Staying with feelings in relationships

staying with feelings in relationships

How we think staying with feelings in relationships is the best thing to do and how we might actually do that (even though it’s super hard).

In the last podcast we ended with a point about how it’s always okay for people to have the feelings they have, and that it’s important to cultivate the ability to stay with other people’s feelings: whether that be our friends, partners, or other people in our lives.

Staying with feelings is an idea MJ has written a lot about including this zine which goes through the reasons why it is important to learn to stay with our own feelings, and how we might go about it. Justin has also written about the important of staying with feelings when supporting people in our lives.

Generally if we can stay with feelings – or ourselves or another person – those feelings can be experienced and expressed and move through us. If we can’t stay with feelings then we often layer more feelings on top of the existing feelings as we try to eradicate or repress them, e.g. guilt about feeling sad, then worry about feeling guilty, then frustration about how anxious we feel. Trying to deny or get away from tough feelings often leads to way more tough feelings.

The basic idea to come back to is that all feelings are sensible and rational. It’s vital to let them be experienced.

On the podcast we suggested that, perhaps, level 1 staying with feelings is staying with our own strong or difficult feelings, level 2 is staying with those feelings of somebody else when they’re upset about something unrelated to us, and level 3 is staying with the feelings of somebody else when they’re upset about something we’ve done ourselves.

So imagining a scenarios where a friend or partner has strong feelings: what do we do?

Why is it hard to stay with their tough feelings?

  • If their strong feelings are about us we can feel responsible for them and not want the strong feelings that invokes in us (e.g. guilt/shame)
  • We may feel enmeshed or entwined with that person and want them to feel the same way we would in that situation, or struggle with the fact their feelings reveal that their values aren’t the same as ours
  • We’re generally not comfortable around ‘negative feelings’ in our culture and want to fix or eradicate them so that everyone is feeling – or at least pretending to feel – happy

How can we stay with their tough feelings?

  • Park the issue (if there is one between us) and focus on the feeling. Let them fully express it without trying to allocate blame onto us or to them
  • Be on their side and really listen to what they have to say. Don’t think about how we might feel in that situation, but recognise that this is how they feel (with their life experiences and world view)
  • Know when we have this to offer and when we don’t. For example, if we’re triggered too or too tired. Don’t try to do it then but make time when do have it to offer.

© Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock, 2018