Cut through emotional smoke screens with four key emotions

Published 6:07 am Friday, September 14, 2018


Religion columnist

Through the years ministers will tell couples that there are three major crisis areas that cause most divorces. They are money problems, sexual problems, and the in-laws. I tell couples in premarital counseling that they will experience at least two of these three in their marriage, if not all three. Let’s face it, there is never enough money, our bodies change and so do our sexual desires, and who knows what the in-laws are going to do next? The key is to have the communication skills to work through these problems as they arise. To learn to communicate, couples need to be able to talk to one another about their feelings.

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Listen to the talk show hosts and their professional marriage counselors, and they will come up with all kinds of crazy things to say about feelings. One says, “We must share more feelings.” Another says, “We share too many feelings.” I say when we share our feelings, unless we know something about communication, we usually share smoke screen emotions. For example, a couple is struggling with a real problem, and the wife asks the husband, “What are you feeling?”

In most cases the husband will respond with a smoke screen response like, “I feel surprised we’re having this problem!” What does “surprised” mean here? Feelings like surprised, bored, and confused have many different shades of meaning that leave the other person even more confused by what you are feeling after you say it.

In arguments and discussions where important things must be resolved I have found that if a couple uses only four main feelings they will cut through all the smoke screens. Those feelings are mad, sad, glad, and afraid.

To properly communicate one of these four emotions to our spouse or someone else we must use a simple statement that has three parts. You must start your sentence with, “I feel…,” then use one of the four emotions, mad, sad, glad, or afraid, and then close with a description of what is causing you to have that emotion.

We are tempted to start a statement with the words, “You are….” Earley’s rule of romance is never starting a statement to your spouse with the words “You are…” unless the next words out of your mouth are “So beautiful,” or “So handsome,” or “So smart.” When we start a statement with the words, “I feel…” then we are owning our statement, and our spouse cannot say in response, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” We don’t make up what feelings we will have, we respond to our feelings.

Next, the person must look within and decide if they are feeling mad, sad, glad, or afraid. This is hard. The first time my wife asked me to communicate using this tool it took me about five minutes to decide. I had to do some soul searching, as well as blow away all the smoke from the smoke screen emotions I wanted to use — to keep from facing my own emotions and sharing them with my wife. Don’t be afraid if this is hard. Take the time and begin learning to understand your basic emotions.

Finally, what is the event that is causing the emotion. Sharing that with your spouse can be especially difficult because they have probably done something that has caused the emotion, and sharing that will be hard. I like to remind myself and my wife that even if our spouse has angered us we honor our spouse by honestly telling him/her so, trusting that they will desire to help us deal with the emotion, and recognizing they are probably the only one that can help us with our problem, at least on the short term.

I hope you will find this communication tool to be a great help in the relationships that matter to you. I encourage you to practice when times are good. Tell your spouse three feeling statements, and make one of those statements a compliment for your spouse (When was the last time you did that?) Then when you get in an argument the practice will help you when your spouse asks, “How do you feel?”

It is God’s great desire that our marriages should be a blessing to our lives. Jesus said, “…a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” (Matthew 19:5). Healthy communication is a critical tool to experience the miracle of God’s plan for marriage. It is hard work, and it is worth every minute.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles see,