By Shela Deen | To help avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and conflict, tune in and respond to your spouse’s emotions rather than his or her words |
Relationships would be a breeze if we accurately expressed our feelings. Unfortunately, we too often manifest feelings through negative—sometimes really ugly—behavior, to which our spouse responds in kind, resulting in stupid arguments that leave us wounded and wondering what happened.
Hurt is often expressed as anger and disappointment through accusations of our partner’s failures, and negative behavior is often a request for love or reassurance. The smart partner learns to respond to the underlying emotion.
Here is an example:
Justine is shy. On their way home from Michael’s office party, Justine said angrily, “I don’t know why you married me. You’re embarrassed to be seen with me and couldn’t care less about me!” Michael, caught up in conversation with coworkers, had left Justine on her own, feeling alone, and becoming increasingly upset with Michael for “ignoring” her.
Michael’s natural reaction is to defend himself. If, instead, he ignores what she said and responds to how she feels—hurt and disappointed at being (in her view) ignored, he can respond appropriately and with empathy. He makes it easier for Justine to be vulnerable and talk about what it feels like to be shy and alone in a crowd of strangers. What’s more, by understanding how she feels, Michael is far more likely to be sensitive to Justine’s needs the next time they’re in a large social setting.
Responding to underlying emotions isn’t always easy, especially when your spouse is being ugly. It takes discipline to think before you speak and avoid knee jerk reactions to what may be unfair and unwarranted accusations. Sometimes, you have to ask (perhaps more than once) what’s really going on. In the example just given, Michael may have to say to Justine, “I know you don’t really believe that I am embarrassed to be seen with you. And I know you know I love you. So, please, tell me what’s really upsetting you.”
When you consistently respond to your sweetheart’s underlying emotion, regardless of how it is expressed, your spouse will learn that it’s safe to express true feelings. It’s not always easy. But it is always worth it.