Negative Emotions Are Opportunities To Strengthen Your Relationships
If you are in a committed relationship, there must have been a lot of times when you have felt like running away when your partner is behaving in a negative way. However, running away from problems is a temporary solution and if you constantly indulge in that, the future of your relationship is doomed.
Negative emotions and negative situations are very common in relationships, but necessary sometimes. Through these negative emotions, you can find ways to strengthen your relationship and also build more trust between yourselves.
When I work with couples, it’s not uncommon for one partner to say, “I can’t handle my partner’s anger,” or “Her crying overwhelms me, I don’t know what to do.”
The other partner expresses, “He never listens to me,” or “She never cares about my life.”
The problem here is that an emotionally dismissive response blocks emotional connection, and over time, erodes trust, the foundation of a happy and positive relationship.
“It is not a person or situation that affects your life; it is the meaning you give to that person or situation, which influences your emotions and actions. Your choice is to change the meaning you gave it or to change your response, in order to create the outcome you want.” ―
In their latest book, The Science of Couples and Family Therapy, Drs. John and Julie Gottman show that the couples who have high levels of trust and commitment to one another have longer and happier relationships.
When dealing with conflict, these trusting couples show affection and care for one another. They support each other’s emotional realities by turning towards each other when they are hurting.
A former student of Dr. Gottman, Dan Yoshimoto, discovered that people in emotionally connected relationships had the ability to be emotionally accepting and calm when their partner was upset, even if their partner’s anger or sadness was about something they did. (1)
Essentially these masters of relationships attune to one another’s pain, rather than dismissing it.
Attunement is listening with compassion to your partner’s hurt. When a partner listens with an open heart, tenderness, and care, the upset partner feels accepted, safe, and loved. Even more importantly, this behavior builds trust, the backbone of intimacy.
As Drs. John and Julie Gottman explain these partners express, “How you fare in this world is as important to me as how I fare in this world. I’ve got your back.”
How Do You Respond to Negative Emotions?
When faced with difficult emotions from our partners, we have three choices: To turn towards them, against, or away. The first choice builds trust and emotional connection; the latter two disconnect a couple and can lead to escalating conflict.
1. By turning towards and attuning to your partner in times of pain you emotionally coach your partner through their feelings. This support enhances your relationship and your partner’s well-being.
2. By turning against or away, you dismiss your partner’s feelings, which can make them even more hurt and upset. This response may not be due to a lack of caring, but rather a result of different emotional blueprints.
Your Emotional Blueprint
Too often I see partners diagnose each other:
- “He is all logic and cold as a brick wall.”
- “She is so emotional it’s like being around a tornado. No one is safe.”
What if instead of being certain of our partner’s emotional “deficits” we became curious about why each of us reacts in different ways.
After all, we develop our emotional intelligence through experiences that teach us how to be emotional. These lessons come from culture, friends, and family.
As a male, I learned that I could only express sadness if I covered it up with anger. As a result, I cut off parts of my emotional self just to fit in. This blocked me from connecting with a partner who was sad.