We highly recommend you watch these two clips before reading through this amazing interview.
Years Married: 17 in January
Q. How do you help a spouse or child learn to express their emotions instead of suppressing or numbing them?
A: We use the feeling wheel. Basically, it has core emotions listed in a circle, and from those core emotions, other emotions are listed fanning out from the core. So, most of us say, “How are you doing?” And respond, “I’m doing good,” Or “I’m mad.” Then, if you go to mad there are derivatives of that emotion listed, things like “hate, anger, rage, critical, skeptical, irrational, furious, frustrated, selfish, jealous.” Feeling wheels are great, even for kids, in order to learn to express how you are feeling. So often Coby will have a mentoring call and he will ask, “What are you feeling?” And the person will say, “Oh, it’s been a good day, I’m pretty good.” Then Coby will say, “Get your feeling wheel and tell me what you are feeling,” and surprisingly the person is feeling nine other things, too.
C: Things they aren’t aware of.
A: Yeah, it’s almost like they are blocking those emotions out because overall they are feeling fine. Even when I’m feeling super good and confident and productive, I’ll have a moment where I think to myself, “Oh, but I’m feeling somewhat stupid because of this thing that happened.” Little things like that. I would say the feeling wheel is a great way to start.
C: It’s a great prompt to think about what actually is going on. The way I use this with clients, is I say, “Identify a situation that stands out in the day, and then read from the feeling wheel and identify all of all the feelings that relate to that particular situation.” It doesn’t have to be every situation, but just one or two that stand out. Then, by just reading aloud through those feelings, you can realize, “I feel way more than what I ever gave myself credit for.” That is a skillset – being able to identify your emotions.
C: The objective of it, for my purposes in mentoring clients, is to be retrospectively emotionally aware. Meaning, at the end of the day I’m going to say, “I felt angry here, I felt resentment here, I felt super successful here, in these situations…” and then build on that. When you divide the eight emotions here, the twelve emotions here, for example, the more that you retrospectively do that, then you get closer and closer to real-time emotional awareness, to realizing what you are feeling in the moment. For example, if the girls get off the bus and they start fighting, I can recognize, “Man, I feel upset and frustrated and angry and unsettled and vexed, because they aren’t even in the door yet and they are fighting.”
A: The point of doing this, is to recognize where you are at, so that when you are lashing out or using unhealthy coping tools, you realize why. Then you can start to learn your triggers and things. Another quick thing that we do, we started doing this after our girls were abused, is called, “Worry Time.” We do it every night with our kids. It’s a one-on-one thing. It’s basically like the movie Inside-Out. When that movie came out, it made it really easy to explain to kids. Our kids understood it from the get-go, but it’s really a time when you just ask your kids their worries from the day. For a kid this can be something like, “At lunch, I was worried that no one would sit by me.” We ask them their happy moments, their sad moments, if they were embarrassed, mad, scared, or if something funny happened – all those emotions. It’s always interesting to hear. Just knowing what they are going through is important.
A: Kids talk at the end of the day. They don’t want to talk when they get off the bus, but they will talk when they want to go to bed. Especially because when they get off the bus they will say, “It was an awesome day, it was so great,” and then at “Worry Time” my daughter might say, “But this kid was bullying me and I don’t want to go to school.” I will say, “But you told me it was an awesome day,” and she will respond by saying, “Well, this is what happened.” It’s like she had just pushed that away. That is how to do “Worry Time,” especially with kids, but you can do it with spouses, too.
C: “Worry Time” is enormously helpful to help kids sleep better, because they go to bed with fewer anxieties.
Q. Obviously you two have grown incredibly strong through the challenges and conflicts you have faced. What do you think are some of the things that have enabled you grow closer together through conflict instead of further apart?
A: I used to think, “I’m not going to therapy. It’s for people who are broken, people who are getting divorced, whatever,” and I’m not that person. So I refused it for a lot of years, and Coby would often say, “Let’s go, let’s go!” Then I realized, when we went, that I felt a lot of regret. I wish I would have gone sooner, because the longer you wait the harder it is to get therapy. A therapist just sees both sides and offers skills that will help you learn how to talk to each other, how to listen better, how to learn personality differences, etc. I think that was a huge help for us. I didn’t realize, “That’s just his personality and we are so different and it’s okay that we’re so different and that we handle things differently.” That helped me a lot because it was super frustrating when things would happen over and over and over again until I just realized, “Okay, we just do things differently and it’s not like this negative thing that I’m making it to be,” so I would say therapy to get the skills, so that you don’t have to end up in therapy.
A: I think therapy is for humans. I don’t think it’s for people who are like us and have already experienced really hard things. Yes, we needed it, but it would have been great to start our marriage with some skills. The skills you learn from a third party, who isn’t your mom or friend or someone who has judgment against one or the other or has biases, are helpful.
C: Skills, that is all therapy really is. An investment in individuals, partners, and couples in developing skills to deal with how they function in life. For example, in my family, I was nurtured to say, “I love you,” and to express that with hugs and kisses. For Ashlynn, in her family, they didn’t say, “I love you,” and they didn’t show physical affection. So there is a different skill set that exists and one that doesn’t, so when you put us together, it doesn’t work. So being able to go to therapy in order to learn how to bridge that gap and make those two align is a really important skill to learn.
C: And I’ll also say this, too. When conflict is identified, whether it is money or porn or you didn’t squeeze the toothpaste right, I think it is really important to establish safe ground rules to DISCUSS conflict. Meaning, that “Okay, we’re going to have this discussion and here are the rules before the discussion takes place. If we have a conflict, we’re going to speak softly, we’re going to be taking a walk while we do this rather than sitting and staring each other in the face or whatever that is; we can’t swear; we can’t throw things; we can’t raise our voices; and we have to take turns so that we understand what the other person is really feeling in the situation.” So people can define their own rules and then when they are in the situation people can say, “K, we’re at that point where here is conflict.
A: Take a break…
C: Yes, maybe that is one of the rules. “Conflict has presented itself and we are going to talk about it in two hours.” So, these are the best practices for us in dealing with conflict so that we can do it effectively rather than be offended and get mad, and create a bigger wedge between us.
A: We got a lot of marriage advice like “Don’t go to bed mad.”
C: Such rubbish.
A: We don’t believe that. Sorry. Sometimes you need a night to sleep on it and realize it’s not as bad as you think, or to realize, “I played a part in it, too,” that type of thing. Sleeping on it allows you to kind of reflect a little bit, and let your temperature come down.
C: For sure.
Q. You are still married and your story is so beautiful. What would you say is your secret to a happy marriage?
C: For us, happy came when we both committed to do a few small things everyday, forever.
C: Yes, because those few small things that we did facilitated change, represented commitment, and facilitated forgiveness, which are all a seedbed for happiness.
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