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6 Tips for Practicing More Empathy and Compassion

6 Ways to Be More Understanding and Empathetic

Teach Yourself to be More Understanding and Empathetic

What is empathy?

Empathy is the concern for the welfare of others. It’s the ability to detect or predict the emotions and thoughts of others. It’s easy to see why this would be a handy skill to master.

Empathy has an impact on your relationships. This is true for both your personal and professional relationships. Empathy can make your life easier and more fulfilling at home and at work!

6 Ways to Be More Understanding and Empathetic via @iamsteveaustin #powerof1 #lovewins #catchingyourbreath

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Try these tips to increase your empathy for those around you:

  1. Avoid making assumptions. Your view of the world is limited. Your experiences are just your own. Others have lived a different reality. If you’re from a well-off and intact family from the United States, you don’t really have a clue what it’s like to deal with the weight of growing up in an orphanage in Ukraine. If you’ve never lost a job, avoid assuming that you know exactly what that experience feels like. Making assumptions only gets in the way of developing empathy. When you catch yourself making assumptions, question them. Prove your assumptions to be true or false before making any decisions.
  2. Ask questions. One way to understand others is to ask questions. Develop a genuine interest in them. Enhancing your communication skills assists your ability to connect with, and to understand, other people. Ask open ended questions.
  3. Listen. Listening intently is related to asking questions and avoiding assumptions. Seek to understand the emotions that the other person is feeling. Asking questions and then listening to the answers is a pivotal part of creating empathy within yourself.
  4. Try to understand a group of people outside of your experience. Suppose you’re a young, Christian, African-American male. You might decide to learn about Hasidic Jews. Or if you’ve never been poor, you might learn about the homeless. Read books and talk to people. Strive to understand what it would be like to be born a part of a particular group.
  5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. One way to relate better to others is to imagine yourself in the same situation. This can be painful. It’s not enjoyable to imagine that your spouse has died or that you’re completely out of money. Ask yourself, “What would I be thinking and feeling if I were in this situation?” Just asking yourself this question is the biggest step you can take toward being empathetic.
  6. Be present. Give your undivided attention to others. You can’t be empathetic if you’re thinking about something else while someone is speaking to you. You’re not as good at hiding your disinterest as you think! You miss most of the information, verbal and non-verbal, communicated to you if you’re not paying attention.
  7. Empathy is an important skill. It can greatly increase your ability to communicate and connect with others. Being able to understand their feelings and thoughts will boost your rapport with them. Enhance your personal and work relationships with empathy and you’ll benefit in many ways.

Join the Challenge

30 Days of Empathy and Compassion begins February 4th

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In a World Full of Fear, We Desperately Need Compassion

How to Change Your World with Empathy and Compassion

Grace Can Be Heard in Any Language

I finished teaching my weekly sign language class and felt my nerves subside. I’d been sick over this class, in particular, all day. Those who know me personally would find that odd, considering I’m a very outgoing person, entirely comfortable in front of a crowd, and I’ve taught classes and workshops all over the Southeast for several years.

But I had been physically sick over this class all day long.


Because some old friends of mine would be my special guests for the evening. These weren’t just any old friends. These were two of my very closest friends. Deaf mentors of mine for fifteen years and friends for more than twenty. I have called them my “second parents” for as long as I can remember.

So why the anxiety?

I hadn’t seen them in nearly five years. I had never even introduced them to my son (who was four at the time). These people who had me at their house countless times. Who invited me to join them for day trips and taught me sign language from the time I was twelve years old. He would drop everything to help me if I ever needed it, and she would drive half an hour every week to come to eat lunch with me at the middle school so I could practice sign language.

These folks had freely given me their time and their language. I have been professional sign language interpreter for the past ten years because this couple was so generous to me. I owe them a high debt of gratitude for the way they shaped my life.

But I had been sick to my stomach for hours over the thought of having to face them.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

That’s what fear does. Fear turns our stomachs inside out as it buries us under a truckload of irrational thoughts and behavior. Fear weighed on me like an overcoat in the summer I couldn’t seem to take off.


