challenging events. However, worries become a problem when they happen a lot, make it hard to focus on other things, and feel like they “spiral” out of control.
Families may find that seeing or hearing certain things increases their worries. This could include hearing about traumatic events on the news, social media, movies or TV, or through conversations. Identifying what increases worries and focusing on not adding “fuel” to these worries can be helpful. It can also be useful to talk as a family about these concerns. Family talks are a chance for PSP family members to share accurate and reliable information about the job. Having these important talks not only reduces worries but also strengthens mutual support for families.

 

Things to consider…
  • Paying attention to what increases worries. These are often issues related to the risks associated with PSP work.  
  • Discussing together what increases worries or family tension.    
  • Cutting back on (or cutting out) media that increases worries (e.g., turning off the news, putting phones away). 
  • Practicing what you can say or not participating in conversations that increase worry (e.g., “I actually don’t want to hear about this.”) 
Do you want to know more about this?

If you are experiencing significant worry or anxiety that interferes with your day-to-day life (e.g., work, relationships, sleep, or other important parts of your life), it is recommended that you consult your health care provider. For additional information about anxiety visit: Anxiety Canada.

Free, internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses for managing anxiety, as well as other mental health concerns, are available for both PSP and SSOs who live in Canada. For more information, click here.

Skill building:
Discussing Concerns

Set aside time to have an open conversation about worries. This can include discussing feelings and asking questions and learning about the PSP’s job, the risks involved, and information about PSP training and safety protocols.  

It may be useful to consider the following story about Chantal and Jean-Paul. They are fictional characters, but their story comes from real experiences that PSP families have shared. This story begins early in the relationship and illustrates some of the worries and challenges that PSP couples can face.  As you watch the video below (around 4 minutes) about Chantal and Jean-Paul, consider your own story, the changes that have occurred, and the ways you have adjusted to this way of life. 

References for this page (click to expand)

Sharp, M.-L., Solomon, N., Harrison, V., Gribble, R., Cramm, H., Pike, G., & Fear, N. T. (2022). The mental health and wellbeing of spouses, partners and children of emergency responders: A systematic review. Plos One, 17(6), e0269659. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269659

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Improving Sleep

Topics: Couples

 

Even though sometimes it can feel impossible to get enough sleep, research shows that adequate sleep is essential to physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is associated with fatigue, mental health concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression, irritability), and negative health outcomes. Sleep issues can impact the couple relationship, as one partner’s sleep problem can negatively affect the other partner. Research suggests that sleep difficulties and relationship difficulties often occur together.  

 

 

Things to consider…
  • Learning about sleep to generate ideas about how to improve sleep.
  • Prioritizing sleep by cutting out screen-based activities before bed (e.g., watching TV, time on computer/phone) that get in the way of sleep as much as possible.
  • Resolving any conflicting sleep priorities with your partner.
  • Establishing a consistent pre-sleep routine (this could include relaxing stretches, putting pajamas on, brushing teeth, etc.), which can cue the mind that it is time for sleep.
  • Consulting with a qualified health care provider if you are experiencing persistent or significant problems with sleep.
Do you want to know more about this?

The recommended amount of sleep is 7-9 hours/night for healthy adults, although the optimal amount of sleep can vary depending on the person.1 The environment, daily habits, and pre-sleep routines can have an impact on amount and quality of sleep. See Skill Building below for information to support better sleep.  

Life can get busy and it’s sometimes hard to find the time to get adequate sleep.

Many of the tips provided in the Skill Building section can still be useful during short-term periods with limited sleep to help you get the most out of the time you have.  

If your sleep problems are associated with concerns such as stress, anxiety, or low mood, please click here for additional information about the Spouse Wellbeing Course (for spouses or significant others of PSP). This is a free, self-guided course for managing stress and various mental health concerns, as well as offering additional information and strategies to help improve sleep.

Getting enough sleep can be especially challenging for those who work rotating shifts, night shifts, or on-call shifts.  

  • More information and tips for shiftworkers coming soon.
  • Click here for a free, interactive web tutorial for night workers, developed by Dr. Marie Dumont.
Tips for better sleep

The following exercise is designed to help both partners identify good sleep habits and areas for improvement. Being aware of habits that benefit (or interfere with) sleep is an important step in supporting better sleep.  

This exercise can be done individually or together. If completing this together, each of you can take a turn answering the questions on the slides below and discuss afterward. Sleep information and tips will be provided. (Note: some of the information and tips may need to be adjusted for those who work shift work.) 

Below, there are 18 question slides. Answer the question on each slide by clicking either “yes” or “no” or skip a slide that is not applicable to you by pressing the right arrow at the bottom of the slide. At the end of the activity, you will be provided with a summary of your answers. For the questions that were applicable to you, a value of 0/1 indicates an area to consider that may help to improve your sleep.

You can print this summary by clicking on the print icon located on the bottom of the activity. This information can be used to help set goals related to improving sleep.

