How Emotional Agility Improves Relationships


How Emotional Agility Improves Relationships

Interviewed by Kyle Benson

Susan David, Ph.D. is an award-winning psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, a boutique business consultancy. Her new book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life teaches a counterintuitive approach to achieve your true potential, which was heralded by the Harvard Business Review as a groundbreaking idea of the year in 2016.

Kyle: What is emotional agility and how does it impact our romantic relationships?

Susan: Emotional agility is the ability to have a full range of emotions and experiences, including more difficult ones, and still choose to act in ways that are concordant with our values. This is more important to our romantic relationships than any other aspect of life because in our relationships we are often emotionally agile.

Kyle: What does being emotionally inagile look like?

Susan: Being emotionally inagile happens when our thoughts, emotions, and stories start to dominate our behavior with our partner, which dominate our actions and ultimately take us away from the relationship.

When I say thoughts, emotions, and stories, these are the kinds of things people have in their relationship. Thoughts like:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • There’s no point in having this conversation, so I might as well shut down.
  • If I reach out to this person, will I be rejected?

We have thousands of thoughts every day and a lot of these thoughts are around our relationships. We experience anger, anxiety, and concern about rejection that come up and we often tell ourselves stories. For example, I just talked with someone yesterday whose parents got divorced and whose husband was divorced before, so they both had this story that relationships don’t last.

Or we have stories about what our values are or what we deserve. It’s really important to realize that these thoughts, emotions, and stories are normal. All of us have difficult thoughts. All of us have difficult emotions. And all of us come to the world with stories. It is the way that we start to make sense of life. And it helps us sort out what is and is not important because we can’t pay attention to everything.

Kyle: In your book, you talk about how we get hooked on our stories. Can you explain how this impacts our behavior?

Susan: Stories are really important in keeping us sane and functioning, but these stories can start to take up more space in our life and dominate our actions in ways that don’t serve us.

One of the things I talk about in Emotional Agility is how people get hooked. Maybe for you, you say something like, “There’s no point in talking” and you just keep quiet. You end up having this fusion where your thoughts, emotions, and your stories actually drive your actions. So you have to ask yourself, “Who is in charge?” Is it your emotions, or the person who is experiencing all of the emotions? Who is in charge of the story? The story or a person who has many stories?

When we get hooked, our thoughts, emotions, and stories take charge and take us away from behavior and actions that are congruent with our values with the way we actually want to love.

Kyle: One of the things I loved about your book is how you connect our values to our actions. Can you speak to that in terms of relationships?

Susan: Yes, absolutely. So in my book, I talk about different ways of being with ourselves.. Not like slashing your story or telling yourself, “I shouldn’t have that emotion.” But rather recognize that we can be with ourselves in a way that is compassionate and learn the function of our emotions, stories, and thoughts, such as is it showing up to protect us. It’s important to have compassion because there will be times when we will act in ways that are not congruent with our values.

Values Can Bring Us Closer to Our Lover

Susan: One of the things I talk about in my book is this idea of walking your why. When it comes to relationships, what that really means, is having two or three core values. This isn’t about goals.

Often in relationships, people will say that my goal is to stop fighting. Or my goal is to go on a date night and spend special time together three times a month. Or to increase the number of times we have sex a week.

To me goals are endpoints that are things you can define and that you can measure. What I’m talking about with values is the quality of experience that is important to you. What is the direction that you want to move your relationship in?

The difference between the value and goal in this context is that with values, you never reach that endpoint. You don’t reach that endpoint that says, “I’m now in a loving relationship,” because our experience fluctuates and changes every moment. Instead ask yourself, “What is crucially important to me in my relationship?”

Kyle: You’re getting at the essence of what someone wants and needs in their relationship. Can you give us an example?

Susan: For example, one of the things I hold very clear in my relationship is that I want what I call a “clean relationship.” What I mean by a clean relationship is a relationship where my husband can be tired or he can be busy at work, and we don’t get into a space where we are walking on eggshells around the other person. I don’t have that story that my partner is too busy to speak to me so now I’m not going to speak to them for a week. One of the things I intentionally do in my relationship is the opposite.

It is important to me that there are no parts of the relationship that are no go discussion areas. Another really important value that I hold in my relationship is one of generosity. For me that means assuming good intentions and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

What is important here is that so often when people are trying to get through relationship difficulties, what they try to do is try to manage or control their thoughts, emotions, and stories. This happens when a partner is really angry or hurt and they try to control themselves.

What I talk about is a very different approach where you open your heart up towards the thoughts, emotions, and stories that you have and are compassionate towards them. You recognize that they don’t need to be in charge because you get to be in charge and you become clear about what is it that matters to you and what are the qualities of action that you want to bring to your relationship.

What we know from the research is that when people are feeling stressed, when they are feeling pressured, when they are running around with kids and trying to get children off to school, is often the time when they get hooked.

So they attach themselves to stories, emotions, and thoughts that aren’t helpful or they focus on what is called social contagion, which is where you compare yourself to your friends and their relationship and start to beat yourself up. Or you start to mindlessly engage in behaviors that don’t serve a relationship. So for example, you stop looking your partner in the eye or you stop greeting them when they come home from work. These are mindless behaviors and what we know from the research is that they can be very pervasive and they can be very destructive.

The really important takeaway is that I don’t mean values in an abstract kind of way. Maybe for the reader, their value is being collaborative or caring or having a clean relationship. Every day you get hundreds of opportunities to either make a move that is towards that value or away from that value. In my book I call these choice points.

Kyle: Choice points sound a lot like what Dr. Gottman refers to as sliding door moments. Can you give us an example?