Because I hadn’t seen this couple since my suicide attempt. I hadn’t faced them since I lost my job. He didn’t even know. I was so scared of their disappointment. I feared they would no longer approve of me, just like so many others who didn’t know the full story.

I swallowed my fear for the duration of the class and picked up a mask I hadn’t worn in several years. I know how to perform. I am a master at “fake it til you make it,” and I used that old skill set last night. The class went as planned, and my students had a wonderful time. I was satisfied and ready to go home.

After the crowd left, the three of us walked to the parking lot together. My old friend, my mentor, this man who had been a father figure to me for so many years, dropped his countenance. His face was calm, and his eyes were gracious. I had seen this look many times before. He began to move his hands in a way that told me I was loved.

His fingers silently wove a tapestry of grace in the cool night air as he told me that he had heard the rumors, but those words meant nothing to him. “Because I know you. I know Steve,” he said to me. I thought the old man might cry as he let me know how glad he was that I made it through the suicide attempt. He asked me to no longer put him and his wife in the same boat as the others who had turned their backs or given up on me. He told me that he wasn’t interested in the gossip.

What he was saying is that I mattered. He did not believe the words of those who would spread judgment. He believed in me.

Do any of us really make a difference anymore? Find out here. via @iamsteveaustin #empathy #compassion #catchingyourbreath

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What about you? 

Has fear tried to separate you from those you love? Maybe not a person–perhaps a dream or gift you’ve run from. Like me, have you found your self-worth wrapped up in fear? If your self-worth has been torn down, empathy and compassion promise to build back up.

Perfect love continues to cast out fear as it shatters judgment.

Everyone makes an impact - whether they are acting intentionally or not. Everyone is always making an impact on one another. Your actions, my actions, and the actions of others are influencing the world. What you do matters in more ways than you may realize, and your efforts may create chaos or lead to grand achievements. The key is being intentional with your actions.

There is a principle of chaos theory called the Butterfly Effect. It states that a tiny initial action can cause a reaction of epic proportions. The metaphorical example is that the simple movement of a butterfly’s wings over time can create a wave that results in a hurricane.

This is an illustration of how important even the smallest of actions are in the grand scheme of the world. As someone living on this planet, you too have an effect everywhere you go. What you do and how you do it matters. You matter. You are as vital to the success of the human race as the most powerful influencer you can imagine. Have you ever considered this?

The set of people and places where you make the most impact is called your sphere of influence. This is the where your presence is felt the most. Your sphere likely includes your family, work, and the local community.

What you do matters. Here's why. via @iamsteveaustin #catchingyourbreath #empathy #compassion

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How are you making that impact? Consider this:

  • How you parent your children makes an impact.
  • How you manage your marriage makes an impact.
  • How you engage as a son, daughter, sister, or brother makes an impact.
  • What you contribute to your workforce makes an impact.
  • What you create makes an impact.
  • Your wisdom makes an impact.
  • How you vote makes an impact.
  • How you spend your time and money makes an impact.
  • How you pour yourself into others makes an impact.

I could go on and on, but you’re starting to see my point. In all that you do, you matter. How you do things matters. It is all tied together. This may seem like a big responsibility - and it is - but it isn’t too big when you break it down into manageable bits and pieces, in all the different areas of your life.

The most important thing to realize is that you have influence and impact wherever you go, and by being intentional, you can leave your mark on the world in a favorable and meaningful way.

Grace shows up in unlikely places if we keep our hearts and minds open. What fear buries, empathy resurrects. Fear pushed me to withdraw from precious friends for years, but compassion promises to redeem the lost time. Fear convinced me to lump these friends with everyone else who had hurt me, but grace is a reconciler.

I wish the whole world could be deafened to the noise of condemnation the way I was that night. Grace can be heard in any language.

What fear buries, empathy resurrects. via @iamsteveaustin #compassion #catchingyourbreath

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The Transformative Power of Empathy and Compassion

Join the Catching Your Breath Academy to Learn the Transformative Power of Empathy & Compassion
Class begins February 4th.


