I always appreciate it when I have feelings and my wife Christie agrees to listen to me sort through them. Perhaps it is a conflict I’m having with a dishwasher repairman, or something gone awry with a sale clerk. She is there to hear about my day and allow me space to vent.

But, what if the feelings I’m having involve her? Now things get a little more complicated. Anyone who is married knows that feelings can arise over the smallest issue.

Let’s add one more layer of complexity to this scene. What if I have feelings of some intensity at the same time she has similar feelings? Things have just become ten times more difficult.

How will we share our feelings simultaneously? We can’t. That’s right. If we should dare to share feelings at the same time, it’s called a fight. Two people sharing their feelings—often expressed in the form of a judgment—is called a fight.

Consider the following interaction between a couple who came to The Marriage Recovery Center recently between Sam and Jenny, married for fifteen years and coming in an attempt to save their marriage.

“I can’t stand the way you pick at me,” Sam says, believing his judgment is really sharing feelings.

“You should talk,” Jenny says. “You’re the one who comes home in a foul mood. How do you think that feels to me? That hurts my feelings.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if I were appreciated for how hard I work,” he shouts (One can guess that he feels unappreciated, though he is less than clear about this).

I stop things before they escalate further.

“Jenny and Sam, can we slow this down and one person talk at a time,” I suggest. I’ve really stepped in too late. They have already hurt one another’s feelings.

“I’d like to suggest that one person talk at a time,” I say. “More important, I’d like one person to share their feelings, not a judgment against the other. I’d like to teach you how to share in such a way where you are actually listened to and understood. Would you like that?”

“Of course,” they both say. “But, it may be too late for that,” Sam adds.

“No, it’s not too late for that,” I share. “Let’s slow things down and practice really listening to each other. Let’s share in such a way where one person’s feelings don’t collide with their mate’s feelings.”

With that I offered the following guidelines:

First, two people cannot share feelings at the same time. This is a critical concept that must be understood. Any attempt to share feelings simultaneously will engage in a fight or power struggle. As we learned in kindergarten, we must take turns. Someone must go first while the other actively listens.

Second, active listening means setting aside your agenda and feelings. To be fully engaged means “bracketing your feelings and desire to be heard,” trusting that there will come a time when you will be able to share and be heard. Active listening disarms the intense feelings of your mate.

Third, healthy, trusting relationships are built upon the principle of one person sharing at a time. Actively listening to our mate, we empathize with them and take responsibility for any concerns they have that belong to us. We show compassion and caring, instilling in them a desire to listen to us.  

Fourth, as trust grows we feel a sense of security. As we actively listen to our mate, they trust us and desire to listen to us. As we share, in non-threatening ways, we cultivate a sense of connection. We come to care more deeply for our mate and willingly set aside our desire to be heard in order to care first for them.

Finally, a deep sense of connected love develops from this caring, trusting relationship. We practice what the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5—“Love is patient, love and kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered.”

mrc2We are here to help and offer phone/ Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles. Please send responses to me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. 

Publication date: June 2, 2014