God created human beings with a great capacity for varied emotions. Within mere hours, we can experience the sorrow of a loved one’s passing and the joy of a grandchild’s birth. Successfully navigating our emotions requires that we tap into what psychologists call Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence refers to our ability to process and manage emotional information in a healthy way. Emotional Intelligence is social in that it refers to the tools we use to respond appropriately to other people’s experiences, feelings, and expressions.
Our experiences – and the emotions that accompany them – are so varied that we must work to understand how our feelings develop and affect our behavior. This is true when we are single, but in marriage Emotional Intelligence takes on a whole new level of importance. How do we successfully manage our own emotions in marriage? How do we respond compassionately to our spouse’s emotions? Following from my previous article, I would like to explore how we can use the tools of our Emotional Intelligence not just to survive in marriage, but to deepen intimacy and learn to thrive as a couple.
Why We Need Emotional Intelligence in Marriage
Imagine a woman – Felicia – is telling her husband Albert about the difficult experience with her indifferent boss that day. She tells him that she left work unsettled and frustrated; Albert listens without real attention, or responding comments, or just dismisses her recounting. Felicia has not been heard. And though she may feel even worse than she did when she got home, she may decide those feelings may be picky, or not serious enough to bring up, or she may be afraid to make an issue. Or maybe it all escalates to a fight.
In this situation, there has been no positive interaction between Felicia and Albert: just a passing of facts about the day, and they lost an opportunity to grow closer. Understanding what emotional intelligence is—as well as the importance of knowing and responding to emotion in their marriage— could bring Felicia and Albert so much closer. Imagine the impact of their entire marriage if they could respond more fully and wholly to each other!
Emotions are Complex and Varied—and So Are Our Expressions of Them
Emotions can be transitory, confusing, and we can mask them. We cannot speak out of our emotions all the time—what we say is condensed from numerous instantaneous thoughts and feelings, more than we can express in the space of a conversation. Dan Wile, in his book After the Fight, describes the multiple scripts a person runs through in taking in and deciding how to respond to any spoken statement. Most of the script options are considered, then discarded, and the selection of what to say and how to say it is accomplished in a split second. The receiver of that statement goes through a similar “rolodex” of possible responses faster than an eye blink, and the exchanges continue. Imagine how much more complex conversations get with all the emotions and history of a relationship in a marriage or family.
Using Emotional Cues to Strengthen Your Conversation (and Your Marriage)
What difference could all this make to Felicia and Albert? Could a conversation about a difficult boss become a building block that strengthens the circle of connection and safety in their marriage? Well, yes it could. As Felicia begins to share, Albert hears some distress in her voice and gives full attention to what is churning around behind her words. He responds with attention, and asks leading questions, but does not try to solve her problem. He is not focusing on the problem as much as she is, but on what is going on for Felicia as she talks about her feelings. As she continues to speak, she is paying attention to what is happening in the conversation. Eventually she is thinking less of her boss and more about how her feelings are not as bad when she feels understood by Albert. The purposeful conversation could happen in 2-5 minutes as it comes up, or Albert could suggest they talk this over at a specific time later that evening. Repeated interactions like this help Albert and Felicia to be really there for each other. Their marriage becomes a safe haven from the everyday stresses of life.
Christian Counseling for Married Couples
Responding lovingly and meaningfully to each other’s emotions contributes to a healthy marriage. Learning how to use your emotional intelligence and connection In marriage will help you and your spouse deepen the lines of communication and build intimacy. If you desire to develop better emotional support within your marriage, I would be happy to meet with you to determine what your needs are. I would be delighted to partner with you as you work toward fostering a healthy, happy, and supportive marriage.
Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net – Man Comforting A Woman
By David Castillo Dominici and “Couple hugging at beach” by imagerymajestic