Susan: For example, your partner comes home from work and you have a choice point. Do you stand up and put your arms around the person or do you stay sitting? Do you make a move that is towards your value or away from your value? This is really important because I am suggesting that values can become very strong defining features in how we show up for our partner. If you have these values front of mind, then you can ask yourself, what are the habits I have that are not congruent with my values?

When you realize that, you can start actively making tiny tweaks, which are small moves in the direction of your values, but ultimately we know make a very big difference in people’s relationships over time. In Emotional Agility I talk about how this relates to Dr. Gottman’s research on bids for connection.

Kyle: I really love that idea, because when our values align with our actions, we are intentionally choosing to behave in ways which allow us to create the connection we want.

Susan: Exactly. It’s important to notice our emotions, thoughts, and stories with compassion and approach them with curiosity without letting those thoughts or emotions drive you. Instead, make choices in which your values are congruent with your actions and do this every day. The whole thing behind tiny tweaks is often people say “what difference does it make?,” but what we know is that these small positive interactions compound, so over time your values create a very meaningful relationship.

Read How Being Nuanced with Your Emotions Enhances Your Well-Being

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part interview with Susan David, Ph.D., author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.

Get a personalized emotional agility report here. To learn more about how emotional agility can improve your relationships, order your copy of Susan’s book on Amazon here.

This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Article.

— Share —

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

25+ Best Plants To Detox Your Home: Purifying Your Living Space With Nature’s Greenery

25+ Best Plants To Detox Your Home

Nature heals both body and mind and bringing nature indoors can reenergize your soul and purify your living space. So what are the best plants to detox your home?

In today’s fast-paced and urbanized world, our homes often become a sanctuary from the outside environment. However, it is surprising to know that indoor air pollution can sometimes be more hazardous than outdoor pollution.

Household products, synthetic materials, and even certain cleaning agents can release harmful toxins into the air we breathe. Fortunately, nature provides us with a simple and effective solution:

Up Next

Can Money Buy Happiness? The Relationship Between Money And Happiness

Exploring The Relationship Between Money And Happiness

Money can’t buy happiness, or so the saying goes. But is there any truth to this age-old adage? What if I told you money does buy happiness? The relationship between money and happiness is complex and not that straightforward.

Those who believe money cant buy happiness and those who believe money buys happiness are both equally right. The reality is that money is important for happiness, but whether money brings happiness or not is something we need to find out.

In a world where wealth seems to equal success, it’s easy to wonder about the relationship between money and happiness. Let’s explore how money and happiness are intertwined together.

Money cant buy happiness. Or can it?

Up Next

What Is The Best Posture For Meditation Practice? 6 Best Ways To Sit For Meditation

What Is The Best Posture For Meditation Practice? 6 Positions

Are you ready to unlock the secrets of a peaceful mind and a tranquil soul? Discover the power of inner peace with the best posture for meditation. 

From the classic Lotus pose to the grounded Burmese posture, let’s delve into the transformative art of finding your perfect meditation position.

Finding the best posture for meditation practice

In the chaotic  world we live in, finding moments of peace and tranquility is more important than ever. Meditation has emerged as a powerful practice for calming and nourishing our psyche and soul.

Up Next

High Protein Vegan Foods: How To Get Enough Protein Without Meat Or Dairy

High Protein Vegan Foods: Get Protein Without Meat Or Dairy

Are you a plant-powered warrior in search of the ultimate protein-packed fuel? Wondering where you can get your protein as a vegan? Here are some high protein vegan foods that will nourish your body, tantalize your taste buds, and leave you feeling stronger than ever before. 

My fellow vegans and vegetarians, prepare to silence the skeptics. Let us unleash the power of plant-based protein as we unlock a treasure trove of delicious and best vegan protein sources.  

6 Best vegan protein sources

Getting enough protein as a vegan or vegetarian can be challenging. But with the righ

Up Next

Kama Muta: The Powerful Emotion That Connects Humanity

Kama Muta: The Powerful Emotion That Connects Humanity

Have you ever experienced a moment that left you feeling completely overwhelmed with love, tenderness, and a deep sense of being moved? Well, there’s a term for that: Kama Muta. It’s a fancy-sounding name for a truly profound emotional experience that has captured the attention of psychologists worldwide.

In this article, we’re diving into the fascinating world of Kama Muta, exploring what is Kama Muta, where it comes from, and how it impacts our connections with others.

Get ready to uncover the secrets of this extraordinary emotion, the power of being moved by love, and its potential to transform our r

Up Next

14 Best Stretching Exercises To Sculpt Stronger Legs

14 Best Stretching Exercises For Legs

Do you hate ‘leg days’? Well, so do I. And one of the reasons why leg day seems so daunting is the tightness or soreness we feel in our legs. That’s why here are the top 7 stretching exercises for legs that you need to do to improve your flexibility and overall health.

What exactly is leg stretching?

Leg stretching refers to physical activities that involve lengthening and elongating the muscles in the legs to improve their flexibility and range of motion. It is a form of exercise that can help prevent injury, reduce muscle soreness, and improve overall physical performance. 


Up Next

Unleashing Efficiency: Discover The 25 Best Productivity Apps 2023

25 Best Productivity Apps 2023 To Help You Crush Your Goals

Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list? Do you find yourself constantly procrastinating and struggling to stay focused? Well, fear not my friend! Here are some of the best productivity apps 2023 that can help you boost your efficiency and get things done.

Productivity: The key to success

In today’s fast-paced world, being productive is the golden ticket to achieving success. Luckily, there’s an app for almost everything, and product

AI Chatbot Avatar
⚠️ Liza is in training with WMHA and may not always provide the most accurate information.