How to Express Feelings Effectively with Your Spouse

couple sharing thoughts

Expressing thoughts with your spouse is easy; feelings not so much. But because sharing makes you feel exposed and vulnerable, it creates intimacy.

How to Express Yourself

When sharing feelings with your spouse, it is important to know the difference between thoughts and feelings. This trick can help: say “I think…” if it is a thought, and “I feel…” if it is a feeling or physical sensation. Don’t say “I feel that…”  The word that indicates that what you are going going to say is a thought, not a feeling.

Too often, we start with “You make me feel…” This phrase invites hurt feelings and arguments. It comes across as an accusation. Statements of feelings, and especially of vulnerable feelings like sad, confused, or anxious, invite empathy. Accusations are off-putting, inviting counterattacks.

You make me feel … ” turns you into a victim. While the phrase may cause guilt or shame in your partner, it renders you powerless at the same time. Starting with “I feel…”  is empowering because it focuses you and the person you are sharing with on finding a solution.

“You make me feel…” sets you into a stance of criticism toward your partner. “I feel…” launches exploration of what you are feeling and why.

One person generally does not alone “make” another feel anything. What creates a feeling is the combination of what one person says (or does) and the other person’s interpretation of the words or actions.

How to be Heard

How you express feelings makes a huge difference in how your feelings will be heard. Here are some tips for being heard productively:

  1. Express yourself tactfully. Start with the positive. Keep dialogue to “I” statements. Example “I feel _____ (sad, angry, etc) about ______(the behavior or situation) and this is what I need.”
  2. Give every feeling a name, like annoyed, frustrated, mad, surprised, curious, afraid, etc. Six core feelings we all have are: anger, joy, fear, sadness, excitement and sexual feelings.
  3. Describe in detail what it is like to be you. Be clear. They can’t read your mind. Share what’s beneath the surface. Under the anger might be hurt or embarrassment, for example.
  4. Practice naming your feelings. Share every day. It doesn’t have to be ‘heavy, deep and real’ every time, but express the feeling behind what happened. “I was talking about Jane with Shelly and then Jane came up behind Shelly. I was so ashamed and embarrassed!”

Feelings are Healthy and Valid

Always remember that feelings are valid. Don’t judge your partner for what they feel. If you get defensive or irritated, it will be hard for them to continue sharing. Look at why you are being defensive. Don’t invalidate them by saying, “you shouldn’t feel that way.” They feel what they feel and are entitled to those feelings.

When dealing with feelings, remember they do pass. A feeling only lasts 90 seconds. It is our thoughts that keep the feeling going. After you sleep on it, take a brisk walk, or distract yourself with a movie, you may feel differently. Don’t make decisions when you are in an emotional state of mind. Wait until you can be rational, logical and balanced.

“Intimacy” comes from the word “intima;” Latin for the vulnerable linings of your innermost body tissues. Share intimate feelings successfully and you will promote empathy and connection.

Learning to share on a regular basis can strengthen your bond and even improve your sex life. Sharing feelings with your partner in front of a counselor can help. The counselor can guide you restating when you are sharing in a way that is unproductive. With practice, sharing effectively becomes a habit.