When Emotions Are Treated As Facts

Okay, I know I’m on dangerous ground here, so be nice to me! ;-)

My intention here is not to dismiss feelings or say they are invalid. However, we can feel things that are not true, and if we base what we believe on such feelings we end up with all kinds of problems.

When Emotions Are Treated As Facts

I might feel betrayed by my wife, but that does not mean she has betrayed me. I might feel dismissed or ignored by her when she had no intention of doing those things. I might feel she can’t be trusted when in reality she has done nothing untrustworthy. 

This gets even worse when we play the if-then game If she said ABC, then that means she thinks XYZ. Because she did QRS I know she is LMN. Sometimes our if-then guesses are right, but far too often they are somewhere between a bit off and 100% wrong. When we get it wrong it’s because the other person does not think, feel, and process as we do. What seems like an obvious logical progression to us is not how their mind works. Some of these are due to a difference in how men and women think, while others are about differences in personality, culture, or family background. Sex-based differences tend to be especially bad because our same sex friends agree with us.

So, the next time you and your husband are at odds and he says ABC does not mean XYZ, give him the benefit of the doubt. What seems like a straight line to you may not be a line at all for him.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and I’ve learned assumptions cause all kinds of marital problems. 

More or Less Related Post: My friend J, of Hot, Holy & Humorous recently posted When “I Feel…” Statements Don’t Work

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22 Comments on “When Emotions Are Treated As Facts

  1. I think you did a great joh explaining this without “mansplaining” away our emotions about wives. Our emotions aren’t fake or invalid, but it does help to understand that our feelings do not always match up with our husband’s feelings or actions or intentions.

    I have taken to asking myself why I feel what I feel. For example, I was picking up my kiddos from school and they did not hear their names announced to be dismissed. A teacher had to call them again and she yelled at them for not listening. Once the kids got in the car, I found myself short with them and intolerant of any typical child-like behaviors. I asked myself why, and realized the teacher yelling at them triggered me. In my own childhood, I felt if I ever did anything wrong I was horrid and no one liked me and I was ruined and embarrassed. If a teacher had yelled at me like that, I would have crumbled and spent the rest of the day punishing myself and trying to make up for it.

    My feelings had nothing to do with my kids being a little careless in developmentally appropriate ways. They had everything to do with my own abnormal childhood psychology.

  2. I agree. What you’re explaining is one step away, in my opinion, from a type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I’m a social worker and counselor, and CBT is a type of therapy technique. The basic premise is that what you think affects how you feel and how you feel affects how you act. It is typically presented as a triangle model, with “thoughts”, “feelings”, and “actions” each on one point of the triangle. They are all interconnected. If you have distortions in what you think, or jump to conclusions without evidence or facts, it will affect your feelings and actions. A lot of CBT work involves challenges thoughts, and asking people to be “detectives” and look for facts or evidence to back up what they are thinking. One example would be if someone passes you in the hallway you assume they are angry at you. This work would involve challenging that assumption, and perhaps that person didn’t see you at all or they were running late. This basic change in assumption would certainly change how you felt about the situation and how you act towards that person.

    Another method is to start on another point of the triangle, like action. You change your actions, so even if you feel someone is treating you unfairly and you feel sad, you should go out of your way to be nice and helpful. Being nice and helpful will then affect the rest of the “triangle” and make you feel happy and your thoughts will hopefully involve pride about being helpful.

  3. Ok Paul, I might agree with you here somewhat. But if there is one thing I’d like my husband to understand, it would help me greatly if he would TALK. If you refuse to tell me what you are thinking or feeling, I have no choice but to fill in the blanks with what seems to be the logical answer. If I have no communication to go on, then past experiences are all I have to help draw conclusions. My husband likes to keep his feelings to himself most of the time. I used to think it was some sick control game. I’m starting to believe that is just what he does. He is an introvert (foreign behavior to my extroverted nature), and his family growing up discussed nothing. In his family, the best place for problems is swept under the rug and left there. So frustrating!