Respect & Admiration

I didn’t know what to expect when I started this group. What I found at the end however was a group of people whom I greatly respect and deeply admire.

Jason F. Online student

Worth every penny.

I have greatly enjoyed my discussions with Steve and am grateful for his strength, positivity, and encouragement. While he always comes with a plan for our sessions, I appreciate his ability to adjust to the needs of the client and ask the sort of questions that enable thought and growth. Every penny and hour was worth it—I cannot recommend Steve’s work highly enough...

Josh C. Coaching client

Fantastic life coach!

Steve Austin is a fantastic life coach! He's really helped me focus and get clear about what I want, and helped me make a manageable plan. If you need help reaching your goals and creating peace and space in your life, he’s your guy.

Stephanie Long Coaching client

One of the best investments we've ever made.

Life coaching is one the best investments we have made for our family. Steve has the ability to help you draw up plans that fit the design for your family. and where you are in your journey. While you may come into life coaching seeking answers and advice, what you will find is that Steve has the ability to help you see that you hold most of the answers already. You just need a gentle (or sometimes straight forward) push in the right direction. Steve is that guiding force and knows what he is doing.

Christy P. Coaching client

Necessary for greater awareness.

Steve’s workshop is necessary for those who want awareness of the pain that surrounds them, hidden in suffering human hearts.

Matt Suicide prevention workshop participant

Steve will guide you to the best version of you.

Before I contacted Steve for help I felt frustrated and blocked. After working with him I knew how to conquer my fears. Steve is a warm and caring person who will guide you to the best version of you.

Sarah F. Coaching client
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Avoid These 8 Mistakes to Help Your New Habit Stick

8 Mistakes to Avoid to Help Your New Habit Stick

I've started a new habit this year. It's called "Note to My Next Day Self." I'm learning about it from my friend Tracy Winchell, and it is transforming my life. But can we be real for a sec? Starting a new habit isn't easy to do. If you're starting a new habit, keep reading to learn 8 common mistakes to avoid.

The world is just beginning to understand the influence of habits on success and failure. There are so many things you do (or fail to do) each day that shape the quality of your life. Whether it’s flossing your teeth, contacting potential clients, doing push-ups, or saving money, it might not matter today or even six months from now. However, it can matter in a significant way down the road. 

If you're starting a new habit, keep reading to learn 8 common mistakes to avoid. #tinychanges @rebootspodcast @iamsteveaustin

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Imagine the difference between 2 identical people over 10 years: 

  • One saves 10% of his paycheck. The other saves nothing.
  • One brushes his teeth every day. The other isn’t very consistent.
  • One reads something useful each day for 20 minutes. The other doesn’t.
  • One exercises for 30 minutes each day. The other prefers to watch TV.
  • One practices the piano for 30 minutes each day. The other doesn’t.

What would the differences be in 10 years? The first person will have a healthy savings account, have all of his teeth, gained the knowledge from 100s of books, be in great shape, and know how to play the piano. The other won’t have any of those things. 

You can rely on positive habits to change your future for the better! #tinychanges

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Building a new habit is much easier when you avoid the common pitfalls that can derail your efforts. Avoid these mistakes when trying to develop new habits:

1. Trying to build too many habits at once.

Changing a little at a time is the key to ultimately evolving a lot. We feel uncomfortable when trying to change too much at once. How many habits can you build at one time? That depends on the habits you’re considering, but a good rule of thumb is no more than three.

2.A lack of patience.

Habits can take a while to take hold. You might have heard that it takes 21 days to build a new practice, but that’s been found to be the minimum. The most comprehensive study on habit development found that it can take nearly 300 days to form a habit in some cases. The average is 66 days.

3. Failing to prepare for the obstacles.

Think about the challenges you’ll face and plan for ways to deal with them. For instance, if you want to go to the gym after work, but the gym is too far away, or the traffic is horrible at that time, it’s going to be very difficult to be successful. Plan for going at a time that will be easier for you or pick a gym that’s closer to your home or work.

