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Growing Emotionally in Marriage

“As for my secret to staying married, my wife tells me that if I ever decide to leave, she is coming with me.” —Jon Bon Jovi

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” —Genesis 2:24

The challenge of marriage is emotional

Marriage can be a great blessing and a great challenge all at the same time. Problems often arise because we men do not invest the time we should in an emotional connection with our wife. But for most women, and I would suggest men too, the emotional connection is an essential item in the relationship. As men, we can be clueless that we are reaching an emotional deficit with our wives which usually results in growing stress and struggle. Often this occurs in the form of reactions and responses that seem to arise "suddenly." And the awful part of the experience for men is the complications that continue for days or seasons in our relationship. While they catch us by surprise, they should not.

Five things you can do to grow emotionally in your marriage

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One | Name the emotional responses you're having toward your spouse
Emotional responses, by either party, are often about important things. Men often wonder, "Why are they so worked up?" And herein lies the issue. Emotional reactions are a signal and a symptom of a greater issue. These reactions should signal that something in your marriage is off-balance and needs attention. So, if the emotional response is anger, disappointment, sadness, or disgust, just name what you are feeling. And by the way, try not to attack them.

Two | Identify the emotion and label it
This is a critical step because it teaches you to slow down and not just react but to identify the feeling you're having and look at with a little perspective. In other words, you need to see it outsides of yourself. Robert Plutchik, someone who has studied emotions suggests that there are eight basic emotions you should be able to identify and name:

  1. FearFeeling of being afraid, frightened, scared.
  2. AngerFeeling angry. A stronger word for anger is a rage.
  3. SadnessFeeling sad. Other words are sorrow, grief.
  4. JoyFeeling happy.
  5. DisgustFeeling something is wrong or nasty.
  6. SurpriseBeing unprepared for something.
  7. TrustA positive emotion.
  8. AnticipationLooking forward positively to something which is going to happen.

In this case, we are talking about your negative emotions, or theirs. So, can you name that emotion you are experiencing or that you see in your spouse?

Three | Reflect on how you have experienced this in the past
Often, when you have an emotional reaction, it is because you have experienced a similar event in the past. So, for instance, you may have "messages" or "tapes" from your childhood in your head that were painful or negative. If you hear something from your spouse that resembles those past painful tapes, you are likely to respond emotionally regardless (and this is important) of whether it was meant that way or not. When your emotions are triggered (I call this "emotional hijacking"), we are dealing with your issues, not the problems of your spouse. You want to reflect on what that issue is. Be more concerned about naming your, than pointing out theirs.

Four | Try to shorten the time of the reaction/emotion
Negative emotions tend to hang around for a while. After identifying it and understanding where it came from, work on shortening the time that the reaction or emotion affects your relationship with your spouse. If the normal time is two days of relational stress, work on resolving it in one day, then within a few hours, and then within an hour. The sooner you can normalize your reaction, the sooner the relationship can re-establish its healthy rhythm.

Five | Invite your spouse to help you process the emotions
Often when your emotions are hijacked your spouse is left wondering what in the world happened. It helps to explain to them what is going on with you and what you are trying to figure out. And, be honest with them as to what you believe triggered it, not as a matter of blame, but to increase their awareness of your sensitivity to the issue. Tell them also that you are working on "moving through it" more quickly, so they know you are aware and working to avoid the emotional hijacking.

Vince Speaking 9

Vince Miller is a speaker, author, and mentor to men. He is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to communicate to audiences on the topics of mentorship, fathering, leadership and manhood. He has authored 16 books and small group curriculum for men and is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Contact Vince Miller here. His newest book is Thirty Virtues That Build A Man.

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