    To be fair, he is trying to open up a bit more. This has been huge for us. We still have a long way to go though.

    there have been several things over 20 years of marriage, and a few before, that have made me feel unloved and insecure. Things he might have done or not done, that made me feel a certain way (usually negative). Because I need to talk about things that bother me, and he refuses to talk about things that bother him, we often get nowhere. If I bring something up more than once, he says I’m being “relentless”. I’m talking like twice in six months. I’d hardly call that relentless. I think refusing to discuss something is coldhearted and uncaring.

    AND, this may be wrong, but I see silence as agreement. If I am grasping at straws because he refuses to talk, I might say something like “well the only reason I can come up with that you would have done xyz is because you don’t find me the least bit attractive.” If he stares at me with silence, then I automatically know I got it right. Then fast forward a bit and if something comes up and I say, “why do you call me “pretty” when we both know you don’t find me attractive” and he will be like “I do so find you attractive. what are you talking about?? I never said that!” And I remind him that he never argued when I said it. Lack of argument is total agreement. And if it isn’t, then how about a reply once in a while to let me know what you are actually thinking. Stop making me guess, and maybe I’ll stop guessing incorrectly.

    BUT a word of caution – at least for my husband and we have discussed this – do NOT make the mistake of telling me what you think “I want to hear.” That is the worst possible offense. Do not patronize me or try to fool me into feeling good. Truth only, please.

    Sorry for the long comment, but the lack of talking and forced guessing games drive me insane. And that’s why I draw my own conclusions. Right or wrong.

    • Silence rarely indicates agreement, in my experience. Not saying that it doesn’t in your case (you obviously know you husband much better than me, a random internet person), but I’ve found that in most cases if someone agrees with something you’ve said then they will just come right out and say so, unless they have a very good reason not to.

      No, silence usually indicates disagreement, but for any number of reasons the other person doesn’t feel comfortable saying why they don’t agree. Maybe they’re afraid that they’ll hurt your feelings in some way, or maybe they’re afraid that it’ll make you angry (and fear whatever consequences that entails). Or maybe they are too stunned by what you’ve said to be able to process it and formulate a response explaining why they think you’re wrong about something. Or maybe they’re too angry to speak, and don’t want to get into an argument until they’ve had time to cool off so they won’t say something they know they’ll regret. So many, many reasons.

      You are right, though; it would be more helpful for him to actually give you some feedback once in a while. In fact, it would be the logical thing to do, especially considering that I don’t see how there could be ANY negative consequence to saying, “no, you’re wrong about that, I DO find you attractive.” Humans, unfortunately, are not a logical species. *sigh*

      What expression is on his face when you say something that is met with silence? That could help provide you with some insight. Even when people try hiding what they’re thinking/feeling, most don’t actually have very good control over their facial expressions. It’s actually incredibly difficult to keep one’s feelings from showing on one’s face, and even if one IS good at it, it’s still next to impossible to conceal everything from the people who know us best. You say you’ve been married to him over 20 years, so I’ll wager you probably know him and his expressions as well as anyone (and better than most!) by now. Put that knowledge to good use. Watch his face carefully, scrutinize it for any little flicker of emotion, not matter how small. You’ll probably be able to discern something, and any little clue can be helpful in that situation.

      There’s just one more thing I’d like to add, something for you to think about. Have you considered the possibility that you might have unintentionally put your husband in the unfortunate position where he feels he can’t share his feelings? You’ve made it very clear to him that lying to make you feel better about something will not be tolerated. Which is as it should be, IMO; good things rarely come from that kind of dishonesty. However, if he thinks that being honest about something will hurt or anger you, but knows lying won’t be tolerated either, then what course is left to him but to keep silent? While it may be frustrating to you, he probably considers that the lesser of two evils; better a little frustration that a lot of hurt. In which case, it is doubtful he realizes just how MUCH silence hurts, or he wouldn’t behave as he does. So if that is what’s going on, then you must explain to him why you need him to be honest with his feelings, even when he thinks they might hurt you, because that hurts so much less than being kept in the dark, left to imagine the worst, thinking he’s being “coldhearted and uncaring” on purpose.

