What do we do with the emotions that crash on us like a wave, or with the niggling sense of unsettledness that hovers over our interactions at work or home? Those fragments of feeling that cause us to question our competency, integrity, or our past – how do we manage them? How do these personal experiences, and our re-experiencing of them, impact our marriages? Such emotions are part of our life, and they can cause stress, joy, or confusion. Successfully navigating between and using our emotions in intimate interactions is a component of any satisfying marriage, and cultivating healthy emotional awareness enables spouses to lovingly support one another through any circumstance.
“Today is not a good day,
Stranded in the heartache,
Watching all the world race,
and pass me by,
Like a wave on the ocean,
comes a wave of emotion,
And it can’t be unspoken,
No, it can’t be unspoken,
one more time.” –
Bebo Norman ( We Fall Apart, from the Ocean CD)
In this first of two articles about how we can use our emotions to connect with our partner, I would like to introduce the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and consider different ways we express emotion. Understanding our emotional responses empowers us to use our feelings as tools that can strengthen our marriage and build intimacy with our partner.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Howard Gardner suggested the concept of emotional intelligence in 1983 in his theory of multiple intelligences. He attempted to show that traditional concepts of intelligence quotients (IQ) did not fully explain cognitive abilities. He described other kinds of “intelligences” or continuums of abilities other than mental intelligence. His research included spatial, spiritual and emotional intelligences. While it is clear that there are strengths besides mental, measurement of other Intelligences is difficult.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ), refers to one’s ability to process emotional information and to use the results to manage and use one’s emotions to respond meaningfully. This demands self-awareness and the ability to maintain control over one’s emotions. It also requires motivation and empathy in social situations. In the decades following Gardner’s theory, increasing attention has been paid to the role of emotions in everyday interactions and general health. The last decade has seen a growing emphasis on how emotional sensitivity plays out in marriage relationships, most popularly in the work of Dr. Susan Johnson and method of Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy (EFT).
Understanding Emotions: What They Are, and How We Show Them
The word ‘emotion’ comes from the Greek work meaning, “to move.” It is interesting that when we hear music that stirs us or words that touch us deeply, we say we are moved. We inevitably smile when we feel joy, tear up when we feel grief, and show a puzzled look on our faces when we are confused. We have been moved to express ourselves.
The basic, universal emotions are: joy/elation; anger/rage; fear/anxiety; shame/disgust; sadness/despair, and surprise/curiosity. There are many variations on these, and we often substitute one emotion for another, less comfortable, alternative. For example, a person who is socially embarrassed may turn to anger, as that is more socially “acceptable” than shame.
Christian Marriage Counseling Can Help Couples Manage Emotional Conflict
Indeed, understanding how our emotions work is important for every human being, but emotional intelligence becomes a particularly essential tool in marriage. Navigating your own emotions is challenging enough, but learning to love and support another person through emotional experiences takes practice and patience. Every word, action, or expression can be used to support and encourage your spouse—and, equally, negligent responses can be extremely hurtful and damaging to your marriage.
In my next article, I will speak directly about how emotional intelligence can be used as a tool to build up your marriage. In the meantime, if you and your spouse are struggling to understand how you can support one another, consider seeking the help of a Christian marriage counselor. Christian marriage counseling offers a wonderful opportunity for couples to build skills that will enable them to manage their emotions, and through counseling partners can learn to use their feelings to compassionately respond to one another’s emotional expressions.
References & Further Reading
Atkinson, Brent J. (2005). Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy. W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.
Gardner, Howard. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basic Books, Inc.
Johnson, Susan. (2008) Hold Me Tight; Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown, & Co.
Wile, Dan B. (1993). After the Fight; A Night in the Life of a Couple. Guilford Press.
Images courtesy of: office.microsoft.com/images “Couple laying on grass” by Fotolia, “Angry Couple,” and “Frustration at Work”