Happily married couples share goals, needs and are able to communicate not just about the minutia of their daily lives, but also about their emotions.
When partners struggle to connect on an emotional level, it typically shows up in their conflicts, too.
Your spouse may be getting upset that you are ignoring social events at his or her job, but the real reason why your spouse gets upset may have nothing to do with the events themselves. It is very likely that the real issue is about relying and counting on the partner and being a priority for the spouse.
The partners may be committed to their marriage, but if they think that they are not a priority for each other, no amount of logical thinking or explanations would change that. What they really need is new emotional experiences with each other.
When you pay attention to emotions, you get an insight into what is really important in a relationship because often emotions that you can see on the surface aren’t the only ones at work, especially during conflicts. Seeing what’s under the surface can open doors to growth and increase intimacy.
Emotions do not exist in a vacuum. They involve your mind and your body. When you are thinking about emotional experiences, it is useful to understand that experiencing an emotion is a process that consists of a series of steps.
There are four parts to every emotional experience.
Emotions work similarly to physical reflexes. When you wave your hand over a fire and feel the heat, your reflex prompts you to quickly remove your hand away from the fire.
When certain events in life happen, you are almost guaranteed to start having emotions. Events that lead to negative emotions include hearing about a loved one getting a serious medical diagnosis, receiving a layoff notice at work, having your child bring a report card with bad grades and so on. A promotion, a reunion with an old friend, an unexpected surprise from your spouse are an example of events that will lead to positive emotions.
The response to a trigger depends on what kind of personality type you have, your habits and past experiences. When hearing bad news and dealing with disappointments some people choose to withdraw and become very quiet. Others get into an action mode right away. Positive experience may be the reason to show and express emotions. However, all emotions begin with a trigger that causes them.
In married life, typical triggers include threats of separation or divorce, broken promises, lack of affection, expressions of fear and vulnerability.
You have an emotional system for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is that the system is wired to sense danger. People are capable of responding to danger before their brains realize that there is danger present.
Emotions show up in your body as sensations. For example, when you get scared, you may feel as if your stomach is empty and you get an urge to run away.
Different people may experience the same emotions very differently. Every person knows what stress is, but it shows up in different ways. When stressed, some people feel a heavy weight in their neck and shoulders. Others get headaches and feel it in the forehead. What’s important is that these sensations carry important information.
Experiencing emotions has a meaning. For example, when you touch a sharp object, you feel pain. Pain communicates that there is danger. Typically, emotions are very simple when it comes to survival, replication and basic human needs. Other emotions may be much more complex. However, if you don’t understand the feelings, they are not every helpful. Often people try to turn off their feelings, but this doesn’t work very well because feelings are always there, whether you want it or not.
Understanding your feelings is especially important in marriage because you can’t share an experience that you don’t understand and can’t describe. When you start understanding yourself on an emotional level, you get an opportunity to communicate with your spouse differently and use emotions to make your interactions more intimate and effective. For example, if you can’t find your keys and are getting angry, you can admit yourself that you are getting angry because you are afraid that you will be late to an important meeting. You can start becoming clearer about the impact that various events have on you and the meaning that you assign to them.
Emotions are linked to actions. You feel frustrated and you start looking for a new job. Your spouse makes you feel angry and you start avoiding him or her. The link between emotions and actions is especially important in understanding what happens when two people in a marriage argue with each other. Typically, the words you say and the things you do are closely tied to the emotions you feel during the argument.
There are two conclusions that follow from this. First, it may be intelligent to take time outs when arguing and not make any important decisions in the moment. Second, if you know your partner and if you know the emotion, you can predict the behavior. However, these predictions are not going to be 100% certain. They are more like weather forecasts which talk about the chance of rain in terms of probability. It works the same way in marriage.
They key is to learn about the patterns of your spouse and to be there for your partner when they are going through an experience. During your interactions, there are processes going inside each of you and between you. The more aware you are about what is happening, the more effective can you be in your communication. For example, you may notice that some of your behaviors trigger a certain reaction in your spouse. You can then discuss this observation and decide what you want to do about it.