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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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