Fortunately, we know that emotions can actually help your relationship if we learn to recognize them, listen to them, value them, and express them. In fact, emotions are a large source of information that further prompts us to take actions (Kallos-Lilly, Fitzgerald, 2015). For example:
- fear prompts us to protect ourselves or others
- anger prompts us to stand up to a perceived threat
- sadness prompts us to seek comfort
- shame prompts us to hide
- joy prompts us to move towards others
In relationships, constant sending and receiving of emotional cues shapes these interactions accordingly. Importantly, nonverbal messages such as facial expressions, for example, play a huge part in these interactions. So if my husband looks away while I am trying to show him something that I am very excited about, within microseconds, I might feel annoyed. Now, since emotions are different from behaviors, even though I might feel annoyed, I will not act aggressively. Emotions only prepare us for actions. Our thoughts regulate these emotions so that we act in socially appropriate ways.
Having said that, emotions are still at the very heart of our relationship cycle/dance.
It is always helpful for couples to learn how to track what they feel, sense, think, and do.
Veronica and Jennifer in their book “An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples” use this example to track emotions. If my partner arrives home early from work looking happy, the sensation in my body might be—wide eyes and raised eyebrows, I might feel surprised and curious. I might think to myself what is he doing home…maybe something happened. I might than stop what I am doing and walk towards him and ask what is going on.
Now, you can practice tracking your emotions, thoughts, and actions by using this example: If my partner makes a critical remark, the sensation in my body might be…(sinking feeling in my stomach), I might feel…(hurt), I might think……(that was a hurtful comment, why would he say that?), I might than do…….(yell at him).
You might be thinking that it is really silly and not useful, BUT think again. If we ignore how we feel (or gloss over these feelings), these feelings tend to intensify. You anger can become rage, your fear can become panic, and your sadness can become depression.
Eventually, if you ignore your feelings long enough, you might start having “out of the blue” reactions or “over” reactions to something. That can further create more fights and disagreements with your partner.
So, I want to encourage you to practice noticing your emotions, how they feel in your body, how they cause you to create a thought and take actions. What at first might sound silly, it can end up feeling useful when you start de-escalating your own fights by saying things like:
“Gosh, when you used your stern voice with me I got this tightness in my chest and I felt small and insignificant, I thought to myself that you are not respecting me and my decisions, so I wanted to attack you and blame you for something that you did a week ago….”
Can you see how differently the above response sounds from bluntly blaming and attacking your partner for something that he did a week ago?
As always, if you need any more help with tracking your feelings, reach out to me so I can help you with it. If you are not ready for therapy, buy this book and work on it with your partner weekly: “An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples” by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald.