Tag Archives: godly marriage

When “I Feel…” Statements Don’t Work

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve heard the suggestion that instead of accusing your spouse of doing something you don’t like, you should re-frame your statement as: When ____ happens, I feel ______.

It’s a bedrock of communication advice, and it was overtly taught in my graduate counseling program. You’ll find this recommendation in marriage and relationship books galore and touted by therapists and psychologists. While I believe this can be great advice in some circumstances, I’ve come to believe it’s not the magic phrase that some seem to imply.

Title with couple on couching facing away from each other

Because I know what’s happening in some of your marriages: You’re frustrated with the sexual intimacy, and so you sit down with your spouse and heed this advice and explain your feelings about the situation. You’re calm, collected, and careful to use those words: When ____ happens, I feel ______. Like When we don’t have sex for two weeks, I feel personally rejected, or When you only touch me when you want sex, I feel used.

After all, if your spouse truly understood your deep feelings on the issue, you suspect they’d see things from a different perspective. After all, they love you, so surely they don’t want you to feel so bad all the time.

Yet it can backfire. And I want to be sensitive to that, and certainly not advise you to do something that could make the sexual intimacy situation in your marriage even more tense.

Here are times when those I feel statements won’t work, and what to try instead:

1. One-uppance. You’ve heard of comeuppance, but I’m calling this one-uppance because it’s the tendency of your spouse to want to one up you on whatever feeling you’re having. So you say: “When ____ happens, I feel ______.” And they answer, “Yeah, well, I feel _____.”

If you’re feeling rejected, they’re feeling exploited. If you’re feeling put upon, they’re feeling ignored. If you’re feeling mistreated, they’re feeling like divorce is imminent if things keep going the way they have. You can barely risk sharing a feeling, because you’ll immediately hear how their emotional pain tops yours.

What can you do? As hard as it is, maybe you can listen to and validate their concerns. Maybe you can say something like, “It sounds like we both have some issues here. I’d really like us to work them out.” Maybe once they feel heard, they can hear you better. Even if their issue is 10% of the problem, and yours is 90% of what’s really happening, remember the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. (See Matthew 7:12.) Take their concerns seriously, let them know you care, and then ask for them to listen to your issues as well.

2. Pooh-poohed. You share the trigger scenario and how it makes you feel, and your feeling gets pooh-poohed — belittled, discounted, brushed off. Your spouse argues that you shouldn’t feel that way. That your feeling is wrong or silly or a figment of your imagination.

Oftentimes it’s a lack of empathy, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes — or body parts, as the case may be. Since they would not feel that way under similar circumstances, they flat-out don’t understand why you do. So the answer, in their mind, is for you to just stop feeling that way. For instance, if you feel unloved because you haven’t had sex in three weeks, you should just turn off that feeling because it doesn’t relate at all to what they understand.

What can you do? Explain how your feelings work. For instance, in a recent conversation with my hubby, he said (for the 10,725th time), “Stop worrying about that.” I finally looked at him and said, “I have no idea what that looks like.” Then I explained that, while that was an achievable goal for his male brain, I couldn’t just flip a switch like that. Once I let him know that his way was fine but it didn’t work for me and why, he was able to feel compassion and show patience with my situation. Just work toward building empathy by letting your hubby know how things work in your world, without dissing his world.

By the way, I believe some husbands pooh-pooh their wives’ feelings like this, not because they don’t care, but because it makes them supremely uncomfortable to see you hurting. In an effort to make the emotional pain end quickly, they suggest that you stop feeling that way. I just want you to understand that sometimes, it really does come from a place of love.

3. Seeing an Iceberg. Icebergs are peculiar things: 87% of their mass is underwater, so that you only see about one-eighth of what really exists. And that’s how some spouses treat let’s talk moments. You decide to share your “When ____ happens, I feel ______” statement, and what you get back is a reaction to the 87% of things you didn’t say. Whether or not they’re true.

Here’s an example: You say, “When you don’t make any effort for me to have an orgasm, I feel disappointed and like my sexual satisfaction doesn’t matter.” And he responds, “So sex is disappointing to you, and you’re not satisfied. Clearly, I’m not enough for you. You’d obviously rather be with someone else!” Say what?! Yet, some of you have experienced a similar conversation, and I say with true Southern honesty: Bless. Your. Heart.

What can you do? Stay calm, and let them know that those are not the issues at hand. You can also reassure them that their fears are unfounded (e.g., “You are the only one I want, but I want our sexual intimacy to thrive”). Then go back to the issue at hand. Too often we want to put our whole marriage on trial, when cases are one fact by fact, witness by witness. Let them know that you just want to deal with this one issue. If he wants to deal with other issues later, you’re open to discussing them at another time … and then follow-up.

4. DNA. You can’t argue with DNA, right? Which is why it’s such a handy argument to pull out when your spouse expresses a feeling that might require you to change. You begin with, “When ____ happens, I feel ______,” and your spouse responds that what you’re wanting isn’t the person they are. They were made differently, and you should just accept who they are.

If they have a nonexistent sex drive, that’s just the way God made them. If they have a ravenous need for sexual variety, it’s in their DNA. If they are uncomfortable with certain acts, that have no biblical commands or principles against them, it’s just who they are. Your feelings might not be good, but how is your spouse supposed to do something different to make you feel better when they’re dealing with hard-wired DNA.

