Often times clients enter therapy and wonder why it is important to describe their feelings and actually feel them with their partners in sessions. Clients often say things like, “What is the point of sharing my feelings? I don’t see how this is helpful, feeling sad doesn’t change the situation.” True. Feeling sad does not change the situation, BUT it might change the way you feel about and respond to the situation, which eventually may lead to changes in the situation. But it’s hard to see that because change is slow and experiencing feelings is hard.
Most of us don’t like to feel sad, hurt, or mad and for many of us it’s difficult. Sometimes in our relationships sharing these feelings doesn’t go well. However, with the help of a couple’s therapist, sharing your feelings can become easier and also be a productive experience in your relationship. The truth is that understanding our own feelings allows us to understand the impact those feelings have on our partner.
As the couple’s therapist, I help you to understand that when you are mad at your partner, they will have feelings about it. And those feelings aren’t just angry, they feel sad, and often like they’ve disappointed you. They are so upset because they love you, you matter to them, and they want to make you happy. But often times we get into negative patterns of communicating and relating and these patterns get in the way of our partners sharing their deeper (more vulnerable) feelings. So, you never get to see two things, first that they are HURT, not angry (but are using the anger as a self-protect mechanism) and second that they are hurt because they LOVE you and you matter to them and they want to get it right with you.
So, if your partner can open up in session and you can see that they are vulnerable, and that they are impacted by you because you matter, it might change the way you view your partner and how you react to them. You might not get so angry so fast. For example, if you can see your partner as desperately trying to get it right with you and devastated when they don’t- you are less likely to be so angry at them. No, this experience does not change the fact that you are tight on money and the dishes aren’t done, BUT it does expand your understanding of your partner and their love for you. That new knowledge changes the interactions in the relationship pattern.
Turn this philosophy around, if your partner understands how YOU feel, and how they are hurting YOU they are much less likely to do whatever it is they are doing that is hurting you. But they cannot change unless they know that it's a problem for you. And you may be saying to yourself, “Oh, she knows is a problem, we fight about this all the time” my answer is yes, you do fight all the time, the key word is FIGHT. I am asking you, and helping you to have a new conversation about the same old things, to do something different than you have done before in your relationship.
If your husband or wife knew that you weren’t only angry, but that you were devastated and so pained when they criticize you, it may influence them and help them to stop.
Again, if they don’t know it’s painful, if they only see you yelling back, they won’t understand the pain. We usually respond to anger with more anger or silence, and neither are helpful in this situation. So, as a couple’s therapist I would encourage you to open up and share the pain. Give your partner new information to shape a new perception of you in the relationship.
Typically, we are not trying to hurt one another, we are just trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt. Consider that the next time you are in a fight, and ask yourself, “what else might my partner be feeling as a result of my behavior towards them?” And ask them. Start a dialogue, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, it might be time to find a good couple’s therapist to help you navigate these moments and find a resolution.
Advanced warning, the therapist will probably want you to share your feelings.