Expressing negative feelings in marriage can be a challenge.
We can be misunderstood and taken the wrong way without much effort. Sometimes we deliver our negative feelings with facial expressions and tones of voice that communicate the opposite of what we intend. These ‘mis’communications can lead to our spouses becoming defensive in their own responses back to us. This sets off a negative cycle of exchange that creates an ‘argument’.
The Role of Our Emotions/Feelings
Part of the problem in expressing negative feelings is what we say, and more importantly, how we say it, is very much influenced by our feelings and emotions.
Think of it this way: Hurt feelings and angry emotions = hurt and angry communication.
When our spouse talks to us with hurt and anger (especially anger) we usually respond by becoming defensive. One way we put up our defense is to back away from the interaction. This is called disengaging.
Don’t Blame Your Spouse for Disengaging.
Disengaging is not good because it shuts down the conversation. It is a normal human reaction. The reason we disengage is a matter of self-preservation. We are designed to protect our physical and emotional ‘self’. When anything threatens our ‘self’ we take action to protect it.
A Goal to Strive For
One goal in marriage communication is to express our feelings in a way that keeps our spouse from becoming defensive and angry.
A good way to do this is to begin your sentence with, “I feel.”
“I feel like you are upset with me.”
“I feel like you only care about yourself and your needs.”
By beginning with the word “I” you put the focus on YOU and not your spouse. This is less likely to cause him/her to feel attacked. Remember – when your spouse feels attacked the common response is to become defensive. Since defensiveness results in disengagement from the conversation it follows that NOT becoming defensive will result in your message being clearly heard.
Don’t Do This
Do not begin your sentence with “You never” and “You always.”
“You never help me with the kids.”
“You always decide where we go for vacation each year.”
“You never care about my feelings.”
“You always put your job before me.”
This is guaranteed to put your partner on the defensive. They will stop listening and start focusing on how they are going to defend themselves. The result is they are no longer listening to what you have to say and you are no longer being heard. Is this what you want to happen?
Word your complaint this way:
“I feel like you don’t help with the kids. I need you to help me more.”
“I feel like I never get to have any say in where we go on vacation. I would like for you to take my suggestions more seriously.”
“I feel like you don’t pay enough attention to my feelings. I need you to make me feel like you are paying attention to how I feel.”
“I feel like your job is more important to you than I am. I need to feel more important to you.”