Learn to Identify Your Emotions

married couple talking at a table

The following article is adapted from How We Love: Discover your love style, enhance your marriage by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. The book explores various personality types and how they affect married couples. "Awareness," as briefly explained below, is only one of the initial steps involved in dealing with past hurts and current conflicts — to help build a stronger marriage.

Have you ever asked people how they feel and have them answer the question without telling you a feeling at all? I (Kay) asked a woman at church, "How do you feel about your husband's new job?" She said, "I feel like he's overqualified." That's an interesting fact, but I'm still guessing at what she really feels about his new position. She could be mad he took the job or thrilled because he'll have an easier time coming home early. I know what she thought, but I still don't know what she felt.

Using soul words (see list below) is a good way to develop a greater awareness of your inner experiences so that you can answer "How do you feel?" questions. And once you begin the awareness process, you will be amazed at how thoughts, feelings and reactions become clearer to you. You will also notice when you ask someone to share a feeling and that person gives you a fact.


You, too, may tend to talk just about the facts of the day and rarely share any feelings. If so, you and your spouse might be helped by having a "feelings talk." Put the soul words list on the table and, for starters, choose a subject that isn't about the two of you. You might talk about work, friends, church, hobbies, memories, vacations, movies, books … anything that isn't likely to cause an argument. As you share about this topic, make sure to include words from the list.

When you practice discussing your feelings, ask each other how you're doing and communicate what you might need. Do you need some praise, appreciation, approval, attention, romance or time alone? Don't blame; simply tell how you might be rejuvenated.


Bringing your feelings and emotions into the open and talking with someone safe about them is how you start the healing process. If just starting to talk is too big of a step, you can start writing your feelings and thoughts in a journal. Write and contemplate your own soul before you talk aloud about your inner self. Writing is another way to get feelings from the inside to the outside where you can sort them.

My wife, Kay, and I began to journal our thoughts and feelings as a part of our Bible studies and prayer lives. Over time, I began to write more about my pastoral position, leadership challenges, children, marriage and relational conflicts. Then one day something happened that shocked me and changed my life forever. I read through two years of my journal entries. By the time I reached the end of the last page, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I said to myself, I am a fearful person. I had never thought of myself that way before. I was shocked, but the evidence in my journals was conclusive. I noticed a pattern in my writing that I had not seen previously: I had written the majority of my journal entries when I was anxious. Apparently when I was feeling good about things, I hardly ever sat down to write in my journal.

Perhaps you also have journals you can read through to gain awareness about yourself. But some of you may dislike writing and think journaling sounds like a real chore. You might be more willing to just jot down notes the way Tim and Clair learned to do.

Tim, who commutes daily, keeps a small leather-bound notebook in his briefcase. On his drive home, he takes a few moments to reflect on his day, and when he comes to a stoplight, he scribbles whatever is on his mind — and he thinks about his feelings, too. Clair put a copy of the soul-words list on the refrigerator. She looks at the list, thinks about her busy day with their 1-year-old and writes down a few quick notes about her thoughts and emotions. Tim and Clair have grown immensely in their ability to connect and bond with each other because their "quick notes" give them a lot to talk about when Tim comes home. They are beginning to do something rare among couples. That is, they are paying attention to their souls instead of dismissing or stuffing their uncomfortable feelings. When Tim and Clair individually write down their soul words, they are increasing their internal awareness, which they then bring into their relationship.


Of course, the first step toward better awareness is being quiet and listening to the things your body and soul are telling you. So take some time alone with the soul-words list and intentionally ask yourself, How am I doing? Being quiet by yourself is often the best way to connect the dots of your past and understand the links to the present.

Kay and I also learned more about ourselves by talking to our parents, our siblings and some distant family members who remembered us as kids. We gained insight by looking at yearbooks, scouring family photo albums and watching old family videos together. And we learned a great deal from observing how our families relate in the present. As we were discovering aspects of each other we hadn't understood before, we shared our feelings with each other, listened when the other felt angry and comforted when we hit pockets of grief. Feelings are stirred all the time, and every time we don't reflect on what we're feeling, we miss an opportunity to grow closer to our spouse.

Soul Words

The following list may help as you learn to identify emotions and work to express those feelings.

HAPPY, cheerful, delighted, elated, encouraged, glad, gratified, joyful, lighthearted, overjoyed, pleased, relieved, satisfied, thrilled, secure

LOVING, affectionate, cozy, passionate, romantic, sexy, warm, tender, responsive, thankful, appreciative, refreshed, pleased

HIGH ENERGY, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, playful, rejuvenated, talkative, pumped, motivated, driven, determined, obsessed

AMAZED, stunned, surprised, shocked, jolted

ANXIOUS, uneasy, embarrassed, frustrated, nauseated, ashamed, nervous, restless, worried, stressed

CONFIDENT, positive, secure, self-assured, assertive

PEACEFUL, at ease, calm, comforted, cool, relaxed, serene

AFRAID, scared, anxious, apprehensive, boxed in, burdened, confused, distressed, fearful, frightened, guarded, hard pressed, overwhelmed, panicky, paralyzed, tense, terrified, worried, insecure

TRAUMATIZED, shocked, disturbed, injured, damaged

ANGRY, annoyed, controlled, manipulated, furious, grouchy, grumpy, irritated, provoked, frustrated

LOW ENERGY, beaten down, exhausted, tired, weak, listless, depressed, detached, withdrawn, indifferent, apathetic

ALONE, avoidant, lonely, abandoned, deserted, forlorn, isolated, cut off, detached

SAD, unhappy, crushed, dejected, depressed, desperate, despondent, grieved, heartbroken, heavy, weepy

BETRAYED, deceived, fooled, duped, tricked

CONFUSED, baffled, perplexed, mystified, bewildered

ASHAMED, guilty, mortified, humiliated, embarrassed, exposed

Milan and Kay Yerkovich are the authors of How We Love: Discover your love style, enhance your marriage. Milan is a radio talk show host and pastor. Kay is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Excerpted from How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich Copyright © 2006 and 2008 by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

You Might Also Like: