Feelings are an important part of the Marriage Encounter Weekend and our marriage relationship. Good communication between husband and wife includes recognizing my feelings and sharing them with my spouse.
This Feelings Workbook will help me identify and share my feelings with my spouse when I write my love letter, and in our dialogue.
A feeling is an inner reaction to someone or something. A feeling is spontaneous and involuntary.
This inner reaction may be physical, emotional, or both. It may be a reaction to a past, present, or future situation.
We don’t plan or choose our feelings; they just are. “Involuntary” is a key word. Feelings Are Neither Right Nor Wrong.
Why? Because we can’t choose our feelings. When a feeling I don’t like arises within me, having that feeling is not wrong. Because feelings are involuntary, they have no morality. However, our actions in response to our feelings can be right or wrong – because we can choose what we do or say.
For example: If I feel irritated with my spouse, I need not blame myself for having that feeling. I didn’t decide to feel irritated; feelings just happen. But I can choose how I will respond to that feeling. I can decide to shout or hurl insults, or I can decide to speak kindly in spite of my irritation. My action not my feeling is right or wrong.
What we do in response to a feeling includes what we do with our minds. A feeling itself has no morality; but if I allow my mind to dwell on that feeling and think about what I might do, this is a mental action that may be right or wrong.
For example, in Ephesians 4:26, Paul wrote: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” An angry feeling is involuntary and thus is not wrong; but if I let my mind build up thoughts of revenge or hatred, or nurse a grudge that is a mental action and it is wrong.
Jesus warned, “… anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). An involuntary feeling of sexual attraction for a person other than my spouse is not lust. Lust is not a feeling; it is a mental action, such as allowing one’s mind to dwell on the attraction. The feeling of attraction is not chosen, and therefore has no morality. However, we can choose what we allow our minds to focus on, such as imagining a sexual relationship ─ and that is a wrong mental action.
In the Bible, God expresses a wide range of feelings. For example, Jesus felt and expressed grief for Lazarus, anger toward the money-changers in the temple, and rejoicing when one sinner repents. God has created us in His image and thus has given us a full range of feelings.
There is wonderful liberation, relief, and joy in discovering our feelings are neither right nor wrong. I don’t have to blame myself for having feelings I dislike, and I can stop trying to change my spouse’s feelings. We both become more free to share feelings and lovingly receive each other’s feelings.
My Personal Response to “Feelings Are Neither Right Nor Wrong”
Why is this true?
Why can actions be right or wrong, but feelings are not right or wrong?
What is the difference between a mental action and a feeling?
Is there a Bible verse or Biblical example that helps me understand why feelings are neither right nor wrong?
Does God have feelings? Can I think of an example in the Bible? Since God has chosen to create human beings in His image, does this include giving us a full range of feelings?
What might we gain if I don’t have to blame myself for having feelings I dislike, and if I can stop trying to change my spouse’s feelings?
Have I experienced any liberation, relief, or joy in discovering feelings are neither right nor wrong? Can I receive more of these blessings? How?
Did I have to struggle with this concept? If so, what have I gained from this struggle?
Why Are Our Feelings Important?
Our feelings express our individuality. Each of us is unique in our feelings. For example: What is my feeling, and what is my spouse’s feeling, about: A shopping trip? A football game? Spicy food? My relatives?
Choose a personal example:
I feel _________________ about ____________________________________. I think my spouse feels __________________ about it.
Husband and wife may think alike, but our feelings are different. For example, both may have the same religious or political belief, but when that belief is criticized, one spouse feels determined to defend it, while the other spouse feels afraid of conflict.
My spouse and I have the same belief on the subject of ___________________.
I feel _____________ about it. I believe my spouse feels _____________ about it.
Feelings are a big part of a marriage relationship. Sharing my feelings helps my spouse know me better. This is a gift of myself to my lover.
Most husband-and-wife talk is about facts, events, or opinions. We need to go beneath the surface and share how we feel about the fact, event, or opinion. For example: “The concert at the school is tonight.” My spouse also needs to know how I feel about the concert: “I feel eager” or “I feel disappointed we can’t go” or “I feel relieved we don’t have to go.”
