Are you completely lost as to what to do or say when you feel like your spouse is being “too emotional?” Do you get easily overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings?
We’ve all had those moments when we feel like someone is being “too emotional.” But the reality is, without emotions, relationships would simply be a series of transactions. Emotions are what make us feel connected in relationships. It’s why you fell in love in the first place. Emotions in and of themselves are not bad. It’s how we react to them that can cause harm.
If you have difficulty understanding and empathizing with your spouse’s emotions, below are some tips on how to listen to your spouse’s feelings.
How To Practice Empathetic Listening
1. Identify What You Are Feeling
Be aware of your own emotional responses. If you want to be attentive to your spouse’s emotions, you need to be aware of your own. But be very careful not to make this all about your emotions and what you’re feeling. While being mindful of how you’re feeling is important, you may need to put your own emotions and reactions aside for a moment to fully engage in these next few steps.
2. Be Aware of Your Reactions
If what your spouse is saying makes you feel defensive or angry, remember this: it’s okay to feel that way, but don’t act on it. The emotions that we are experiencing are not the problem. It’s the behaviors and words we use as a result of how we feel that can cause serious harm. So before you react, pause and don’t just say the first thing that comes to your mind, as it is very likely that you will cause some damage if you do that. I talk more about how to communicate your feelings in a healthy way in my companion blog “How To Communicate Your Feelings To Your Spouse.”
Do this without interrupting and without judgment. Do not respond with blaming—this is typically an attempt to bypass responsibility. Avoid jumping to problem-solving mode—this might make your spouse feel like you just want to end the conversation. While this might be exactly what you want, it probably is not what they need from you at that moment.
4. Practice Assertive Listening
Yes, more listening. But this time you can talk. You might wonder what you should say in that situation. The thing you are trying to be attentive to is your spouse’s emotion. Try asking, “When that happens, how does it make you feel?” Or, “What happened that caused you to feel this way?” Whatever you say, if your spouse detects any amount of contempt or sarcasm in your voice, the conversation might be over before it even gets off the ground, and you’ve lost a chance to connect, so be very careful how you ask things.
After your spouse tells you what they are feeling and why, name and validate the emotion. Do this without judgment. Your spouse is entitled to feel whatever they are experiencing, even though you may not understand why, and regardless of whether or not you would have the same emotional reaction. Remember that you are validating the emotion; this doesn’t mean you have to validate or accept their behaviors or certain words they may have used. Try saying “I didn’t know that was making you feel [emotion]” or “I’m sorry you felt [emotion] because I did that.” Not only will the person feel more connected to you, but validation helps regulate emotions back to baseline. An emotionally calmer conversation means a more productive conversation.
Again, a good place to start is by asking questions. For example, you can ask “If that happens again, what do you want me to do instead?” Remain open to suggestions. Do not make promises that you cannot keep but affirm your intention to make changes where you can. Your spouse may not be fully emotionally regulated yet—give them time and space if they need it. Alternatively, your spouse might want reassurance with a hug or your words. The simple act of thanking them for sharing or reinforcing how much you value your spouse and your relationship can be an important step towards reconnection.
If the struggle to navigate the sea of emotions has become a stumbling block in your relationship, it may be time to seek outside help. We at the Marriage Recovery Center have helped thousands of couples learn how to better understand their mate and their emotions, and we would love to help you as well! Click here to schedule a free consultation with a Client Care Specialist to discuss your needs and how to get started.