Sunday, November 1, 2020

FEELINGS: BEACONS OF INTIMACY

Recently, I was awakened by a dream that wouldn't let me go back to sleep. A woman was speaking to me, and she said, "I made some cookies and now I can tell my husband I am exhausted."  When I got out of bed I kept thinking about what she had said which didn't seem to make a lot of sense. As I pondered it, I realized that we are often more willing to share our thoughts than our feelings, and yet our feelings are the keys to deeper, more intimate communication, particularly in marriage. The woman in my dream apparently thought that making cookies for her husband was the action that would open the door for her to be able to share her feelings with him.  Sharing our feelings and listening to another's feelings with our hearts is actually the passageway to tenderizing our relationships.

When my husband and I were part of a presenting team on a World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend, we spent a good part of one of the early talks explaining the difference between thoughts and feelings--so much so that couples would ask us if we were teachers. Thoughts come from the head and feelings from the heart, but there is a very easy way to distinguish them.  (It will also give you a way to say "gotcha" when listening to someone pontificate on TV or news feeds.)  If you can say, "I feel ____," you're sharing a feeling. If you say "I feel that ____," it's a thought.  You can feel sad, happy, angry, joyful, and many other emotions. But if you say, "I feel that you should do the dishes/put the kids to bed/get up earlier in the morning/be nicer to my mother," you are expressing a thought. You should really say, "I believe or think that" whatever the phrase was that came after "that."  You can argue with thoughts, but feelings are spontaneous inner reactions that have no morality; they just are.  They are also windows into the soul, letting us see the inner life of the person who is sharing them. If that person is our husband or wife, we can journey together into our hearts and souls, into levels of intimacy that can be reached in no other way. My beloved husband and I wrote each other a love letter every day for the last 30 years of our marriage. We described our feelings in detail, and then chose one feeling to try to understand more fully. For instance, if I was describing a feeling of exhaustion, like the woman in my dream, I might say, "I feel exhausted as if I had run a marathon. I feel worn out, as if I had been chasing the children around all day and had gotten nothing else done.  I feel utterly flattened, as if a bulldozer had just rolled over me." We would then discuss our feelings until my husband would really understand what I had been sharing. We either took turns focusing on one of our feelings, or if there were a really strong feeling, we'd talk about that.  But over the years, we developed such an ever-deepening bond that our relationship grew more intimate as we fell more deeply in love. Getting to know another person in such a way is an adventure because every person has infinite depths. In the 38 years we were married, we were constantly discovering new facets of our love. And although I have lost him in this world, I know that I was deeply loved, and that we will be together again.  As a reminder of this, my oldest daughter Elizabeth sent me a text on the morning of the eighth anniversary of his death, "This fell out of a book at my house late last night--maybe you're getting a little message for today :)."  She included a picture she had taken of a 3 x 5 card with a heart sticker on it and a note from my dear husband, "I love being close to you."

And he still is.


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