There is joy in being free to share our feelings honestly, knowing my spouse and I will lovingly receive each other’s feelings and not blame one another for having these feelings.
How might sharing feelings be helpful to our marriage relationship?
How Can I Identify and Describe My Feelings?
Is it a feeling or a thought?
Thoughts (opinions, judgments, beliefs, ideas) are important too. I need to share both my feelings and thoughts with my spouse. Discussing our thoughts is easier and more productive if we first share our feelings.
But I can’t share my feelings unless I know how to tell a feeling from a thought.
Five Guidelines to Discover: Is It a Feeling or a Thought ?
1. One word. A feeling is one word or can be boiled down to one word, almost always. A thought is usually several words.
To find a feeling, search for one word that describes it.
Use the Feeling Words list on the back page.
A feeling word should follow the word “feel” in a sentence.
2. “Think” vs. “feel.” If I can substitute “think” for “feel” in a sentence and my sentence still makes sense, I have identified a thought, not a feeling.
Example: “I feel he is making a mistake.” Substitute: “I think he is making a mistake.”
This is a thought, because it makes sense both ways.
Example: “I feel relaxed tonight.” Substitute: “I think relaxed tonight.”
This is a feeling, because this sentence with “feel” does make sense, but with “think” it does not make sense.
TRY IT: I feel _________________ right now. (Insert one word.) 2.
TRY IT: Complete this sentence:
I feel _______________________________________________.
Now cross out “feel.” In its place write “think.” If this sentence makes sense using either “feel” or “think,” it states a thought. If the sentence does not make sense with “think,” then it states a feeling.
3. “Feel that” indicates a thought, not a feeling. Whenever the word “feel” is followed by “that,” it is not a feeling. It is a thought.
Example: “I feel that you do good work.”
This states my opinion or judgment about your work, not my feeling about it.
In a sentence, if I can insert “that” after “feel” and my sentence still makes sense, I have identified a thought, not a feeling.
Example: “I feel this is hard to understand.”
Add “that”: “I feel that this is hard to understand.”
This is a thought, because it makes sense both ways.
Example: “I feel excited about this idea.”
Add “that”: “I feel that excited about this idea.”
This is a feeling, because this sentence does not make sense with “that” added.
TRY IT: Complete this sentence:
I feel _______________________________________________.
Now insert “that” after “feel.” Does my sentence make sense? If so, this sentence states a thought, not a feeling. If it does not make sense with “that” added, I have identified a feeling.
4. “Feel like” usually indicates a thought. Example: “I feel like you are wrong.”
Sometimes “feel like” does indicate an unnamed feeling, but the feeling word is missing. Example: “I feel like going to bed.” Is my feeling “sleepy” or “exhausted” or “sexy”? “Feel like” doesn’t reveal my feeling. A feeling word is needed to make the feeling clear.
5. “Am” and “feel.” If I can substitute “am” for “feel” in a sentence and it still makes sense, usually I have stated a feeling. (This guideline usually works, but not always. If in doubt, rely on guidelines # 1-4.)
Example: “I feel irritated.” Substitute: “I am irritated.”
This is a feeling, because it makes sense both ways.
A Test: Thought or Feeling?
Insert the word “think” or “feel” to complete each of these sentences correctly: I _______ she is correct.
I _______ nervous when I take this test.
I _______ you are beautiful.
I _______ hopeful, like seeing a sunrise.
I _______ that it doesn’t matter.
I _______ weary, like someone who has worked all night.
Tricky Words: Feeling or Judgment?
A judgment is one kind of thought. Making a judgment isn’t always bad; sometimes it is necessary. However, because we are trying to identify and describe our feelings clearly, we need to ask: Does this word actually express a feeling, or am I really saying I have made a judgment?
Be very careful with words like these: Guilty Inadequate Inferior Worthless Innocent Successful Superior Worthy
These words – especially the negative ones – are often stated as feelings. And there is such a thing as a guilty feeling, for example. However, words like these more often indicate a judgment. A person who says “I feel inadequate” usually means “I judge myself to be inadequate” or “I think I’m inadequate.”
