The Emotional Marriage

A marriage is an emotional journey; a mix of passion and pathos, attraction and repulsion, and dreams and defeats.  Sometimes marriages survive, and sometimes they don’t (See blog entry, Why Marriages Fail;  Regardless, there is always more to learn from a marriage than any other relationship in our adult life.  We are fused to our mate in marriage.  We are forced into honesty by the mere fact that we cannot escape.  We are revealed, exposed, challenged, loved and rejected.  Sometimes the emotional pitch gets too high, and we begin to avoid conflict by giving superficial answers to deeply personal questions.  When these answers prove insufficient to our mate, defensiveness follows.  Over time the marital mirror reflects back to us an image that is inconsistent with the one we have of ourselves, so we reverse the image creating defensiveness in our mate as well.  As the cycle deepens so does the emotion and, consequently, the marriage loses its vitality and becomes an emotional one.

Once the emotional marriage is formed it’s quite difficult to get outside of its influence.  We find ourselves reacting more quickly, more strongly, and more often.  The following are some tips that you can use if you find yourself inside of an emotional marriage.

Feelings are not Facts

As we grow older, negative feelings are generally associated with negative events, such as childhood trauma, divorce, loss, conflict, and arguments that lead to screaming and yelling.  These stored feelings often look for an outlet, or what psychologists call catharsis.  Much like the person raised by a disapproving father who only hears disapproval in the tone of someone else’s voice, the interpretation of disapproval when someone is raising their voice may not be disapproval at all; it may just be someone raising their voice.  Our feelings, however, cannot make the distinction; they are attached to the past.  Feelings have no future sight and no insight.  They simply signal us that something similar to a previous experience is occuring again and that we should be on guard.  Thus, feelings are not facts, they are just feelings.  Feelings are not solely about the current situation, but about the current situation that triggers something from the past.  Feelings are not smart, they are instinctive, and designed to activate our fight or flight instinct when necessary.

Feelings are not our Friends

The human animal has a built in instinct that protects us from danger.  Yet, at the same time, we are social creatures reliant upon social interaction for our survival.  Sometimes there’s a clash between our biology and our social structure, and in the process our feelings often get confused with our biology.  Once our flight or fight instinct is activated we think we are in danger, when, in fact, we often are not.  We then typically do two things in our struggle for self-preservation; we act in similar ways to how we acted when the danger was actually present, and then we take that feeling and project it into the future, thus guaranteeing it will now confirm our predetermined expectations.  The act of projection is the basis of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We fulfill our belief that what happened in the past is happening currently and then guarantee that it will happen in the future by reacting the way we did in the past.  Consequently, we often overreact or misjudge emotional situations.  Taken in this light, feelings are not our friends.  They have very little reliable predictive power.  They confirm our past more than align us with our present, and they bring our past into our future thereby guaranteeing the continuation of the pattern.

Your Default is not your Fault

We default to our feelings by telling ourselves that something doesn’t feel right.  Granted, sometimes our feelings are correct, which brings us to a more complicated discussion of feelings, one that is beyond the scope of this article, namely that it is very difficult to distinguish between a feeling, an instinct and an intuition.  They somehow all feel the same but are very different indicators.  As far as feelings go, they are much more difficult to change than thoughts.  Feelings are cellular, and socially reinforced.  They tend to be stagnant and repetitive.  Thoughts, on the other hand, are considerably more under our conscious control.  We can think our way out of our feelings but we cannot feel our way out of our thoughts.  Our feelings are our default, and that’s okay.  We have to accept that we have feelings without indulging or reifying them.  It’s not our fault that we have them but it is our responsibility to decide what to do with them.

So, the next time you are triggered in an emotional marriage remember that feelings are not facts, nor are they your friends, but when you indulge them it is not your fault either, just your default.   To get your emotions under control try thinking your way through them instead of relying on them as accurate indicators of current conditions.

(For more information see blog entry, Five Ways to Promote Marital Health and Harmony;

Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration2 comments

  1. Bill Tenuto says:

    in my opinion your knowledge of this subject is pointedly clear. It is rare to find a person who has the understanding you have about this.

    Bill Tenuto

  2. Great post, Larry. I particularly liked the section, “Your Default is Not Your Fault.” This reinforces the idea of letting feeling pass without judging them.

    Thanks for the insightful writeup!

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