In every close relationship there’s the potential to share all emotions in their raw, ugly beauty. And, through that sharing, the opportunity to connect more deeply with your partner. But, if your parents taught you to dismiss or ignore your more difficult emotions, you may not feel comfortable embracing these emotional opportunities for connection.
The problem with dismissing emotions is that when emotions are banished they don’t vanish. As Susan David, Ph.D., says, bottling emotions leads to lower levels of well-being as well as high levels of depression and anxiety. It’s easy to see how, over time, this decreases the quality of your relationship.
I’ve heard many people ask, “What’s my partner trying to accomplish by being emotional?”
But what they’re really asking is, “What’s my partner trying to accomplish by showing negative emotions?”
I rarely, if ever, hear someone ask this question about emotions like joy, excitement, or passion. No one has an issue when their partner expresses those more positively perceived emotions.
Emotions are often labeled as problems when they’re deemed to be one of the negative emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, disappointment, jealousy, loneliness, shame, and insecurity. Many people believe that talking about these feelings will make things worse. Not at all.
Emotions are as natural as breathing. They’re fleeting and messy and awful and wonderful, and they’re all part of being human. All emotions are healthy—positive, negative, it doesn’t matter—unless we choose to bottle or brood over them. There’s an evolutionary advantage to each and every emotion. And in today’s modern world, they offer insight into what we truly value.
My point is that all emotions are acceptable. As Dr. John Gottman says:
“Emotions have their own purpose and logic. Your partner cannot select which feelings to have. Their feelings come up unconsciously. If you can’t get beyond the belief that negative emotions are a waste of time and even dangerous, you will never be able to attune to your partner enough to have true intimacy.”
But, while all emotions are acceptable, all behavior is not.
By seeking to understand why your partner feels the way they do, you can learn a lot about them. By accepting their emotions and striving to learn more about why they feel the way they do, you build a bridge to greater connection.
Saying things like, “You’re making it a bigger deal than it is,” or “Calm down, you’re not thinking clearly,” are rarely (ever?) effective. These statements only succeed in diminishing your partner and trivializing their emotional experience.
Instead try, “Please help me understand what’s making you so upset.” This approach provides an opportunity for your partner to process what they’re feeling, and for you to more deeply understand where your partner is coming from and who they are as a person.
Emotions are opportunities for intimacy. They’re a gateway to building emotional connection and trust.