There are two types of communication: open-door and closed-door.
Open-door communication is a direct and vulnerable sharing of your feelings, which gives the listener access to your inner world.
Closed-door communication is a self-protective way to share feelings by using protective behaviors such as criticisms, making up stories, accusations, explanations, and defensiveness.
If your partner shares a feeling with you, she is giving you a glimpse inside a world to which only she holds the key. When she unlocks this door for you, it is a gift. The views into her inner world may not always reflect back to you what you wish to see.
The gift is not about what you find inside her inner world.
The gift is that you are trusted with access to her inner world.
Imagine your workload is doubled and you have to work twice as much for a temporary period of time. Likely, both you and your wife will have feelings about this situation. If you are committed to open-door communication, you will come to each other from a vulnerable place and express your feelings in a direct and genuine way.
Open-door communication might sound like: “I miss you. Lately, I have been feeling lonely since you’ve had to work more.”
Closed-door communication might sound like this: “You work too much. I feel like you don’t care that I am alone all of the time.”
While the closed-door message is coming from the same vulnerable source of pain, the delivery is harder to hear. She is letting you know there is something going on in her inner world, but she’s keeping the door shut by using criticisms, in an effort to protect herself.
If she says she feels something, then she feels something. Unfortunately, it is a common communication mistake to hear feelings as complaints, disappointments, and criticisms. For example, the first statement, “I miss you,” might be heard as a complaint or a criticism. You may hear it as if you are doing something wrong. That you should be home more than you are. This interpretation of “I miss you,” will likely provoke defensiveness.
When you interpret her feelings as a complaint, you are more likely to respond with a closed-door, such as: “I have no choice. I have to work.” This response misses the feeling she is expressing. This is a closed-door response to open-door communication.
If you heard “I miss you,” as a validation of your importance to her, you might respond with more softness. An open-door response may be as simple as, “I miss you, too. I can’t wait for work to slow down. Thank you for sharing that you feel the same way I do.”
It is not sufficient to add the word “feel” to your statements. When you say, “I feel THAT you…” or, “I feel LIKE you….” these are not feelings. These are opinions, stories, accusations, or potential criticisms. To truly share your feelings, you must be the subject of what you are sharing, not your wife or partner. A feeling statement will include a feeling word… I feel __________ (feeling word).
Feelings are never wrong, though they do change. They are also not accusations or criticisms. Sometimes we don’t fully understand our own feelings and all of the factors that contribute to them. The very best way to respond to your partner’s feelings is with open-door communication.
If she opens the door, appreciate and take good care of the access she is giving you to her inner world.