Select Page

Identifying Feelings & How to Communicate them

Feelings are an important part of this Marriage Encounter Weekend and our marriage relationship. Good communication between husband and wife includes recognizing my feelings and sharing them with my spouse.

What Is a Feeling?

A feeling is an inner reaction to someone or something. A feeling is

spontaneous and involuntary. We don’t plan or choose our feelings; they just are. This inner reaction may be physical, emotional, or both. It may be a reaction to a past,

present, or future situation.

Feelings Are Neither Right Nor Wrong.

We can’t choose our feelings. When a feeling I don’t like arises within me, having that feeling is not wrong. Feelings are involuntary and 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.

If I feel irritated with my spouse, I need not blame myself for having that feeling. I didn’t decide to feel irritated. But I can choose how I will respond to that feeling. I can decide to shout, or I can decide to speak kindly. 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.

Our feelings express our individuality.

Sharing feelings with my spouse helps us know each other better.

Why Are Our Feelings Important?

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 and 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.)

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.

Dig Deeper to Find Feelings

My feeling is not the same as my spouse’s even if we use the same word to identify it. 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. 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?

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 spouse 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 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”?

Example: If I feel “happy,” do I also feel “excited” or “jubilant” or “contented”? My example:

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.
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.

My example: I feel _____________, like ______________________________________. Page 4 of 8

3. Feelings during past experiences. Most helpful: an experience my spouse and I shared. Examples: I feel elated, like when I first saw our newborn child.

I feel furious, like my feeling when our car wouldn’t start.

My example: I feel ______________, like the way I felt when we __________________________ 4. Physical sensations. Describe the sensation that goes with my feeling.

4. When I have this feeling, am I hot, cold, trembly, shaky, sweaty, flushed, etc.?

My example: When I feel _______________, I am ______________________________________
5. Our five senses:

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.

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.

Touch. Is my feeling rough, smooth, soft like velvet, splintery, warm, cool, etc.? Example: My annoyed feeling is like wearing a rough, scratchy shirt.

Taste. Is my feeling sweet, sour, salty, bitter, rotten, delicious, etc.? Example: My delighted feeling is like the taste of a hot fudge sundae.

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. 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 a 9 and is very strong.
My example: My _______________feeling is ________________________________________.


All six ways to describe a feeling are helpful, but I don’t need to use all of them. You 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.