4. Choosing a habit that won’t have a significant impact on your life.

Since you can only create a couple of habits at a time, pick something that will have far-reaching effects. For example, meditation can impact your life in many ways.

5. Trying to change too quickly.

Instead, build up to the habit you want to acquire. If you're going to develop the habit of flossing your teeth, start with one tooth. Do one push-up. Take an evening walk for one minute. Get in the habit of doing the action and then increase the duration. Make it so easy that you can’t possibly fail to do it.

6. Believing that slow progress isn’t relevant.

It can be hard to believe that doing one push-up will ever matter. But one leads to two. Two becomes five. Five eventually becomes 25 or more. How much progress have you made in the last year? Maybe going from one to 25 push-ups in a few months might not be so bad after all.

7. Focusing too much on the benefit of the habit.

Results can take a while to appear. For example, if you adopt a walking habit to lose weight, you’re not going to jump on the scale after your first walk and see any weight loss. Focus on the development of the habit. Be excited about growing your new habit.

8. Failing to control your environment.

Your environment matters. It’s a lot harder to get yourself to play the guitar each day if you keep it in the closet rather than setting it out where you can just pick it up. It’s harder to stick to a low-carb diet plan if your house is full of bread, donuts, chips, and pasta.

Give yourself the best chance of success. Avoid underestimating the usefulness of positive habits and the negative impact of poor practices. We don’t think about our habits, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Creating effective habits will lead you to a life you enjoy!

Creating effective habits will lead you to a life you enjoy! #tinychanges @rebootspodcast @iamsteveaustin

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On Friday, January 18th at 11 am CST, I'd love for you to join my friend, Tracy Winchell and me for a free webinar. We’re gearing up for a workshop to show you exactly how this works. It’s called TINY CHANGES: What to do When Your New Year’s Resolve has Fizzled. It’s Friday, January 18, 2019, at 11:00.

If you haven’t signed up yet, do it here.

  • You’re not alone if your New Year’s resolve has fizzled.
  • You’re not alone if you expect way too much from yourself.
  • You’re not alone in unnecessarily beating yourself up.

My friend Tracy and I will teach you how to unfollow the annoying voices in your head and learn to follow the voices who will tell you the truth about yourself - compassionately and with love and grace.

If 2019 feels a lot like 2018 all over again, sign up.

Click here to join us in the LIVE workshop - where we’ll show you how.

TINY CHANGES: What to do When Your New Year’s Resolve Has Fizzled is Friday, January 18th at 11am CST.

Click here to grab your seat.

If you’re already beating yourself up because the New Year is a lot less shiny and bright, please join us.

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Encouragement for When Your New Year’s Resolve has Fizzled

Tiny Changes: What to do When Your New Year's Resolve has Fizzled

"92% of people won’t make it to February with their 2019 goals. Don’t be 92% of people."

~ Jon Acuff

Depressing, isn’t it?

We, humans, create grand expectations for a brand new year and for ourselves, but so often we’re busted before we even get used to writing the new date.

It’s even worse than we think it is because for every wrecked resolution, every habit that never fully hatches, and every promise to paint a healthier, happier, harmonious portrait of our lives, we - in the words of author James Clear - “…lose sight of who we are and what we can become.”

When we don’t do what we say we will do, we lose a little more hope. What we say we will do is pretty often an unrealistic expectation.

When we don’t do what we say we will do, we lose a little more hope. #tinychanges

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Jon Acuff in FINISH: Give Yourself the Gift of Done tackles perfectionism.

One person described it this way: “I start with the belief that I could do something. Then I get all excited and start dreaming. At first, I feel confident and like I know what I am doing. Then my dreams get big. Then I want perfection. Then all of a sudden I feel inadequate to do the job because I don’t know how to do it at that level. Then the dreams die, and the goal is forgotten. The best part is most of the time all that I mentioned above is mental. I never actually started anything.”


