Your Emotions Are Valid, But...

In my last blog post I talked about acknowledging and beginning to learn how to interact in a healthy way with my emotions. You can read my prior blog post here.

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Now what? I had emotions, I did not suppress them, but now what was I supposed to do? Well, I had to start learning what to do.

Ashley was a huge help to me in navigating the messiness of emotions. One thing she always told me earlier in our marriage, when I would try to convince her that she should not feel a certain way in a situation, was that emotions are valid. Regardless of the situation, your emotions are valid.

But, your emotions may not be proportionate to the situation. I came to realize that there were situations in which I rationally knew the strength of emotion I was experiencing was not proportionate to the severity of the circumstances.

Emotions that tend to be classified as “negative” are often tied to negative cognitions. Thoughts like, “I’m not good enough,” “I should have known better,” “I’m not lovable,” etc. What happens for many of us is that there are events in our lives that affirm these negative cognitions in our brain. An event happens when you are 4, then 8, then 11, then 17, etc. Your brain has connected all of these events. My counselor used the word picture of train cars linked together. Now, when you experience an event that brings up the negative cognition, “I’m not good enough” for example, the force of all of those train cars collide into your current event.

Ashley and I were at the mall one day. We were both in a store looking at items and then I turned around and she began leaving the store with the kids without telling me. I became extremely annoyed with Ashley that she hadn’t let me know that she was ready to leave. I realized that my level of emotions was not commensurate with the situation and I started thinking about it. Why did I have such a strong reaction?

I realized that I had a fear, or negative cognition, that “the people I love will leave me.” There were seemingly simple events that happened in my childhood, combined with my personality that influenced that fear. Later, in 8th grade, my first real girlfriend, and first girl I told “I love you,” left me. Then, early in Ashley’s and I’s marriage there were events that made me think that Ashley would leave me. These events compounded in my brain to make such a simple thing, like Ashley leaving a store without telling me, elicit a big emotional response.  

Your emotions are valid, but maybe they are not proportionate to the circumstances. Part of discovering more about yourself is recognizing these times. When you do, you can look back on your life and ask the question, “Why do I react this way when this happens?” The answers may surprise you. These instances are an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and for your partner to learn more about you.

For Ashley and I, these conversations revealed things about each other that we never knew. It is helpful as a partner, to know why your partner reacts the way that they do. It allows you to be more understanding the next time it happens. It also allows you to make little or big changes to help your spouse. Regardless of the severity of the emotions, your partner is responsible for his/her actions. However, if you can make loving changes to help your partner, you should.

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Now, when Ashley and I are in a store together, she comes and tells me, “Hey I am going to be over here.” or “Hey I am heading to the next store.” It is a little thing, but it is a way that she tells me that she loves me and is considerate of how I feel.  

It can be scary sharing with your partner your most deep-seated fears, like “I’m not good enough.” It takes vulnerability to share with your partner the events in your life that piled up to make that fear as strong as it is. Above all, it takes trust. In sharing these things, you also reveal to your partner how they can hurt you the most.

Sharing is scary, but it creates intimacy. To be intimate, you must risk being hurt. So take that risk; and, as a person who hears the fears of your partner, never betray that trust, it may take you a lifetime to earn that trust back.

-Tim