That’s why these eight words are not on the Feeling Words list (back page). Before using them as feeling words, it’s wise to ask: Am I expressing a feeling – a spontaneous, involuntary inner reaction? Isn’t it more likely that I’m expressing a judgment – my mental decision or conclusion that I am guilty, inferior, etc.? Try instead to find a feeling that came to me before I made the judgment.
Example: “I feel overwhelmed in my new job. I judge myself to be inferior.”
Also, many words on the Feeling Words list can express either a feeling or a judgment – for example, “arrogant,” “insecure,” “loyal,” “neglected,” “rejected,” and “triumphant.”
Dig Deeper to Find Feelings
My feeling is not the same as my spouse’s even if we use the same word to identify the feeling. The same word can fit a wide range of feelings. Example: We may both feel “happy” – but my “happy” is excited and my spouse’s “happy” is contented.
I need to search for the feelings behind a feeling. It may be easy to recognize my surface feelings – broad, general feelings such as “happy” or “sad” or “angry.” But I need to dig out my deeper feelings.
Identify a feeling: one word. Then ask:
What other feelings are associated with this feeling?
When I feel this way, what other feelings do I have?
Try it: My ____________ feeling includes these feelings: _____________________.
How Can I Describe My Feelings in Ways My Spouse Can Relate to?
I want my feelings to be received, so I describe them in ways my spouse can relate to – and even feel. I describe my feelings in loving detail, so my feelings will become real to my spouse. My goal is to share my feelings so clearly that my beloved will actually feel what I am feeling.
How can I do this? Here are six ways to help describe my feeling:
1. Find one feeling word; then find more. I begin by finding one feeling word that identifies my feeling, but I can’t stop there. I need to search for additional feeling words that describe my feeling more clearly and fully. Use the Feeling Words list on the back page.
Example: I feel sad. But is my sad feeling also “depressed” or “disillusioned,” or is it merely “dreary” or “flat”?
Try it: My ______________ feeling is also _________________________________. Example: If I feel “happy,” do I also feel “excited” or “jubilant” or “contented”?
2. Feeling descriptions. Search for a feeling description to follow my feeling word and help make it clear. What is my feeling like? I feel happy, like what?
Examples: I feel happy, like eating a big dinner with all my favorite foods.
Try it: I feel ______________, like _______________________________________.
3. I feel happy, like finding exactly the sweater I wanted and it’s on sale.
I feel happy, like snuggling with my lover while we listen to soft music.
Feelings during past experiences.
Most helpful: relate my feeling to an experience my spouse and I both shared. Because we were together in this experience, it helps convey my feeling to my spouse.
Examples: I feel elated, like when I saw our newborn child.
I feel furious, like my feeling when our car wouldn’t start.
Also helpful: a previous time when I had this same feeling, or when I think my spouse might have had this same feeling.
Examples: I feel humiliated, like the time I wet my pants in school.
Try it: I feel ______________, like the way I felt when we ____________________.
I think my disappointed feeling is like your feeling when your pie didn’t
win a prize.
4. Physical sensations. Describe the sensation that goes with my feeling.
Try it: When I feel ______________, I am ____________________________. _______________________________________.
When I have this feeling, am I hot, cold, trembly, shaky, sweaty, flushed, etc.?
5. Our five senses:
a. Sight. My feeling is like what color? How bright? Can a picture from nature help describe it?
Example: My contented feeling is like a gorgeous pink-and-gold sunset.
b. Hearing. Can I give my feeling a sound? Is it loud, soft, high, low, piercing, etc?
What kind of music fits this feeling?
Examples: My excited feeling is like the sound of a band playing a peppy march. My frightened feeling is like the sound of a warning siren.
c. Touch. Is my feeling rough, smooth, soft like velvet, splintery, warm, cool, etc.?
Example: My annoyed feeling is like wearing a rough, scratchy shirt. d. Taste. Is my feeling sweet, sour, salty, bitter, rotten, delicious, etc.?
Example: My delighted feeling is like the taste of a hot fudge sundae.
