Learn to Identify Your Emotions in Marriage

A silhouette of a face profile with dozens of crumpled pieces of colored paper above it, signifying a person's difficulty in identifying their emotions with soul words.
Using "soul words" helps develop a greater awareness of your inner experiences. And once you begin the awareness process, you will be amazed at how thoughts, feelings and reactions become clearer to you.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Emotions can be powerful and intimidating to deal with, especially when expressing them to others. It can be much easier to just contain them and set them aside. But eventually the container will get too full and break. And that’s even messier. So how do you handle these strange, messy feelings? You need to learn how to express them to your spouse in a healthy way. And you can do that by identifying your emotions with soul words, and talking them out, writing them down, and reflecting on them internally.

What You Think Is Not What You Feel

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.

Soul Words to Identify Your Emotions

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

    • cheerful, delighted, elated, encouraged, glad, gratified, joyful, lighthearted, overjoyed, pleased, relieved, satisfied, thrilled, secure
    • affectionate, cozy, passionate, romantic, sexy, warm, tender, responsive, thankful, appreciative, refreshed, pleased
    • energetic, enthusiastic, excited, playful, rejuvenated, talkative, pumped, motivated, driven, determined, obsessed
    • stunned, surprised, shocked, jolted
    • uneasy, embarrassed, frustrated, nauseated, ashamed, nervous, restless, worried, stressed
    • positive, secure, self-assured, assertive
    • at ease, calm, comforted, cool, relaxed, serene
    • scared, anxious, apprehensive, boxed in, burdened, confused, distressed, fearful, frightened, guarded, hard pressed, overwhelmed, panicky, paralyzed, tense, terrified, worried, insecure
    • shocked, disturbed, injured, damaged
    • annoyed, controlled, manipulated, furious, grouchy, grumpy, irritated, provoked, frustrated
    • beaten down, exhausted, tired, weak, listless, depressed, detached, withdrawn, indifferent, apathetic
    • avoidant, lonely, abandoned, deserted, forlorn, isolated, cut off, detached
  • SAD
    • unhappy, crushed, dejected, depressed, desperate, despondent, grieved, heartbroken, heavy, weepy
    • deceived, fooled, duped, tricked
    • baffled, perplexed, mystified, bewildered
    • guilty, mortified, humiliated, embarrassed, exposed

Discover Your Love Style

In this two-part broadcast, listen as counselors Milan and Kay Yerkovich offer helpful insights on learning how you show love to others, particularly your spouse, and explain what steps you can take toward loving like God does and breaking negative patterns to create a deeper, richer marriage.

Talking About Your Inner Feelings

You 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.

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

Writing to Identify Your Emotions

Bringing our feelings and emotions into the open and talking with someone safe about them is how we start the healing process. For many, however, Ito just start talking may be too big of a step. We encourage these people to start writing their feelings and thoughts in a journal. 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 did something that I had never done before. I sat down with a cup of coffee and 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.

Identify Your Emotions in a Way that Works for You

Perhaps you also have journals you can read through to gain awareness about yourself. 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 (just as we had done for many years), and she looks at the list, thinks about her busy day with their one-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. That is, 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.

Reflecting on the Past to Grow Closer in the Present

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 and alone 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.

This 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 above is only one of the initial steps involved in dealing with past hurts and current conflicts — to help build a stronger marriage.

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