This has been me, but I’m changing my tune.

How? Lots of ways. Mostly, though, I’m learning how to set reasonable expectations for myself and other people.

You know what? It doesn’t happen overnight - just because I “decided” to live life differently. Don’t get me wrong, the decision to be different and to do life differently is important. But lasting change comes as a result of a series of daily choices.

You know, habits.

The RIGHT habits! Not like the ones a lot of us have already messed up on this early in the new year. But simple ones. Practices that don’t require us to be perfect and only take a couple of minutes to do. (Keep reading to learn more about some new tiny habits that are WRECKING me for good.)

But first, let me ask you a question...

What’s the number one frustration you have with yourself? The thing you tell yourself the most?

  • Is it that you’re a failure?
  • That you’re not smart?
  • That you’re a quitter?
  • That you’re weak?

One more question…

What could happen if you learned to stop beating yourself up?

What could happen if you learned to stop beating yourself up? #tinychanges

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James Clear is a habits guru who wrote the book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.

Clear explains how our identities and habits are intertwined:

This vicious cycle of beating ourselves up spirals and spirals and we no longer know how to be kind to ourselves. We no longer know how to set reasonable expectations and achievable objectives with weight loss, fitness, career goals, family objectives, and standards for behavior. We lose sight of who we are and what we can become.

Clear talks about building tiny habits that change the way we see ourselves, giving us the confidence to stack habits and routines onto our first habits, and ultimately improving our lives for the better.

A few weeks ago my friend Tracy Winchell of the Reboots Podcast told me about one of her favorite journaling habits. Every few days she writes a note to her next day self (maybe you’ve seen me practicing this on Instagram and Facebook). Tracy tells me this singular habit has helped her change the way she sees herself.

Through this exercise, Tracy has learned to encourage her next day self, and to set expectations for her attitude toward herself and others. She shared one of her notes with me, and I was blown away! No really, I freakin’ LOVE this exercise (almost as much as I love my friend, Tracy.)

I knew right then that my people HAD to learn how to do this.

Because if James Clear and Jon Acuff are right and that our identities are wrapped up in our habits, then building a habit designed to change the tapes we play in our heads ABOUT OURSELVES is a freakishly powerful method for creating clarity!

For some of us, mid-January means a return to the same old same old: a return to bad habits, and giving up new ones we said would bring us a better 2019.

But we can choose a better way by making a decision to stop the negative self-talk. And then setting up a ridiculously simple method - that takes no more than 10 minutes a day - to change the tapes in our head.

Oh, yeah. And the method still works if we only do it 10 to 15 times in any given 30-day period.

It’s my friend Tracy’s “note to next day self” journaling technique, and it’s helped her send the lying jerks in her head back to wherever the hell they came from. And it can do the same for you and me.

On Friday, January 18th at 11 am CST, I'd love for you to join my friend, Tracy Winchell and me for a free webinar. We’re gearing up for a workshop to show you exactly how this works. It’s called TINY CHANGES: What to do When Your New Year’s Resolve has Fizzled. It’s Friday, January 18, 2019, at 11:00.

If you haven’t signed up yet, do it here.

  • You’re not alone if your New Year’s resolve has fizzled.
  • You’re not alone if you expect way too much from yourself.
  • You’re not alone in unnecessarily beating yourself up.

My friend Tracy found freedom from the negative self-talk during a time of massive change in her life. She was walking through the hell of losing a job, selling her house, moving in with her mom, and dealing with the loss of a close friend. And we’re going to show you a ridiculously simple method (that will take less than 10 minutes, a few days a month) that will help you kick your negative self-talk to the cub.

"My soul sometimes feels like a Twitter feed where I’m following a million of the most annoying people ever, and I can’t find the Unfollow button."

-Steven Furtick in Crash the Chatterbox

Is this you?

It’s no way to live, is it?

If you're ready to take a bold step toward choosing NOT to FEEL THIS WAY ANYMORE, sign up for our free webinar.