I feel frustrated like the time when ___________________________________. My frustrated feeling is like the color of _______________________________
and the smell of _______________________________.
I feel sad like ____________________________________________________. My sad feeling is like the sound of ___________________________________
and the taste of ___________________________________.
e. Smell. Is my feeling like the smell of a skunk, new-mown hay, bread baking, etc.? Example: My disgusted feeling stinks like spoiled fish.
6. Levels of intensity or strength of a feeling. Is my feeling powerful, weak, etc.? Is it big or small? Also, use a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 the most intense.
Example: My feeling of closeness to you right now is very strong ─ a 9.
All six ways to describe a feeling are helpful, but I don’t need to use all of them.
I should use whatever is relatable and helpful to my spouse. My feeling description must be real to both of us. This is not a poetry contest. I don’t need fancy words. I can just be myself.
We Can Actually Experience Each Other’s Feelings!
Learning to share, receive, experience, and even feel one another’s feelings will help us grow closer, communicate better, and build a stronger marriage.
Experiencing my beloved’s feelings is different from “understanding” those feelings. I can experience my spouse’s feeling even if I can’t understand it. Trying to understand a feeling is an intellectual process that may hinder my feeling that feeling. If I say “I understand,” that may cut short our sharing and prevent me from experiencing the feeling.
Working together to feel each other’s feelings is much more than “accepting” feelings. In today’s culture “accept” is often used or interpreted to mean “approve” or “tolerate.” I should not approve or disapprove my spouse’s feelings (they are neither right nor wrong)
─ and I need to experience those feelings, not merely tolerate them.
Guidelines for Dialogue with My Spouse
Writing My Love Letter to My Spouse:
- The purpose of our love letters is to grow closer by focusing on each other and sharing our feelings. Write with my spouse foremost in my mind.
- Begin my love letter by telling at least one endearing quality of my beloved. End it with personal words of affection. Honest compliments are helpful.
- Remember: I’m telling how I feel about something. Distinguish my feelings from my thoughts, using the five guidelines on pages 5 & 6. Then focus on my real feelings and describe them in my letter, as fully as possible. See the six ways on pages 8-10.
- Write honestly, but be loving, tender, and considerate. Make my love letter my personal gift to my beloved.
Exchange Our Love Letters:
- Begin by praying together. Ask God to open our hearts and bless our dialogue.
- Exchange with tenderness and physical affection. Receive my beloved’s letter eagerly.
- Each of us should read the other’s love letter twice, in silence – once for information, once for feelings (once for the head, once for the heart). Be open.
- No comments while exchanging or while reading. Don’t correct grammar or spelling.
Dialogue with My Spouse:
- We need to work at our dialogue just as intensely as we wrote our love letters.
- To begin, each spouse tells how I feel after reading your love letter.
- Select one strong feeling to share and explore. My mate and I can choose this feeling from any one of four sources:
- My love letter;
- My spouse’s love letter;
- My feelings (“now” feelings) after reading my spouse’s love letter; or
- My spouse’s feelings (“now” feelings) after reading my love letter.
- Explore this one feeling fully. Try to feel the other’s feeling, and experience the person behind the words. Ask questions to help my beloved describe this feeling. Describe the feeling back to my spouse and ask whether I am getting it.Example: Is your energetic feeling like how you feel when we walk together? On a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your frightened feeling? I think you’re saying your excited feeling is like a fireworks display. Am I hearing you correctly?
- Reach out to my beloved. Seek to feel the feeling he or she is feeling – to identify with, to experience, and to taste the full flavors of my beloved.
- For ten minutes, focus on sharing only feelings – no thoughts or judgments. Then we may go on to loving discussion of thoughts and ideas, if we both want to do this.
Things to Avoid in Writing My Love Letter and in Our Dialogue:
1. Blaming anyone or anything for the way I feel. A feeling is an involuntary response to something. But it is my response. Each person may respond differently to the same situation. So I need to take ownership of my feeling rather than blame something for causing it.
This is why we avoid the words “make me feel.” I cannot make another person feel an emotion, nor can any person cause me to feel. Feelings just happen. No one has control of his or her feelings. We can control our actions in response to our feelings.
