“When she said that, how did you feel?” the marriage counselor asks him.
Think about the massive assumptions being made, and there are many. This is not exhaustive.
He knows feelings words, he cares about feelings, he knows how to express the feelings, he is willing to express feelings at all, not just in front of you and his wife, he believes it is consistent with his manly values to express feelings (omg Don, you are using such stereotypes, starting with the fact that the couple is heterosexual and a man/woman dyad) (Well yes, I am making assumptions and claiming every assumption I make every single time would be counterproductive- I have tried that in the past and you lose your entire point. So, for the sake of argument or not having an argument, let’s assume heterosexual, man/woman, monogamous and the other assumptions about feelings)
Let’s teach this person how to do feelings and how feelings work.
A feeling is a physiological sensation accompanied by a thought. Point to where in the body you are having the physiological sensation. Breathe into the center of the feeling. Lean into the emotion. Many of us stir it up, escalate or run away. I want you to experience the feeling, to witness it and be with it, not act it out, not re-act. Just sit with it.
Like meditation in which you keep bringing your awareness back to the breath, I want you to sit with the feeling, doing nothing else (no multitasking) and when (not if) you get distracted, bring your awareness back to the emotion.
Be the awareness behind the emotion. Keep bringing the awareness back for 30 minutes or so. Emotions essentially evaporate after that. You do not need to manage the emotion, cope with it, change it, talk yourself out of it, process it… Just feel it and it goes away on its own. You are proving to yourself that the emotion is not stronger than you. The emotion does not overpower you. You ride the wave of the emotion and it goes away, every single time. It might not be an pleasant feeling and it does not last. If you would like to experience this, I have a few audios on archive.org that walk you through it. Yes, they are free. The audio entitled, “She cheated on me” has the most direction of how to sit with it and a couple hints of how to cope if you are struggling.
How many repetitions of feeling your feeling will you need before it becomes habit? 100, 200, 500? A lot of reps, please
Now, let’s get into how to do emotions with others. In a relationship, you are relating to their words and behaviors. I related to what you said by this emotion.
“When you said X, I felt ______” “When you did X, I felt ____” Pick out a one word emotion and express it. Let’s choose anger. I related to your behavior with anger. That is called relating and it builds the relationship. I know how you relate to what I said and did and you know the same. It eliminates the silly guesswork that we all stink at.
Look at yourself in the mirror. Go do it now and say, “I feel angry.” Does your tone of voice convey anger? Does your face match (is it congruent with the word and tone) the word and tone of anger? Practice until it does.
Please do not say, “I feel that you should not have done that.” There is not feeling directly expressed there. You are expressing judgment and contempt, but not a direct emotional expression. “I feel _____” and the next word out of your mouth should be an emotion. One word and leave it alone after that. No explanation why (at this point). If they ask why you feel that way, consider just being with the emotion. Sometimes people are not comfortable with your feelings and they want to talk you out of it (making it about them not you). They might invalidate and tell you why you should not feel that way. Or if you are angry and they cannot tolerate anyone being angry at them, they will do their best to get you out of your feeling.
Quick note on anger. Anger is usually related to the hurt you feel about a need that was not met. Be direct and own your hurt. That is the deeper connection. “I felt hurt when…” That is vulnerable and not blaming. It invites connection instead of pushing it away.
Some people confuse anger with aggression or belligerence. “I was just expressing my feelings,” he said as he put a hole in the wall. Well, kinda yeah, but not just expressing anger. He was threatening you with demonstrating that he could hurt you if you do not do it his way. He was demonstrating aggression. Expressing anger is simple and direct, “I am angry at you for….” Match the voice tone and the face. Do not do it so loudly that the neighbors call the police or your spittle hits the other person- that is more than expressing anger.
“I am 100% okay with you being angry with me. Aggressive, accusing, blaming, hostile or belligerent? Nope”
Stay with the vulnerable and you build the relationship “I got scared when you got close to me emotionally and I emotionally pushed you away. I am terrified that if you knew how weak I feel inside, you would not like me.”
Want to master emotional expression?
Here is a list of emotions. Word by word, say it, in front of the mirror. Every single word needs to match the tone of voice when you say it, while matching your face. No poker face in healthy relationships… Do you want your partner to know you? Do you want to know your partner? Start with emotions, with feelings and expressing them.
Start with fear, guilt, sadness, hurt, vulnerability, irritation, disillusionment, disenchantment, discouraged, disappointment
For real, go to the mirror now and practice those until you nail them. Tomorrow, do it again. Imagine doing it every single day for a month until you make it your own. Minimum a week. If you do it one day only, please don’t think you have made a difference. It is like the bare minimum effort. Like doing 5 sit-ups and wondering why you don’t have 6-pack abs.
If you can master those basics, those softer emotions, then you will find the others much easier. Match your tone of voice, body language, facial expression to the word. Oh, and do it when you have the room to yourself. People might tease you as you practice.