      • @AmazingAce, thanks for your reply. I am going to have to disagree – I still feel silence equals agreement. If I say “I’m sorry I’m not attractive enough for you” and he just stares at me and says NOTHING, that can only mean one thing. It means that he finds me completely hideous, is upset that I’ve figured it out, and is afraid to say, “honey you’re right. You are hideous.” I mean, think about this logically. If he didn’t agree, all he would have to say is, “that’s not true. I do find you attractive.” But silence = bad.

        It’s really not that hard to talk. I am flabbergasted when we argue at the painful snail like pace at which my husband replies. He is way too smart. There is no way his mind runs that slowly. Just say something already!! I’m sure he does it for the pure sport of making me frustrated.

        The only other reply that is worse than silence is “I don’t know.” Um yes, yes you do. Unless you are walking around without a thought in your head, “I don’t know” is never the right answer. “I don’t know” is usually an attempt to cover a lie.

        My husband should not be afraid to be honest with me. If I get hurt, I get hurt. People have been hurting me my whole life. I’m quite used to it. And if he’s afraid of making me angry, isn’t that a little cowardly? I’m not that intimidating. I’m three inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter (and he’s got a LOT of muscle) – I hardly think I’m that scary.

        So I thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. But I still think the refusal to talk is coldhearted, uncaring, and some sick control game.

        • @B – Given what you have said about your husband and his family of origin, I think it’s a mistake to assume anything about his silence.
          It’s also possible he has decided you think what you want so it’s a waste of time and energy to say anything. You’ve said things here that fit that pattern.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…… And That Means…My Profile

          • I guess that’s fair, thinking it’s possible that he thinks I’m going to think what I want. There’s not much else you can think when the other person chooses silence over meaningful conversation.
            Kind of hurtful to be told that my husband thinks I’m a waste of time and energy. But hey, I did ask for the truth, so I have to be willing to hear it.
            But isn’t it safer to think what you know to be true, than to delude yourself into believing what someone wants you to think? Especially if they have lied to you in the past?

            • B, I don’t know you, but you do hold a special place in my heart and I pray for you. Paul is correct, though. You believe what you want and put words into others mouths. I have been there, myself, and it is so draining and kept me so hurting.

              You know how teenage girls cut themselves? I find that appalling that they do that. This was a form of cutting for me and that realization opened my eyes.

              My solution? I prayed to God for Truth, only. I chose to assume love. I took note at how negative and hurting I was and started taking thoughts captive and fighting back lies and negativity with truth and positivity.

              I am going to be honest here and say that sometimes I read your posts and stay silent because, frankly, it feels useless to try to advise, help, live, and support you because you keep going right around in those hurting circles. I can totally understand why your husband would just choose silence. He probably figures he is damned if he does or doesn’t because you believe what you want.

              You’ll probably take offense or feel hurt at what I just wrote. I know I did when someone spoke up in love and truth. But, please, take it to the Lord. I want to see you healed and whole.

              • @Libl, thank you for your comment. I am not offended at all. I was honestly shocked when I read you pray for me. Quite a few posts ago, you and I had a back-and-forth about introverts and extroverts and after that (although we don’t know each other) I pretty much figured “well, she hates my guts.”