When describing my feelings, I should use “I” messages. Avoid “you” and “they” statements; they can lead to blaming.
Example: “I feel irritated.” Avoid: “You irritate me.”
It is especially important to avoid blaming my spouse for the way I feel. This is a common trap called “garbage dumping.” It’s a dangerous form of “make me feel.”
Avoid this: You make me feel so angry when you are late.
Use something like this: I feel disappointed when I have to wait for you.
2. Analyzing my feeling. In our love letters and in our dialogue we seek to share and describe feelings. We avoid asking Why do I (or you) feel that way?”
Asking “Why?” can lead to blaming.
Or it can lead me into analyzing my feeling rather than
“Why do you feel that way?” can be a subtle rejection of my spouse’s feeling.
It is usually wise not to add “because” to my feeling. Avoid this: I feel sad because Jim insulted me.
When I say “because,” perhaps I merely mean to say my feeling is an involuntary response to a specific person or situation. However, “because” often means I’m saying someone or something caused my feeling. I’m blaming (or giving credit) for causing my feeling.
My feeling is not planted in me by someone else. My feeling comes from within me, involuntarily, even though I didn’t choose it and may not want to have this feeling.
3. Trying to solve a problem or reach a decision. Save that for after dialogue, when we may choose to have a loving discussion. If we first share our feelings, we will know each other more deeply, and that will help us solve the problem or make a wise decision.
4. Trying to change my spouse. Change comes from within, when a person allows change to take place or when God changes a person. Change is most likely to occur after a person is accepted just as he or she is.
5. Trying to please my spouse by writing or saying only what I think he or she wants to hear. I need to be open and honest with my lover, and that includes describing my feeling exactly as it is, not as I think my spouse wants it to be.
6. Confessing a serious wrong, such as dishonesty or unfaithfulness should not be done during our reflection or dialogue. If I need confession, I am encouraged to pray for guidance after this Weekend and to consider consulting a pastor or counselor.
TEST YOUR UNDERSTANDING
Does each of these sentences express a feeling, a thought, or garbage dumping?
Choose which of these three categories best describes each sentence: F = Feeling
T = Thought (includes opinion, judgment, belief, idea) G = Garbage dumping
- _____I feel I’m strong enough to work twelve hours today.
- _____I feel that my boss made a wrong decision today.
- _____You made me feel angry when you interrupted me.
- _____I feel grumpy like I do when the phone rings all evening.
- _____I feel today will be a long day.
- _____I feel elated like the way I felt when we decided to get married.
- _____You made me feel happy when you helped with the household chores.
- _____I feel like no one cares about what I do or say.
- _____I think our daughter understands her math assignment.
10._____I feel contented like the way I feel when I sit by the fireplace. 11._____When you ignore me while I’m upset, I feel sullen. 12._____I am enthusiastic like a cheerleader at a football game.
(Answers are on the next page.)
ANSWERS TO THE TEST
- GARBAGE DUMPING
- GARBAGE. DUMPING *
I THINK I’m strong enough to work twelve hours today. I THINK that my boss made a wrong decision today.
I FELT angry when you interrupted me.
OK AS IS: I feel grumpy like I do when the phone rings all evening.
I THINK today will be a long day.
OK AS IS I feel elated like the way I felt when we decided to get married.
I FELT HAPPY when you helped with the household chores.
* The original sentence is a sort of positive “garbage dumping”: giving another person credit for causing a happy feeling. The words
“made me feel” show a lack of understanding that a feeling is a spontaneous, involuntary, inner reaction. Also, the original sentence may be manipulative.
I THINK no one cares about what I do or say.
OKASIS I think our daughter understands her math assignment.
OKASIS I feel contented, like the way I feel when I sit by the fireplace.
OKASIS When you ignore me while I’m upset, I feel sullen.
OKASIS ** I am enthusiastic, like a cheerleader at a football game. BETTER: I FEEL enthusiastic, like a cheerleader at a football game.
** This sentence is all right either way, but changing “am” to “feel” will more clearly identify “enthusiastic” as a feeling.