What can you do? First, you can appeal to your own DNA, because why should only one of you get to claim that “that’s just how I am.” Although, frankly, that might end up in more argument. Perhaps you can get your spouse to recognize some other way in which they have changed for the better. Or even how you‘ve changed for the better? “Remember when I used to get angry about you leaving your coffee cups all over the house. But then I made a conscious effort to be patient and more loving. I’m still me, but a better me. What if sex is that way too? What if we could change a little bit toward each other and be more loving and connected?” If we can recognize the ways in which we have indeed changed in our lives, through decision and commitment, maybe we can take a baby step or two in the right direction.

Of course, my suggestions are also not guarantees. But I know that some of you have ended up in conversations like the ones I’ve described. And since I want to be as honest as possible about how to make headway in your marriage, I thought it would be useful to address this topic.

If you’re having conversations that end up like these, rethink your approach. Decide ahead of time how you’ll deal with your spouse’s protests, defensiveness, or frustration. And don’t give up! As inventor Thomas Edison famously said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”aybe ol’ Thomas had read Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Source: United States Coast Guard – How Much of an Iceberg is Underwater

The Post My Readers Wrote: “One Thought” Marriage Advice

On Monday, I posted a review of Sheila Wray Gregoire’s 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage and asked readers to comment on one thought that positively impacted their own marriage. The feedback was fabulous!

After reading through the comments section, I concluded my readers could write their own blog post with all this terrific wisdom. So this is it—the blog post my readers wrote. Or at least a summary of your thoughts on how to nurture marriage. (I edited some for clarity and combined some comments.)

The Post My Readers Wrote: "One Thought" Marriage Advice

The responses seemed to fall into four categories: Choosing Your Attitude, Resolving Conflict, Growing Closer, and Taking Action.

Choosing Your Attitude. Philippians 4:8 says: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Proverbs 4:23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” It matters what we think in our minds and believe in our hearts. Sometimes changing how we view ourselves and our spouse makes all the difference in the world. Here are the attitudes my readers recommend:

  • True intimacy with your spouse is worth the effort.
  • It is not a failure to ask for help.
  • Respect your husband.
  • I am not my husband’s Holy Spirit.
  • My husband cannot fulfill all my needs. I need God first of all and I need trusted friends.
  • I don’t have to be right.
  • God does not intend for me to change my husband—that is His job. My job is to support and help my husband as he becomes the man God shapes him to be.
  • Assume with love. Meaning everything your spouse does, assume they did it out of love and respect for you.
  • Focus on the positive things my husband does and not the negative.
  • The only thing I can change is myself.

Resolving Conflict. Proverbs 20:3 asserts: “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” I dare say many of us have been fools in our marriage. But how can we avoid strife and resolve conflict? Here are your ideas:

  • When a problem arises within the marriage, it is the husband and wife vs. the problem, rather than the husband vs. the wife.
  • We’re doing life together, and whatever comes up, we’re going to figure it out because neither of us is going anywhere.
  • Sometimes I have to be the brave one and bring up tough topics.
  • Talk honestly while problems are small to keep them from becoming big problems.
  • Be a peace maker, not a peace keeper (Sheila’s book covers this well!).
  • Be patient. We’re not always on the same page. but we eventually get there.
  • Think the other person is saying something unkind or unloving? Ask for clarification. Most times, they didn’t mean it to sound the way it came out.
  • Extend grace. Your spouse will fail you (a given with imperfect people). But the ability to forgive and love in spite of the failures is priceless.
  • Try to step back and see the issue through his eyes before just saying that’s not right.
  • Turn toward each other, not away from each other, when things get rough.
  • Don’t have a conversation if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT).

Growing Closer. Resolving conflict keeps you from being at each other’s throats, but that’s not enough to get you in each other’s arms! In marriage we’re aiming for: “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10). Here are your thoughts about growing closer:

  • Spend 15 to 30 min face to face daily. Once a week go out on a date night. Once a month stay out one night. Once a year take a week-long vacation.
  • Have a date night with no talking about kids or problems. Just enjoy each other’s company.
  • Keep things light-hearted.
  • Sign the kids up for Awana (or another youth Bible program). Instant Wednesday night date night. KEEP it as date night, do not, I repeat, DO NOT fall into the “let’s do laundry and clean the house” night. We call it “Doyawanna” night.
  • Never leave the house without saying I love you.
  • Say yes to sex. Win-win.

Taking Action. 1 John 3:14 states: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” These final ideas are miscellaneous action items:

  • Thank God for your spouse before you get out of bed in the morning.
  • Choose to engage in sexual intimacy, even if the feelings or desire aren’t there—they come eventually!
  • Never assume you know your spouse so well you read their mind and predict their behavior every time. Study them instead.
  • He can’t read my mind: I need to tell him what I need and want.
  • Set boundaries with your in-laws early on.
  • Take the word “divorce” out of your vocabulary. When quitting is not an option, whatever comes your way, you have to work to improve.
  • Always build up your mate.
  • Invest in a personal relationship with God. Your relationship with Jesus is a higher priority than the relationship with your spouse.
  • “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

I believe wholeheartedly that “a man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). Pick a few golden nuggets from these lists and start putting them into practice . . . then see what happens in your marriage.

And the winner of last week’s giveaway of 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage by Sheila Wray Gregoire is HG. If you didn’t win, now’s the time to go buy the book! 🙂