Recognize Opinions and Feelings for What They Are
(Provided by How to Stop Your Divorce)

I said earlier that one of the rules of counseling sessions is to remember that feelings are neither right nor wrong. Sometimes our feelings are in sync with reality and sometimes they are not. I once walked into a room where my coworkers were engaged in a spirited discussion. As I entered the room, they fell silent. My immediate thought was that they had been saying something negative about me. After all, why would they suddenly stop talking? In an instant, I felt that my trusted friends had betrayed me. My response was instantaneous and automatic. I felt angry.

After several seconds had passed, which seemed like a lifetime to me, one of my friends greeted me and must have sensed my awkwardness. She explained that the group had been debating a new but objectionable company policy. My friends thought that I was the enforcing administrator when I entered the room! Naturally, they stopped talking.

Let’s analyze this event. Were my feelings real? Yes, they were absolutely genuine. Were my feelings in sync with reality? Absolutely not! I had misinterpreted the situation. In a way, feelings are something like emotional opinions. The “right vs. wrong” standard simply does not apply. If I had accused my friends of betraying me, I would have been totally off the mark.

Michael and Nancy had a bad habit of expressing their feelings and opinions as if they were proclaiming some new Gospel. This consistently elicited defensiveness in their partner and brought all productive discussion to an end. Remember, statements that begin with “you always” or “you never” are seldom true. Fortunately or unfortunately human beings are not usually so consistent. Most of us seldom “always” or “never” do anything. Our behavior is far more random.

A standard tool of relationship counseling is teaching clients to use “I statements.” The technique is quite simple. When identifying problem behavior in your partner, you begin with an objective and nonjudgmental description of what they are doing. Next, follow-up with a statement about how you feel about that behavior. For example: “When you continue to watch the television when I am talking to you, I feel that you do not want to hear what I am saying.”

This technique implies meaning at several levels simultaneously. First, it is non-accusational. I am merely stating an opinion or feeling about which I could be wrong. I am sharing what I am feeling but acknowledging that this is just my perception. I am not implying a cause and effect relationship between the behavior and my reaction to it. I am not saying, “You are continuing to watch television because you do not want to hear what I am saying.” In fact, I am admitting that I may be wrong about what I am feeling.

Try to remember the following:
1. You are entitled to your feelings and opinions.
2. Remember that your interpretation of any situation may be wrong.
3. Avoid statements that begin with “you always” or “you never”.
4. Use “I statements” to defuse conflict.
5. Never give “feedback” when you are angry.

Information provided by:
How to Stop Your Divorce

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