My wife tells me constantly that I hurt her feelings. I don’t intend to hurt her feelings; I just say what comes to my mind. I don’t want to do this and wonder what I can do. Can you help?

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Yes, I can help.While “just saying what comes to mind” may seem harmless, obviously you’re saying something that is triggering your wife’s hurt feelings. It’s time for a closer inspection. Slow things down and look critically not only at what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. Both may play a role in the problem. Let’s discuss why and how feelings get hurt.

We all get our feelings hurt now and then – even those who have learned to stuff them. We might feel hurt when we overhear that our friends are gathering and we haven’t been invited. We might feel hurt when someone expresses a harsh judgment about us. We might feel hurt when we’ve been overlooked for a seemingly deserved promotion. All these are “reasons” for feeling hurt. And that hurt is amplified ten-fold when it’s a mate saying something hurtful, even he or she isn’t trying to do so.

It’s critical to understand the concept of “raw spots.” We all have them. Some time ago, I made an insensitive comment to my wife about her friend. I hurt her feelings and she shared with me that she was sensitive about this particular friend. I did not judge her for her sensitive feelings. Rather, I thanked her for sharing and now am careful about this issue. In like manner, I’ve told her I’m extra-sensitive about certain issues, and may begin a sentence like this: “Christie, I want to share something about my day, but I’m sensitive about such and such. I’d like you to be careful in how you respond.” Taking the cue, she responds carefully and caringly.

Why are some topics more sensitive than others? Feelings get hurt because of a previous, still-raw wound, an area in which we’re especially vulnerable. Perhaps we have unfinished business or low self-esteem in that arena of our life. Perhaps we have judged ourselves harshly for certain mistakes, and having someone criticize us only amplifies our pain. Maybe we’ve been criticized again and again and have failed to firmly set boundaries around the issue.

Let’s consider what can be done about hurt feelings.

Accept your feelings and the feelings of others. If your wife has hurt feelings, she has hurt feelings. Don’t judge them. Judging feelings will cause her to feel unsafe and will tempt her to push her feelings down rather than express them. “A feeling denied is amplified.”

Listen to the feelings. Feelings may be the most intimate aspect of sharing that we can do with one another. When I tell you how my feelings have been hurt, I’m revealing a most intimate aspect of my nature. I’m telling you what I value. I’m telling you who I am. I’m telling you what I hold dear. Treat your wife’s feelings with the utmost dignity, care, and respect.

Learn from these feelings. Pay special attention to your wife’s hurt feelings. Treat them gently, as you would with a young child who has had his feelings hurt. Offer gentle inquiry: “Please tell me how you’re feeling. Please tell me what you need.” Gently probe, looking for unmet needs, unspoken concerns, or old wounds that need to have a voice.

Respond to the hurt feelings. Respond to the needs behind your wife’s hurt. My wife needed me to speak kindly and caringly about a certain friend. She needed me to care about the people for whom she cares. I can do that. Create a safe place for feelings to land. In that safety will come healing. Feelings shared and cared about will lose some of their intensity.

Agree about the future. The more you know about these hurt feelings, the better you’ll know how to respond to them in yourself, your wife, your family, and your friends. You’ll discover what needs healing and can more effectively ask for what you need. You will know what kinds of boundaries need to be established for safety in the future.

Allow God’s healing of emotions. Remind your wife that God wants to heal hurt feelings. We are accepted fully by God: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love which he loved us . . . raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2: 4,6). The apostle Paul adds, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We are accepted, fully and completely, by God – and he desires that we be healed.

In summary, if you or your spouse struggle with hurt feelings, consider what may be missing for you. Do you have unresolved trauma or wounds? I’d like to hear from you. Please contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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