Many Americans have trouble distinguishing consistently between thoughts and feelings. In fact, it is a common expression to say, “I feel like…” to describe what a person is thinking. For example, “I feel so stupid,” and, ”I feel like I shouldn’t have done that,” are ways that a person might describe a situation in which they regret their actions without actually describing how they feel. When it is pointed out, clients often laugh about how they habitually describe how they “feel” without ever even using a feeling word (e.g. embarrassed, guilty, ashamed). This is very common.
Being unaware of how thoughts and feelings are different but related can complicate relationships immensely. When one partner asks about the other’s emotions, and the reply is about thoughts instead, it can feel to the first partner like they are unheard, misunderstood, and/or unimportant. For example, if your partner tells you a story about a difficult situation at work and your response is a suggestion for how to fix the situation, then you have a mismatch in this conversation. Almost every time, your partner does not want a response about what you think of the situation; your partner is making a bid for an emotional connection. The appropriate response in this situation is to identify the emotions that your partner is feeling and to indicate that you’re listening, that you care, and that you understand.
Unfortunately, those of us who have little practice dealing with our emotions often have a hard time making meaningful connections in these daily interactions. When your partner doesn’t feel heard day after day, however, it can lead to serious emotional distress. Often, one partner will be dissatisfied in the relationship and the other partner will be caught off-guard when they first learn that they’re about to be broken up with (or divorced!). Addressing these issues with a licensed professional counselor early on when they come up can prevent a lot of heartache and discomfort. And if this is something that has been bothering you for a long time already, it’s never too late to begin to address it.
In therapy, I help couples and individuals bring awareness to this issue. Through some exercises and homework assignments, I create opportunities for my clients to gain a better understanding of their own feelings and thoughts and to distinguish between them. We then work together to practice understanding what their partner is feeling and then relating that understanding to them in a way that they don’t feel attacked. When you respond to a bid for an emotional connection with an appropriate emotional connection, both partners get the message that their relationship is safe, and secure, and they learn to trust their partner more.
Trust is one of the most important aspects of a stable, long-lasting relationship. Can you trust that your partner will have your back? Can you trust that your partner will understand you when things are difficult? Is your relationship a place you can go and be vulnerable knowing that your partner wants to be there with you just because you’re you? Trust in a love relationship is much more complicated than other types of trust, and really taking time to understand that complexity is the work that it takes to maintain a relationship.
If you think you would like to develop a better understanding and a closer relationship with your partner, call me today at 402-325-0117 x4 or schedule online.