My friend Tracy and I will teach you how to unfollow the annoying voices in your head and learn to follow the voices who will tell you the truth about yourself - compassionately and with love and grace.

If 2019 feels a lot like 2018 all over again, sign up.

If you're feeling like this year is a lot more of the same old stuff: procrastinating on building new habits, failing to give up old habits you don’t want anymore, and beating the crap out of yourself, you’ll want to hang with us for this webinar.

  • If you’re ready to stop beating yourself up because you want to change but can’t quite make it happen…
  • If you’re ready to set some reasonable expectations for yourself and get past the fear of failure - or success…
  • If you’re ready to FINISH something excellent in 2019
  • If you’re ready to change the relentless tapes in your head that say you’re not good enough or that you don’t deserve a reasonably happy life…
  • If you’re ready to tell yourself the truth - the good, the bad, and the ugly - about who you are and who you want to become in 2019…

Click here to join us in the LIVE workshop - where we’ll show you how.

TINY CHANGES: What to do When Your New Year’s Resolve Has Fizzled is Friday, January 18th at 11am CST.

Click here to grab your seat.

If you’re already beating yourself up because the New Year is a lot less shiny and bright, please join us.

For now, though, rest easy. Don’t worry about it if your New Year’s resolve has already fizzled. You’re normal!!! And it’ll be okay. I promise.

If 2019 feels a lot like 2018 all over again, sign up for this free webinar, "TINY CHANGES: What to do When Your New Year's Resolve has Fizzled." with @iamsteveaustin & @rebootspodcast #tinychanges

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DIGNITY: 10 Ways to Build Your Self-Esteem

Self-worth course

The Importance of Dignity

Several months ago, I sent out a 1-question poll to about a thousand people, asking for the 1 thing you’d like to learn from me in 2019. The overwhelming response was in the areas of self-esteem and self-compassion. As a result, I’m thrilled to launch a new, FREE Masterclass, “DIGNITY: 10 Ways to Build Your Self-Esteem.”

So why is it so important to have positive self-esteem? You might think you’ve gotten by pretty well so far, and that’s great, you probably have. But is ‘getting by’ enough? Don’t you want to do more with your life? Don’t you want to be your best possible you?

Positive self-worth is the key to contentment – it gets you off the treadmill of striving just to get that one thing that will make you happy, whether it’s a new car, a bigger house, or promotion. Self-worth starts with clarity and honesty about yourself and where you are in the world.

Having a healthy sense of self-worth allows you to step up and take control of what you want out of life. It gives you the confidence to look at opportunities that otherwise you might pass by, believing you aren’t good enough to be successful at them. It gives you the self-assuredness to stand up for yourself and set appropriate boundaries.

A sense of dignity and self-worth is grounded in an honest appraisal and acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses. That is true self-knowledge which allows you to take advantage of your strengths and to be objective about things you could improve.

Studies have shown that if you feel good about yourself and believe you deserve to be happy or wealthy or have good relationships, you will attract those things into your life. It is a myth that some people are “born lucky.” People who expect to be happy, whose positive mindset leads them to see opportunities for happiness, will be happier.

If you’re ready to sign up for this free 10-part Masterclass, just click here.

PREVIEW of Lesson 2


This Masterclass is a guide to encourage and support you to take control of your self-esteem, honor your self-worth and reclaim your dignity.

No one else in the history of the universe has been just like you. You’re the best example of yourself that there is, or ever has been. And you have a responsibility to be kind to yourself, acknowledge and celebrate the individual qualities that make you up.

Dignity is not something people talk about that much – but it’s the foundation and signal to the world of self-worth. Saying someone has dignity tells you there’s something special about them – they’re not defined by other people, they know and value themselves.

And it stands out.

There’s a quiet shine to dignity – it’s not the brash shininess of arrogance or the heavy smallness of self-doubt. Dignity is calm and confident – dignity says this person knows their inner self and they stand proud.