                This paragraph you wrote here: “My solution? I prayed to God for Truth, only. I chose to assume love. I took note at how negative and hurting I was and started taking thoughts captive and fighting back lies and negativity with truth and positivity.” – That’s a lot of what I need to focus on. I have a terrible time praying for myself, because I feel like there are so many needs greater than mine, and I don’t want to waste God’s time on my petty problems. I know that is wrong. I know there’s plenty of God to go around. It’s an issue I need to deal with.
                Assuming love? I don’t know if I don’t know what that looks like, or how to do that, or if it’s a defense mechanism NOT to assume love. My husband and I were just discussing this tonight (rationally, praise God!) As a child, I was belittled, insulted (daily), and unprotected by those supposed to protect me, that I developed a very strong and tall brick wall of defense. Unfortunately a lot of it is built with wrong ideas. I might have turned out independent, kinda tough, and definitely scrappy – but I have a very hard time accepting love from other people. I don’t feel I deserve it. I know, I know, love isn’t about deserving. I’m a work in progress.
                For years, marriage bloggers have been telling me to “take my thoughts captive.” I still have no clue how to do that. It’s not like I can just stop myself from having a thought. If a thought pops into my head, I don’t see how I can control that. I can tell myself “don’t think that” but it doesn’t mean I won’t. The “taking thoughts captive” thing feels like I’m lying to myself, or trying to kid myself into believing all sunshine and roses.

                Anyhow, I guess you’re right and I do need to take it to the Lord. But I feel really selfish praying about these things. Almost like I’m begging for things I’m not worthy of. I’m going to have to try, I guess, but it’s not easy.

                Thank you again for taking the time to write your comment.

                • I used to be a worrier. Like, bad worrier. When I was a child, my mom would tell me to find a verse (or verses), and if I started to worry, I would consciously think of that verse instead. And I would just keep doing that until the worry went away.

            • @B “Kind of hurtful to be told that my husband thinks I’m a waste of time and energy.”
              I was suggesting he has learned, from experience, that trying to changing your mind is not possible.
              You keep talking about what you know to be true, but much of what you put in that category you can not possibly know is true. You believe it is true, but that is no the same thing by a long shot.
              Yes, he’s lied to you. I’m willing to bet you have lied to him too.
              Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Intermittent Good Behaviour Keeps Us Holding OnMy Profile

        • That’s OK, you don’t have to agree with me. It’s possible you are right and I’m wrong; after all, as I said before, you know your husband best. I only sought to show you my perspective as an outside observer, based on my own experiences (which have been different than yours). This I have done; what you then choose to do with that perspective is entirely up to you. If you have found any part of it useful, well and good; and if it’s not useful to you, that’s perfectly fine as well. Feel free to toss it or give it away to someone else, just like second hand clothes. :)

          I do have a question though, if you don’t mind my asking, only I’m a little confused by something you said. What does your size have to do with whether or not you’re intimidating? I’ve known SEVERAL intimidating people who were smaller than me (most of them school teachers and librarians). I don’t think it’s the act of a coward to be reluctant to anger someone and get into an unnecessary conflict. No doubt you’ve heard the old saying, “discretion is the better part of valour.” Which means, essentially, be brave and foolish only when absolutely necessary, and the rest of the time it is far better to be cowardly but wise. There’s a million different ways someone you’ve angered can make your life a living hell, all without laying so much as a finger on you. And THAT’S why your husband might be nervous about making you mad.

          Does he know how you feel about all this? Have you actually said to him, “I find your continued refusal to talk to me to be exceptionally cruel, exceedingly coldhearted, and incredibly uncaring”? Because if you haven’t, you probably should! Unless he really IS all of those things, it will surely get through to him. It’s worth a try anyway, IMO.

          Well, that’s the last of my two cents. I swear, I didn’t mean to write such a long comment (again), but I have a hard time stopping once I get going, it seems. Feel free to take it all with a grain of salt, or ignore it completely, as you wish. :)

          • @AmazingAce, thank you for taking the time to reply. I may not always agree, but I very much appreciate your viewpoint.
            Thank you!

