Have you ever been so emotionally overwhelmed that when you attempt to communicate your feelings with your spouse, you end up saying all the wrong things and are left feeling misunderstood and disconnected? If this is the case, you may have been experiencing emotional flooding. If you wish you knew how to process and communicate your feelings in a way that makes you feel heard and valued, keep reading.
What Are Your Emotions Trying To Tell You
Emotions are indicator lights, giving us information about situations or relationships. Emotions give our bodies and brains signals for how we should act to keep us safe and help maintain healthy relationships. When someone acknowledges and validates our emotions, they validate our experience. This allows intimacy to grow and helps us to feel safe in relationships. I talk more about empathetic listening in “How To Listen To Your Spouse’s Feelings.”
Often when we experience emotions, especially intense negative emotions, we want to do something about them right in that moment. You probably want to go tell your spouse exactly what’s on your mind. Or you might want to engage in numbing activities like excessive alcohol or drugs to avoid what you are feeling. If you are overcome with strong emotions, here are some steps to communicate them in a way that allows you to feel heard and understood.
How to Communicate Your Emotions
Stop. Don’t Do Anything
Remember that emotions don’t cause harm, but what we choose to do or say because of the emotions can be very harmful.
Name and Rate Your Emotions
First, name your emotion. Maybe you can name three or four emotions that you are experiencing all at once. That’s good! While it may be overwhelming and uncomfortable, you have a name for the emotions and that’s a great start. Next, try to rate the intensity of the emotions on a scale of one to ten. Ask yourself, “Does the intensity of the emotion match the situation?” Imagine you feel like falling onto the floor crying or throwing something while screaming. Did you just experience profound grief and loss, like the death of a loved one? Perhaps the intensity fits. Did your spouse just drink from your favorite mug and then leave it out, dirty? Perhaps the intensity of the emotion doesn’t fit the situation.
If the intensity of the emotion does not fit, your next goal is to regulate until it does. Don’t tell your spouse what you’re feeling yet. While it is often helpful to journal or talk to yourself about how you’re feeling, in this case, it may only serve to heighten the emotion, and the intensity, by continuing to place it at the center of your attention. Instead, use a healthy distraction or calming activity, like taking a bath or going for a walk while listening to music, until the intensity of the emotion fits the situation.
Now that your emotional intensity matches the situation, you’re ready to talk. Remember, the goal isn’t to get rid of the emotion completely before discussion; the goal is to make sure the intensity fits the situation. Approach your spouse in a calm, confident manner. If you don’t feel calm and confident—fake it. You might just trick your brain and your body into feeling it. Ask if you can share with them. Try saying, “Can I share with you something I’m feeling right now?” If they say no, ask when a better time would be.
Use “I” Statements To Express How You Feel
Now you can get into the meat of it. Tell your spouse how you are feeling. Briefly summarize why you are feeling this way. When you describe the situation, stick to the facts. Do not include your beliefs about the situation or make accusations, demands, or threats. Also, try not to bring up past arguments. Here’s a script you could follow: “I feel [emotion] when [situation].” An example might be “I feel really lonely and unappreciated when you get home and turn on the TV without talking to me first.” You may want to add a statement about what you believe is your spouse’s best intention or a similar goal you have. “I know you care about how I feel,” or “I know we said we were going to work on sharing with each other, so I thought I’d try telling you how I felt today.” It is incredibly difficult to argue with someone who is stating something positive.
Don’t Get Derailed
Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. If you are acting like a prickly porcupine—even if your script is spot on—you’re eliminating opportunity to continue the conversation. Your spouse might try to provide an explanation for their actions. They might even say something mean or blaming. If your goal for this conversation is connection and receiving validation for your emotions, don’t get distracted by what they say. You may even have to ignore some of it.
Take a Break
If you are not receiving the response you hoped for, sometimes taking a break from the conversation is helpful. If you just were verbally attacked or invalidated, your emotions might have just shot back up. Go back and repeat step 3: Regulate.
You might not receive the exact response you were looking for, but if your spouse seems to be trying, accept it. There’s always room for future improvement. You may need to ask for something specific like, “Will you please remember to rinse out my favorite mug after you use it?” Humor can lighten a tense mood, but remember to keep the sarcasm out. You will likely still be experiencing some degree of uncomfortable emotion, even after the conversation. Focus on something that will allow you to feel opposite emotions… and if it is something that will also make you feel more connected to your spouse—even better! This might be a hug, a joke, or sharing a meal or activity together.
If you’ve tried all of these things but are still struggling to feel heard and understood in your relationship, there may be some deeper, unresolved issues that need to be addressed. Or maybe you’ve been stuck in these negative patterns for so long that you simply need help breaking out of the cycle of destructive communication. Here at the Marriage Recovery Center, we specialize in restoring emotional connection and would love to help you find new ways of relating to your spouse. Take the first step to a better marriage. Click here to contact our Client Care Team.