Recovery teaches you how to feel those feelings your addiction has been trying to cover up and bury your whole life. Recovery not only teaches you how to feel those negative feelings but also positive feelings and learning how to express them in healthy ways. Men generally struggle with identifying and expressing their emotions more than women. However, this is not always true, as I have seen women suffering from trauma or codependency more than men.
Couples in recovery generally spend a great deal of time processing and understanding their own emotions as well as each other’s. Since women generally feel their emotions chemically, physically, and mentally more than men, we can become overly focused as husbands, actively listening and validating her emotions, at times to a fault. Just because men do not experience their emotions like women do, as I just described, does not make their emotions any less valid. If and when men do feel and express their feelings, it is usually from a very deep place.
I have had women tell me now that their husband has learned tools to help him express his emotions, they have not stopped talking. “I can’t shut him up.” Be careful what you wish for ladies.
I have observed a few things that we do not let men get away with when their wife is expressing her feelings about a topic, situations or circumstance. So why do we allow women off the hook for treating their husband with such behavior? Why the double standard?
Here are some do’s and don’ts when your husband genuinely shares his feelings with you, when he is not blaming you for the them and is just processing them with you.
- Don’t minimize his feelings when he shares them with you. For example, if your husband says that he’s feeling lonely, don’t try to convince him he should not feel such, as there is no evidence to support it. “You are not feeling that lonely. Why would you feel lonely? Your around family and friends all the time.”
- Do validate your husband’s feelings. “Tell me more about why you are feeling lonely. Thank you for sharing that with me. Thank you for trusting me with your feelings. Is there anything I can do at this time for you? Is there any way I can meet a need you have right now?” Validating does not mean winning, losing or trying to convince him otherwise. Validating does not mean you agree with him. It just tells him you heard what he said.
- Don’t get defensive. Your husband is not saying you are causing the feeling he is expressing. Most women become defensive when their husband shares their feelings, especially negative feelings, because they feel responsible as if they caused it. You are not responsible for his feelings even if he blames you for them.
- Do be a woman who can apologize. I have witnessed over and over how women have a very difficult time apologizing to their husbands for hurtful things they have said or done. I have had countless men tell me their wife has never apologized for anything. Many women see themselves “better than” or “not as bad as” their husbands. If you have committed any of these offenses when your husband has tried to share his feelings, take responsibility and go apologize. He will be very grateful and perhaps even shocked. Do not be surprised if he tears up.
- Don’t be codependent. Don’t assume you caused any of the negative feelings your husband is expressing. This is your codependency. Let him share them openly. Don’t try to analyze him or be his therapist. Don’t feel like you have to rescue him from his feelings. Let him feel them. Don’t feel as though because he is having a bad day you also have to have a bad day. Don’t feel like it is your job to bring him up when he is down. Just be a safe sounding board for him. Encourage him to make a call to members of his support group or therapist.
- Do make a call to your support group if you have feelings you need to process after he shares with you. Don’t share confidential information about your husband. The phone call is about you and your feelings.
- Don’t try to fix him or his feelings. Feelings are just feelings. They are real but not always reality. He doesn’t necessarily want a solution or have it fixed any more than you do when you share your feelings him. If your husband is actively in recovery and therapy, your job is to walk with him as his partner and equal. You should be working on your own issues that you need to recover from.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.