In couples therapy I often hear couples start a conversation by saying, “I feel like…” and then the proceed to talk about how their spouse isn’t living up to their end of the marriage bargain. “I feel like you just don’t listen to me”, for example. It often comes across as blaming or attacking. This statement is misleading because the person who says it often thinks that they are doing well by talking about their emotions. After all, they did use the word ‘feel’! Aren’t you supposed to use I Feel Statements? Aren’t you supposed to talk about your emotions? The use of the word ‘feel’ here makes them think they did well. This statement is usually followed up by the other person being defensive and telling them whey they are wrong.
The problem with using the phrase, “I feel like…” or “I feel that…” is that you aren’t talking about your emotions, you are talking about your thoughts – in a painful and unhealthy manner, usually. It leads to long fights when both spouses go in on what they ‘feel like’. There is rarely a resolution or emotional safety. Your thoughts in these instances are interpretations of the your partner that aren’t helping.
What I suggest to couples in my office is to try to catch themselves (not each other) saying this phrase and then to ask themselves if they are trying to describe a thought or an emotion. If you are trying to describe an emotion then what you need to do is drop the ‘like’ or the ‘that’. Say instead, “I feel sad.” Or you might insert another one word emotion there. It is harder to do this because it is vulnerable and you expose yourself to being hurt if yoru partner isn’t willing to be safe. It is, however, the correct way to talk about your emotions. If you are trying to describe your thoughts then change “I feel like…” to “It seems like…” and change “I feel that…” to “I think that…”. There is a different and softer feel to the latter that helps conversations go better.
This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. It is difficult to root out this bad habit and your marriage will thank you if you do.