Has someone ever said these to you? Have you ever said these to anyone else? What’s your first gut reaction to these statements below?
“Why are you being so emotional?”
“I can’t believe you’re just standing there, do you have a heart at all?”
“Whoa, you don’t have to get so angry!”
“Emotions just get in the way of everything.”
Let’s face it, we all understand emotions differently. For some, emotions are everything; for others, they are merely a bother. And often, two people on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum find each other and get married! “She is so dynamic and alive!” marries “He is the calm in my storm.” Or “His passion inspires me!” marries “She never gets ruffled.”
And then what happens? They subtly – or maybe not so subtly – start trying to change the very thing that attracted them to each other.
Sadly, many times their efforts work; they damage each other and then wonder what became of the wonderful person they married. Simply put, navigating emotional differences is a vital part of a thriving marriage. So how do we do that?
First, we need to understand emotions
At one level, emotions are mere neurological and chemical processes in our bodies, a part of our autonomic nervous and endocrine systems. Our brains constantly monitor our environments looking for actual or potential pleasures and dangers. We share these systems with many species in the animal kingdom.
But we humans are far more than mere physical bodies, we are living souls in a way that other animals are not. Emotions are designed into us to connect us with ourselves, with each other, and with our Creator.
When we look at emotions through both physical and spiritual lenses, we can understand them in a “soul diagnostic” kind of way. Like the lights on the dashboard of a car letting us know something is going on in the engine, emotions let us know that something is going on in our body and soul. When we feel angry, we can know that we’re experiencing a sense of injustice. When we’re sad, we’re experiencing a sense of loss. When we’re happy, we’re experiencing a sense of congruency. And so on.
In other words, emotions let us know whether or not our deepest needs are being met. What needs? Core human desires for such things as support, affirmation, flexibility, companionship, and intimacy.
Next, we need to use emotions as the language of relationship
In relationships, couples often get caught up in repeated patterns of reacting to each other emotionally without realizing that they each are wanting their needs met. A “triggering event” of some kind exposes a core need and provokes an automatic emotional reaction in one or both partners. Couples often get stuck in emotional reactions rather than talking about the underlying needs.
The bad news: this happens with every couple!
The good news: understanding this process can help us change what we do when it happens.
Change starts by first slowing down the emotional reactivity process. One or both partners tune in to their own and then the other’s emotions. Often this means taking at least a few minutes for a “time out” to create space to feel, recognize, and name emotions and then consider what core needs might feel unmet or threatened.
Next, using a communication approach like the Gottman Rapaport, the couple takes the time to speak, listen, empathize, and validate each other and each other’s needs.
Lastly, the couple can do what loving partners do: seek to meet each other’s needs!
What this looks like in couples therapy or marriage counseling
For example, let’s take a life situation that can easily go haywire for couples:
- Partner #1 arrives home after a long day of work followed by picking up the kids (who are, of course, very cranky). About 10 minutes later, partner #2 arrives home also after a long day of work.
- Partner #1 (after changing into workout clothes): “You got dinner tonight, right?”
- Partner #2: “No, I’m meeting Jessie in 15 minutes, remember?”
- P#1: “No, that was supposed to be tomorrow. You know I always work out on Mondays.”
- P#2: “Usually, yes, but remember I told you about Jessie last week because that was the only evening we could meet.”
Can you feel the potential for tension even in this brief interaction? This couple could easily get into an argument over the details of the situation and ruin their entire evening.
Variations of this argument might happen over and over with destructive impact. A couple with a strong relationship will create a quick compromise to the immediate conflict. Later, they will value each other and the relationship by taking time to talk through the situation using the process described above. They will give each other time and attention to share their feelings of anger, impatience, or exhaustion. They will ask what needs the emotions reveal: such things as support, trust, friendship, and exercise. They would then work cooperatively to explore tangible ways to meet each other’s needs in the future.
CONSIDER ONLINE THERAPY IN OREGON FOR CHRISTIAN COUNSELING
Our Clackamas and Hillsboro based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:
- Learn about our therapy team in Hillsboro and our caring counselors in Clackamas
- Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
- Feel more connected to the important people in your life
OTHER MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AT LIFE DISCOVERY COUNSELING IN OREGON
If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, or Hillsboro, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinics. Christian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatment, anxiety therapy, trauma therapy and PTSD treatment, relationship issues, marriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!