Who is Responsible for Feelings?

I had sidetracked another topic, so I decided to start a new one here.

Yesterday, Melissa said the following:

"So 'I'm feeling really sad right now because I feel lonely when you are distracted' is less likely to put your husband on the defensive than 'you never pay attention to me and that hurts.'"

I asked my husband point blank this afternoon the following:  whether he could conceive of ever being in a place emotionally in which, if I said, "I feel sad when..." and the "when" thing concerned something he had done, he would not take this as a personal attack or as something that he should feel was his fault.  He said, "I don't understand that thing with 'I' statements."  He then said that he thinks if I say, "I feel sad when [he does such and such]," I am saying that he made me feel a certain way.  He feels responsible for my reaction.  

I can't abide staying the rest of my life in a relationship in which I'm on notice that if I share my feelings, even with an "I" statement, my husband will feel responsible and all that comes with that, for him:  guilt and inability to function.  


I'm glad you asked him

I saw Melissa's comment and figured my dh would still feel to blame. Did you ask if he would feel relatively less threatened?  I think part of why we are encouraged to use I statements is that it is hard for our spouses to argue with a feeling. Not impossible of course. They can say we shouldn't feel that way but that we have the feeling is hard to dispute. Perhaps it also is a way of diffusing vitriol. When making accusations we may be more likely to raise our voices and sound harsher than when we refer to our own feelings. Especially such a complicated sentence as used in the example. 

I have struggled with the practicality of using the I statements too. They take so many words that they seem silly to say, and holding dh's attention that long is rare. He will most likely jump in after I feel... 

As for who is responsible for our feelings, we are of course. This is why so much of therapy is about learning how to react differently to similar stimuli. Of course retraining the brain takes time and diligence and is fraught with obstacles, but it is possible. And of course, sometimes our feelings are the appropriate ones and don't need changing, but rather need different stimuli. 

carathrace's picture

pancake batter

Sometimes it feels like in order to communicate with my husband in a way that doesn't threaten him, I have to coat my message with layers and layers of pancake batter.  It does seem silly and wordy.  But I must admit that it works with my guy.  Lots of times I start the conversation with, "There is nothing here that I expect you to do.  I simply want to tell you how I feel, so you know what's going on with me."  I've seen his shoulders relax.  So, whatever works.

A counselor once told us about a communication wheel and sometimes we use that to organize our communication.  It starts with "I observe..." and you report what you see, hear, what your senses tell you.  Then it's "I think..." which is based on what your brain concluded as a result of what your senses told you.  Then it's "I feel..." which is based on the other 2.  You can stop there, or add on "I want...." which is the thing you'd like to happen as a result of what you've observed, thought & felt; or "I intend...." which is what YOU plan to do about it.  Yeah I know, sounds awfully complicated for just a conversation.  But my husband loves it.  He has used it countless times when he has to communicate something to his boss, or have an uncomfortable talk with an employee.  And sometimes we use it in our conversations when they are about potentially volatile subjects.