 

Steps for setting sleep goals
  1. Review your summary or consider the other sleep information and resources provided.
  2. Choose a goal(s) related to improving your sleep that you would like to focus on this week. Start small – you can work up to bigger changes over time.
  3. Discuss with your partner ways that you can support each other’s goals.
  4. In two weeks, check in with each other to see if the changes made were helpful and consider your next step to work toward better sleep.
References for this page (click to expand)

1Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., Hazen, N., Herman, J., Katz, E. S., Kheirandish-Gozal, L., Neubauer, D. N., O’Donnell, A. E., Ohayon, M., Peever, J., Rawding, R., Sachdeva, R. C., Setters, B., Vitiello, M. V., Ware, J. C., & Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: Methodology and results summary. Sleep health, 1(1), 40–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010 

Bootzin, R. R., & Epstein, D. R. (2011). Understanding and treating insomnia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 7, 435-458.  https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.3.022806.091516 

Dumont, M. (2019). Coping better with night work: Interactive web tutorial. http://formations.ceams-carsm.ca/night_work/

Lammers-van der Holst, H. M., Murphy, A. S., Wise, J. (2020). Sleep tips for shift workers in the time of pandemic. Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care, 20(4), 128-130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7189699/   

Luyster, F. S., Strollo, P. J., Jr., Zee, P. C., & Walsh, J. K. (2012). Sleep: A health imperative. Sleep, 35(6), 727-734. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.1846 

National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from www.thensf.org  

Richter, K., Adam, S., Geiss, L., Peter, L., & Niklewski, G. (2016). Two in a bed: The influence of couple sleeping and chronotypes on relationship and sleep. An overview. Chronobiology International, 33(10), 1464-1472. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2016.1220388 

Silberman, S. A. (2008). The insomnia workbook: A comprehensive guide to getting the sleep you need. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.  

Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from: www.sleepfoundation.org  

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2021). Napping, an important fatigue countermeasure. CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/napping.html  

Troxel W. M. (2010). It’s more than sex: Exploring the dyadic nature of sleep and implications for health. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72(6), 578–586. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181de7ff8 

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Problem Solving Together

Topics: Couples

Skill building:

 

When concerns arise, it can help to ask, “Is there a problem that can be solved here?” If the answer is “yes,” problem solving can help to define the specific problem that you would like to tackle, come up with possible solutions, and make a plan.

 

Things to consider…

Working through a problem using the problem-solving steps below:

To start, practice these steps with simple everyday issues, then try these skills with more challenging problems.

Do you want to know more about this?

Problem-solving steps can be done individually or as a couple. Practicing problem-solving skills can help navigate current issues and prevent future problems. When there are multiple problems to be solved, it is often better to tackle them one at a time.

When deciding to problem solve as a couple, consider what is required:

  • Motivation and willingness by both partners
  • Acknowledgment and agreement by both partners that there is a problem to be solved
  • Collaboration throughout the process
  • Effective communication (see Speaking and Listening Skills)
  • Negotiation (being open to compromise, with both partners considering and weighing options calmly and thoughtfully)
Skill building:
Date night planning

Planning date nights can be challenging, particularly for PSP couples with nonstandard schedules. The upside is that it can be a great way to practice problem-solving skills and also enjoy some couple time!

To give it a try, make a commitment together to plan a date night (or date morning/afternoon) at least once a week for the next month. The dates do not have to be big outings – at-home dates count too –  so start with plans that are easier for you to make work. To begin, try the following:

  • Designate a time when you can plan the dates together
  • Have your calendars/schedules handy
  • As you begin to plan, make note of any problems that arise (e.g., conflicting schedules, childcare, fatigue, finances, etc.)
  • Focus on one problem at a time and work through the problem-solving steps together

After you have successfully negotiated your weekly date, take time to reflect on your experience problem solving together:

  • What did you find helpful?
  • What challenges came up when working through this process?
  • What did you learn?

After one month, how did you do? You may want to continue scheduling date nights or come up with other ways to spend quality time together. Taking opportunities to practice problem solving as a couple is a way to improve these skills and strengthen your relationship.

References for this page (click to expand)

Dattilio, F. M. (2010). Cognitive-behavioral therapy with couples and families: A comprehensive guide for clinicians. The Guilford Press.

Dattilio, F. M. & van Hout, G. C. M. (2006). The problem-solving component in cognitive-behavioral couples’ therapy. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 17(1), 1-19. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1300/J085v17n01_01

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Gratitude and Positive Reframing

Topics: Couples

Note: It is not recommended that this strategy be used for trauma without the guidance of a qualified mental health professional.  

 

Things to consider…
  • Expressing gratitude to a family member or friend. 
  • Thinking of opportunities instead of hassles when reflecting on an event or situation.
  • Answering the following questions: 
    • What can I learn from this experience?
    • Is this situation allowing me to gain new knowledge or practice a new skill?
    • Could this be an opportunity to strengthen a relationship?1
Do you want to know more about this?

Gratitude has been associated with strengthening personal relationships. Algoe and colleagues2 describe a find-remind-bind theory of gratitude. Expressing gratitude can find or initiate a new social relationship, remind people of existing relationships, and bind or strengthen relationships. Feeling and expressing gratitude plays an important role in maintaining relationships by promoting trust and lowering aggression. 

  • FIND new relationships 
  • REMIND existing relationships 
  • BIND strengthen relationships
Gratitude Journal

For the next four weeks, you and your partner commit to taking a few moments each day to write what you are grateful for in a journal or notebook. If possible, try to set a particular time each day (e.g., before you go to bed) to help make this exercise part of your routine. When writing about gratitude, consider:

  • People in your life that you are grateful for 
  • Things you are grateful for that you take for granted 
  • Experiences that bring about feelings of gratitude

After four weeks, reflect on your experience. Has it been helpful? Sharing your gratitude journal with your partner and other family members can also be beneficial. You may want to create a couple or family gratitude journal so you can check-in, express appreciation, and inspire each other with positive thoughts. 

Practice Positive Reframing

Below is a list of situations that are often viewed as neutral or negative. Together, discuss each situation and fill in new, more positive ways to perceive each situation. Take turns and see how many “reframes” you can come up with for each situation. Next, you will have a chance to add your own situations that you can consider together.  

 

References for this page (click to expand)

1Lambert, L. M., Graham, S. M., & Stillman, T. F. (2009). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect sense of coherence through positive reframing. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6): 461–470). https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1080/17439760903157182

2Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8(3), 425–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.8.3.425

Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2012). Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 26(4), 615-633. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2011.595393

Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890–905. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

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