Feelings – they’re (obviously) very important in relationships. They’re what keeps the dialogue open and honest. The trick is being able to distinguish between your feelings… and your opinions.
It seems like an easy difference, right? Opinions are what you think about something, whereas feelings are, well, how you feel. But all too often, people tend to confuse the two. And if you insert too many opinions into conversations with your partner where you’re trying to talk about how you feel, it can shut down dialogue fast.
Here are a few tips to help you learn the difference between your feelings and your opinions. This is important, because identifying feelings gives partners the ability to increase their empathy for each other, which will ultimately help you to prioritize your partner – and vice versa.
What Are Feelings, Anyway?
Do you think you can define what a feeling is?
Feelings can be difficult to pin down, simply because they’re hard-wired into you and not many people can adequately express through language what a feeling is. This makes it difficult to understand how you really feel.
There are six basic feelings from which all other feelings are derived. They are:
One thing that is important to note about these feelings — and all the feelings that stem from them — is that they aren’t thoughts, they’re emotions! Let’s dive a bit deeper into what that means from a practical standpoint.
The Difference Between Feelings and Thoughts
As mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for people to mix up their feelings with their thoughts. Many people — out of sheer habit — use “I feel” statements to get their thoughts and opinions out there.
Here are some examples:
“I feel like you’re wrong.”
“I feel that you shouldn’t be doing those things.”
But just because the word “feel” is being used does not mean you are sharing a feeling. These examples are not statements of emotions, but of opinions. Can you see the difference?
How To Identify Feelings
To have better communication in your relationship, endeavor to identify your feelings rather than your opinions. You can do this by trying a simple exercise.
Find a quiet place where you can have some privacy and think about a positive memory you have of your partner. Put as many details into this memory as you can and then write it down, focusing on your feelings in the memory.
Use words that identify feelings such as “happy,” “content,” “joyous,” or “excited.” Write down as many feelings the memory brings up as you can.
Next, think of a time you had a conflict with your partner. Go through the same exercise, writing out as many details as you can and the feelings you associate with that memory. “Angry,” “frustrated,” “sad,” and so on.
After you have done both of these exercises, think of something your partner has done that you’re grateful for and express that to them. Then, use your time in self-reflection to think about how it made you feel to communicate to your partner and what things may have been easy or difficult about the exercise.
Interested in learning more about the difference between thoughts and opinions versus feelings? Take a look at our award-winning book, where we cover this in Key #4: Communication is Key, So Dial Up the Dialogue.