“You’re just being emotional”
“You’re so emotional,you’re out of control”
“People just use their emotions to get what they want”
“Just be rational and think about it”

Sound familiar?
Years ago it was commonly accepted that our brain had a reasonable side and an emotional side; and some still believe that today. The idea was that we can control our emotions using reason. It’s the emotion vs. reason idea.

Not True. We know today that the brain is integrated with emotion and reason, even in the Cerebral Cortex. Without emotion, higher-level problem solving does not happen very well. John Gottman says the “sense of the matter” is essential in problem solving, and that we are not rational decision makers. In fact, emotion is central to the understanding and treatment of couple’s relationships. His research, along with Robert Levenson, over three decades has shown that the nature of emotional interaction predicts the outcomes in relationships.

The affect in couple’s communications is necessary for understanding, compassion, and change. Building emotional intimacy and other positive affect is essential for long term, happy relationships. Emotions are not something to dismiss or to downplay. They need to be understood and seen as an important and integral part of not only the positive, loving parts of a relationship, but also the conflicted, hard parts of a relationship. Positive emotional communication must be a part of the work couples do when dealing with their differences and conflicts. Many couples experience conflict when it comes to money, parenting, communication, in-laws, etc. However, the deeper, real reason couples fight and eventually break up is really about emotional disengagement. (See Turning Toward article.)

  • Emotions at a glance:
    1. Emotions inform you about your needs and deepest beliefs. Your body/mind/spirit is telling you something.
    2. See emotions as informational!
    3. Most couple’s conflicts are about differences in feelings! And, if those feelings are accepted or dismissed.
    4. Distinguish between emotions and behaviors!

What does “being emotional” mean?
Scientists call it “meta-mood” or “meta-emotions.” It’s how you feel about feelings, and it is very important to how couples will get-along, and how well they will connect with, and love each other. It’s the ability to create some space and recognize and evaluate “what I’m feeling.” Is it anger, sorrow, shame, rejection, overwhelmed, insignificant…? Les and Leslie Parrott say that, “not recognizing how we really feel is one of the most common and troubling blind spots we have as human beings. When we don’t see how we really feel, our emotions start to manage us rather than the other way around. When we don’t acknowledge our true emotions we give up our ability to control them.” Most of the time if we are not aware of our emotions, then we also succumb to automatic behaviors. These behaviors can often be impulsive and unhealthy for our interactions.
Distinguish Between Emotions and Behaviors!
Often when we hear that someone is “being emotional,” what is really happening is that we are noticing behaviors that are not positive, like angry words or actions, or withdrawal, or controlling behaviors. The problem is not the emotion, but the behavior that is being manifested.

All emotions are appropriate, but not all behaviors are appropriate.

Emotions just are; they are neither good nor bad. But they are Positive or Negative. Positive in the sense that we like and feel good with emotions that are loving, trusting, secure, thankful, responsive, happy. Negative emotions are also natural and a part of the human experience. These are emotions like sad, anxious, angry, disappointed, or frustrated; we just don’t like to have those feelings for very long.

“You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel,

but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings”. Pearl S. Buck

How you feel about feelings has a lot to do with whether you see them as useful and productive, or if you dismiss them. The emotion dismissing person is likely to be uncomfortable talking about their own negative feelings, as well as their partner’s negative feelings. There is a risk in the relationships of an emotion dismissing person. If something happens where there is a need for emotional support, they won’t have the skills necessary to listen to their partner’s feelings and be there for them. It makes it difficult for feelings to be validated, support to be given, and even for trust to be built in the relationship.

How can you learn to be more emotionally intelligent? How can you be more aware of what you are feeling and distinguish between emotions and behaviors? Let us know how you do with validating your partner.