  4. Something like this was very much on my mind this morning, so I hope you don’t mind if I take a little space. For the last few days, I’ve spent my ride in to work mentally complaining to myself about my husband. Now, I love him dearly. I feel called by God to be the best and most loving wife to him that I can be. He is a dear, sweet, gentle, Christian man. We are physically very affectionate. But – I feel totally disrespected when he tells me that he can’t help with any of the bills, but I see him going out with friends, buying things for himself, paying his grown child’s bills. The utility bill came in over the weekend, he told me he can’t pay, so I’ve spent days complaining to myself about this. When it happened last month, I said directly, “How can you tell me you’ll take me out to dinner but you don’t have money for the electric bill?” He replied, very seriously, “That’s something different.” (I think he meant, that’s different money, his ‘fun money’ vs. money for bills.) I don’t believe he knows how I feel when he does this and I don’t know how to tell him. He knows I worry about finances, he knew last month that I had to postpone paying for my health insurance in order to pay the household bills. I tell him that I wish I didn’t have to work two jobs. I think he just shakes his head and thinks I’m silly about things, because ‘it all comes out all right’. (See, Paul, why I reacted so strongly to your post a few days ago – ‘When is what we do to prove our love enough’.) I guess my question here is, why does he NOT make any assumptions about my feelings?

  5. Maybe it’s the musician in me, but I’m probably more emotionally expressive than most men. (I think most men tend to be more emotional than most women, but worse at expressing it. That’s a whole ‘nuther discussion.) But men and women alike need to think about their emotions. We’re not in the wrong for feeling things. That’s why they’re called passions: they happen to us and we are passive in the process. But we are told to take every thought captive, so we need to pass our emotions through the filter of thought, and especially the filter of scripture.

    What we know trumps what we feel. So by hiding emotions, our spouses don’t know how to process things. And by expressing emotions without any thoughtful filter, we say and do hurtful things that aren’t really even based in truth. When my wife expresses her emotions, or I express mine (we’re both musicians, so there’s a roller coaster for you!), we need to validate each other’s emotions, in effect saying that I understand what you’re feeling. But we both have to be careful that validation does not necessarily mean justifying or agreeing with.

    We’re both learning a lot about renewing our minds in Christ. And as we learn more and put it into practice, we are finding that our emotions are becoming more thoughtfully filtered.

  6. I completely understand the incongruence between emotions and facts. The part where it gets sticky for me (I do believe some others have commented on similar lines) is application — when I can’t get the actual facts and have to make some sort of inference on which to base my actions. You talk about this in the context of wives making assumptions about what their husbands’ behavior means, but does the idea hold up in reverse? And what are the implications if it does?

    Case in point: my wife tells me that she feels too tired and stressed to have sex and doesn’t want to talk about it when she feels that way. This adds another layer to my concerns about rejection that are already present. It seems my options are: go along with it and never bring it up unless she does (unlikely and rare at best); bring it up whenever I’m interested (we all know where that leads); or try to gauge her mood and energy level based on what I can observe and what I already know to be true, to decide whether it’s worth the risk of being rejected.

    The third option would seem to yield the most results, hypothetically. Reality is that it hardly makes an ounce of difference. I’ve been rejected and then asked her to go through the factors she’s brought up before. I’ve been right on everything at times and she’s still not interested. The things she’s told me are indicators of interest or disinterest turn out to not make a difference. Emotions, facts, neither seems to make sense anyway. That leaves me at the point of doing something or doing nothing. I could ask if she feels interested, but if she’s not already on board for sex (i.e., she already consciously decided), it will only make things worse, which hurts future prospects too.

    I’ve probably got another hour’s worth of examples, but I think the point was made.

    If one assumes their interpretation of the meaning of another’s actions is going to generally be wrong, but one can’t always flat out ask that person how they feel about it, it handicaps the relationship. It reminds me of those smoothbore Civil War muskets that might fire straight but without rifling (guidance) there’s really no telling what you’ll hit. A sharp stick sounds more useful. Sorry, getting too far into the firearms metaphor. But without making any functional evaluation of the information at hand, it won’t matter anyway.

    Honestly, I’m just about to the point where I’m done dealing with it. Doesn’t feel worth it. But for some reason I seem to keep holding on to some kind of hope that something will change.

    • @Jer – Have you ever tried to explain to your wife how difficult it is? Have you told her it’s starting to be more trouble than it’s worth?

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