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by Adam Maurer, LPC, LMFT, LGBT Therapist
When was the last time you hurled nasty words at your honeybun during a fight? What vile words did you string together to really zing ’em? What was it like after all the venom was spewed? Tense? Quiet? Avoided? It is a fascinating phenomenon to me. We choose to be with a person, possibly even going so far as to make a commitment to that person on the holy ground in front or friends and family, and BAM! One day we are sinking our fangs into them because they didn’t load the dishwasher correctly. So how did the dishwasher, or whatever dumb catalyst, get two people who once literally made vows to care for each other to suddenly treat one another so terribly? I think part of the answer is: emotions. Emotions can be tricky to understand ourselves, and adding another person to the equation can increase the likelihood of chaos. When emotional escalation happens between two or more people the sparks can really fly. So, to help keep from lashing out at loved ones let’s take a look at emotions to better understand how they work within us and how to express them in ways that build intimacy with the ones we love.
Emotions Are Typically Mixed
It is rare for us to feel one solo feeling at a time. People are complex and we often feel a mixture of emotions at the same time, sometimes even contradictory ones. To recognize all that you might be feeling at the moment think of your emotional makeup to be like a pie chart. Try to recognize all the emotions you are experiencing and which ones take up the most space. A part of you can feel sad while a larger part of you feels anxious. Taking time to recognize your complex emotional state can help you better communicate with your partner. Hearing that someone is angry with you can be challenging, so hearing the mixture of emotions happening within you might help your love-bug to hear you rather than become defensive.
Emotions Can Be Difficult to Identify
Sometimes identifying the emotions you’re feeling can seem impossible. While some folks can easily identify their many feelings, others find that they get stuck. Finding the right words can be a challenge, so take a gander at these resources that offer some organization to label your feelings.
If you are unable to articulate your feelings with words you might try to describe how it feels in your body to a supportive person. Mrs. White (played by Madeline Kahn) does a wonderful job of this in the movie “Clue.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92IkddsjtAA ) As you use curiosity to guide your exploration of your bodily sensations with a supportive listener, they can help you pinpoint what you might be experiencing. As you identify your emotions you can ask yourself what the emotion is trying to do for you so that you can address the issue rather than becoming overwhelmed when the emotion fires off during a moment of conflict.
Emotional Intensity Does Not Last Forever
Emotions can be intense and fear of their intensity can lead to avoiding them. Unfortunately, avoided emotions tend to find a way to be heard, whether we want them to or not. So, take relief in the fact that emotional intensity does not remain at the same level after you begin to process your feelings. Eventually, you’ll understand what your feeling and why; and the emotion will not have to bark so loud to be heard. Before you blast your partner with a zinger, consider if you have fully processed your feelings or if you are simply at the peak of the intensity.
Difficult Emotions Can Help Us
Difficult emotions can actually help us feel better in a number of ways. If your mood is lower than you ever want to feel, then imagine the bond that can be developed when a loved one reaches out to you with empathy. Your sweetheart might not be able to alter your difficult mood, but a connection becomes formed. To be loved and supported when we have nothing to offer, it lets us know that we are valued just as we are; which can actually help us feel better about ourselves and our relationships. Also, when you express a challenging emotion you have about your partner and they are able to hear your complaint and meet it with compassion, you are not only heard but you have the opportunity to have an amends made; strengthening the relationship. To help keep conversations about difficult emotions towards your sugar-bee from becoming a battle of who can say the most contemptuous hurtful thing remember these tips:
1) TOUCH! Hold hands or hug for twenty or more seconds before the conversation (or anytime negative emotions try to take over your) and you will find it much more difficult to sour.
2) Remind yourself of your partner’s positive attributes and how they have supported you in the past. Doing so will help you feel like you are on a team, fighting against whatever challenges you are facing.
3) If the conversation starts to get heated, STOP. Talk about taking some time to soothe yourselves and coming back together to try again.
4) Remember HALT. If you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired then address those needs before having a potential volatile conversation. Doing so will help you better manage your emotions in the moment.Just ask my husband, if I’m hungry he knows this lady NEEDS to eat or the beast will be unleashed.
5) If you do erupt into a fight, wait for things to cool off and talk about it. Take responsibility for your part and work together to avoid the same mistakes in communication.
Emotions can be tricky and with a little work, you can learn how to manage them within yourself and your relationship. As you practice these tips give yourself permission to make mistakes, no one is flawless (except maybe Beyoncé). If you or your partner (or partners) find it too challenging to work with emotion then a therapist can help. The perspective of an expert offers a break from old patterns, allowing you to make emotions work for your life and your love. So, give us a call today to make a counseling appointment and help your relationship grow. If you would like more information prior to making your decision, you can read about couples counseling on our dedicated page.
If you liked this, you might also like Relationship Lessons I Learned From My Dog, Solutions Aren’t Everything: Strengthening Relationships Through Reflecting and Feeling, and What To Expect From Marriage Counseling.