Dignity is a powerful concept that lifts ‘self-esteem’ above just feeling good about yourself. Dignity honors your value as a unique human being – it implies honesty and self-awareness as well as positivity. And increasing your self-knowledge and self-valuation is the theme of this book.

We will look at the causes of low self-worth and the pressures that hold us back from living a positive life. We'll discover ten steps you can take right now to change this. From challenging your Inner Critic, through journaling, and onto alternative approaches like meditation, self-hypnosis, and Emotional Freedom Technique.

Congratulations! Just by reading this blog post, you’ve already taken the first step to a happier life. You’re on your way!

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How to Be More Open and Honest about Your Feelings

How to Be More Open and Honest about Your Feelings

A few months ago, I received this email from someone who listens to my podcast and reads the blog. She ended up signing up for relationship coaching, and after a few months, I asked Stephanie if I could share bits of our conversations as a blog post to help others who are stuck in a relationship with poor communication. She agreed, and the result is today’s blog post.

If you could use some help in learning how to be more open and honest about your feelings inside your trusted relationships, today’s article is just for you. Thanks again, Steph.


I’ve been married to my husband, Michael for 15 years. Lately, I’ve noticed that when he says we’re going to do a particular activity that I’m not interested in, I just go along with him and say nothing. Even though I don’t enjoy the specific thing he’s chosen, I guess I just keep doing it to make him happy.

And there’s something else I’ve noticed—when we’re out with friends, Michael sometimes makes a cryptic comment about me. Once in a while, those comments really hurt my feelings! Yet, I show no response at the time. I never mention these situations later, but I can’t help but think about them.

I now find myself feeling less happy about our relationship than I used to. I don’t want to end our marriage or anything like that, but still, I wonder, are we doomed to a life of being just another married couple who seems not to enjoy each other that much?

Here was my initial response to Stephanie’s first email:

You have a right to feel disappointed about the changes in your relationship. It’s not unusual for married couples to experience transitions in their relationship over the years. However, the issues you bring up are situations that can be addressed and resolved, as long as both people want them to change.

I think the most critical aspect of these challenges you present is what appears to be your hesitance or refusal to discuss with Michael how you’re feeling. Our partners need and deserve to know how we are feeling, especially about on-going issues.

In the event one partner is doing something unintentionally hurtful to the other, the one being hurt has a responsibility to the relationship to bring up the topic for serious discussion.

The remainder of this article comes from bits and pieces of our coaching conversations throughout the past six months. I’m so grateful for Stephanie and Michael’s willingness to share what they’ve learned with other couples.

Q: But won’t it hurt his feelings or make him angry if I bring up a situation that caused me to feel upset?

A: Well, he probably won’t feel his best. But assuming that he loves you, he’s going to want to know about your feelings and about how his behaviors are affecting you.

Look at it this way: if you were inadvertently doing something that hurt Michael’s feelings on more than one occasion, wouldn’t you want to know about it so you could stop the behavior?

Q: I guess I see your point. I definitely would want to know if I was upsetting Michael so I could change what I was doing. Otherwise, I could be hurting him over and over again and not even know it!

A: So, step 1 in your relationship is to talk with your husband about how you’re feeling and about what has been bothering you. An essential part of your discussion will be stating to Michael what you want and need from him.

Q: Oh boy, the idea of doing that scares me to death! I’m afraid I’ll say it the wrong way or say something wrong that will make him mad.

A: Well, here’s the good news: you can learn some basic communication skills that will help you share your feelings in a non-threatening way. As you gain confidence in how you communicate, you won’t feel as much fear about talking to Michael about your feelings.

Q: How can I say my feelings in a non-hurtful way?

A: First, timing is everything. My suggestion is to wait to talk to Michael when you’re not terribly hurt and angry. It’s best to keep a cool head when you’re sharing your feelings.

Also, choose an appropriate time and place to converse. For example, just after dinner. Your talk should be private with only the two of you present. It’s important to be able to make eye contact, so sit at a table or in the living room together.

Q: Give me an example. How can I tell him I don’t enjoy going to play pool on Thursdays anymore?

