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Six Point Plan for Expressing Feelings

Six Point Plan for Expressing Feelings

(A Useful Tool)

Though most people agree that expressing one’s feelings in a relationship is a good idea, it is often done in a manner that leaves the other partner unsure of how to react or respond. The listener can become either defensive, trying to explain themselves, or they too quickly try to problem solve and “fix” things.  I have found that the following steps can help clarify for each partner what the feeling is about, what caused it and what it triggers, why they feel the need to express it, and what they want to result from its expression.  It can increase empathy and understanding, facilitate behavior change, and give each partner a sense of agency.


  1. Express the feeling, using I statements, being as specific as possible

  2. Quantify the feeling, in terms of intensity and duration

  3. What precipitated the feeling, what was the event and the context?

  4. Consider and share any personal historical precedents which would explain why your “buttons” are pushed by this

  5. Make a request, as specifically as possible, state what you want from your listener, e.g., an apology, a future behavior change, just to listen

  6. Have a back-up, self-care plan.  If you can’t or don’t get #5, what you want from your partner, have a plan to deal with your feelings by yourself, e.g., take some time alone, take a walk or a bath, talk to a friend, make some behavioral change yourself, take some action.  (This may or may not need to be shared.)


An example of this would be to change this

“I’m so upset!  Our credit card bill is enormous and overdue and I’m freaked out about how careless you are about money and debt!”

    To this:

“I’ve been feeling really worried lately about the amount of credit card debt that has been piling up.  When I saw this month’s statement, I started feeling panic similar to how I felt as a child when I knew my mother couldn’t pay her bills.  I’d like us to make a budget together this weekend and set up a plan to pay off our debt because it’s so difficult for me to live with this level of insecurity.  (If you won’t do that, I’ll work on it myself and present it to you.  Or, I’ll consult a professional who can help me with that.)”

*Adapted from McKay, Fanning, and Paleg, Couples Skills: Making Your Relationship Work, New Harbinger Publications Inc, 1994

Mary Ann Leff feeling

Useful Links and Resources

The Women’s Therapy Center
301 Kearney St., El Cerrito, CA  94530
An East Bay agency that offers affordable therapy for women and couples and training for relational therapists

“The Sex Starved Marriage:  When Couples Stop Coupling” [read here]

A sexuality and education, information and support website for teens:

The New View Campaign is a movement that “challenges all views that reduce sexual experience to genital biology and thereby ignore the many dimensions of real life.”

Suicide Hotline:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Useful LInks
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