“I HATE when she talks about her feelings!”
This is what my client John (not his real name) yelled out during his marriage coaching session with me last week.
I was encouraging his wife Jane (not her real name) to try expressing her hurt emotions using “I feel” statements versus the more triggering “YOU” statements in effort to breakthrough a conflict they had been carrying on for about a week.
So I asked Jane to express her feelings and emotions around this conflict using “I feel” statements rather than the “you” statements she had been using. Jane eagerly and quickly declared “I feel like you (to John) don’t care about us as much as your work!”… “I feel like you put work in front of us.”… “I feel like you don’t give a shit about how I feel!”…
AHA! There it was. As clear as day.
Of course John “HATES when Jane talks about her “feelings”!… He feels blamed and criticized for her hurt and pain each and every time she expresses how she feels.
Here, Jane is really using “you” statements that are disguised as “I” statements. Because she’s still making statements that are critical and/or blaming of John.
I then asked Jane to dive deeper in to what SHE was feeling and experiencing internally, rather than what she believed HE was feeling or experiencing.
Jane quieted… and took what felt like 30 seconds. I could see her thoughtfully processing her answer. Finally she said,
“When you talk to me in that tone in front of our daughters… I feel like… a failure.”
Oh my gosh. You should have seen John’s face.
His eyes and face immediately softened, and he literally dove off of the couch and on to the floor, where Jane was lying to ease her back pain). He put his hand on her face, looked in her eyes, kissed her, and reassured her awesomeness and failure-lessness in the sweetest, most insistent way. I almost felt guilty for watching.
Several times he said, “I had NO IDEA you felt like a failure when I did this!”.
These are the moments I live for in my coaching sessions.
The “AHA!” moments…. the breakthroughs…. the moments where I know a couple will never be the same. Because they’ve taken new action in their relationship, which has allowed them to FEEL a new way of being and doing in their relationship. And that is truly transforming. For the long term.
That feeling John got from hearing Jane’s “I feel” expression, made him jump off the couch and onto the woman he loves… because in that moment he got to see her truth. He was able to feel her vulnerability and her openness to him. He felt a surge of empathy and compassion for her because he wasn’t preoccupied with defending himself. He was able to hear what she was truly feeling and experiencing mentally and emotionally, outside of any blame or criticism toward him. That allowed him to take action from the compassion he could then feel for her, and help her feel better fast.
And there’s the huge difference. “I feel” statements, when used properly, are powerful expressions that lead to deeper understanding, more compassion, and more empathy for each other. That feels way better. Yes, it takes practice. Yes, it will always be tempting to use “you” statements in the heat of our inevitable battles. But the better we can get at expressing our own internal feelings (sadness, anger, fear, guilt, etc), the more we expand our opportunity to grow individually and as a couple and experience deeper connection and understanding.
I have extensively studied and taught this communication strategy in my private sessions with my clients as well as in my workshops and trainings. I highly respect and study Marshall B. Rosenberg’s work. I recommend his book “Nonviolent Communication” as a resource that will transform the way you communicate with your self and others.
To Your Extraordinary Relationships,
Certified Relationship & Life Coach
Certified Marriage Educator
Certified Divorce Preventionist
“I HELP busy professionals & parents reignite the connection, excitement, intimacy & fun in their love relationship so they can feel more emotionally fulfilled, understood, appreciated, & respected.”
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