A: Now you’re getting very specific, which is super helpful when you’re communicating feelings.

You could say something like, “You know babe, I’m learning something new about myself, and I’d like to share it with you. I’m really not enjoying going to play pool as much as I used to.”

Then, you have a few options: you can pause and wait for Michael to respond. If you prefer, you can go on to say, “I’d like to stop going to play pool on Thursdays.”

Also, you could make an alternate suggestion for the time spent together on Thursdays, like “Let’s try something different on Thursdays—how about going bowling or meeting some friends for dinner?”

The focus here is on stating your feelings, wants, and needs using a non-threatening tone of voice. And be clear. This way, Michael will be more receptive to you and respond to what you’re saying. You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating—start out with an “I” statement.

When you say, “I,” it shifts the responsibility for the conversation on to you, which is reasonable, given you’re the one who has something important to say. It’s best if a “feeling” word follows. So, “I’m concerned” or “I don’t enjoy” or “I’d like to” are great ways to start a sentence when you’re sharing feelings with a partner.

Q: Sounds simple enough. What if I start out this way and Michael still gets annoyed?

A: That’s an excellent question. Try to remember that Michael is entitled to feel however he feels, too. Listen to what he has to say. Refrain from taking his annoyance too personally.

When he’s finished talking, you could say something like, “It sounds like you’re annoyed right now” or “It seems you’re upset about something. How can we work this out, so we’re both happy?”

The critical part here is that you avoid getting upset. That’s because, once the both of you are upset, annoyed or angry, the chances of effective communication occurring decreases dramatically.

Allow your partner to have his own feelings. However, recognize that how he feels isn’t your fault. Each person is responsible for his own emotions. It’s absolutely vital that you not give up your own feelings because the other person wants you to. If you do, you’ll most likely be unhappy later.

Take a firm but non-threatening position about what you want to do. If you state what you want clearly and concisely, a loving partner will listen and understand.

Q: Okay, I think I’ve got it. I have a responsibility to my marriage to keep my husband informed about how I’m honestly feeling. Since I know he loves me, I’ve got hope now that I can get some of my troubling situations straightened out.

But what about the negative comments he makes about me when we’re out with friends?

A: The good news is that if you use the communication techniques we just discussed, they’ll work in almost any trusted relationship. I recommend that you wait until you get home, after the outing when Michael made a comment that bothered you. In the event either of you drank any alcohol, it’s best to bring up your issue in the morning.

Once you’re ready and feeling calm and confident, use your “I” statements and feeling words and be specific.

Here’s how:

“Last night, when you said to Peter and Leslie that I never take a turn washing the car, it really bothered me. Will you please not say comments like that to our friends anymore? I am very interested in how you feel, though. So, if you want me to wash the car or do something, will you please come and talk to me directly about it?”

Hopefully, Michael will reveal to you what he truly meant by the comment. If he doesn’t, feel free to tell him you’re concerned by the comment and ask him, “Do you really feel that way?”

Make it clear that you’re interested in resolving the issue, if, in fact, it is an issue, with him. Emphasize that you care about his feelings and that if there’s something you’re not doing that frustrates him, you’re willing to discuss it.

Q: So, I should use the same communication tactics when my feelings are hurt about a comment Michael made, and I want to talk to him about what he said.   

So, when I’m feeling like I don’t want to go along with Michael and do something he wants to do, or when I feel hurt about something he said, I’ve got to take steps right away to resolve each challenge as it happens. Right?

A: Nailed it! Allowing a lot of hurts and distress to build up isn’t good for a marriage – or any other relationship, for that matter. When that happens, one or both partners end up feeling not as happy about the relationship. All those hurts and distress can build a wall between you, resulting in boredom, hurt feelings, or an unhappy marriage.

Keep your relationship uncluttered from all those emotional issues by dealing with each situation, one by one, as soon as they occur. You’ll have a lifelong, joyous marriage when you work to communicate openly and honestly with your beloved partner.

More resources:

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