Summary: 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 wives.

Marriage Is Emotionally Challenging

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 wives. 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 an increase in stress and conflict. 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 that these complications continue for days or seasons in our relationship. While they catch us by surprise, they should not.

Five Ways to Grow Emotionally in Marriage

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 is she so worked up?” And herein lies the issue. Emotional reactions are symptoms of a greater issue that should signal that something in your marriage is off-balance and needs attention. So if your emotional response is anger, disappointment, sadness, or disgust, just name what you are feeling, but try not to do this in an attacking manner.

Two | Identify the emotion and label it

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

1. Fear

2. Anger

3. Sadness

4. Joy

5. Disgust

6. Surprise

7. Trust

8. Anticipation

In this case, we are talking about negative emotions: fear, anger, sadness, or disgust. 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” in your head from painful or negative childhood experiences. 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”), it is time to deal with your issues, not the problems of your spouse. You should reflect on what that issue is. Be more concerned about naming yours than pointing out hers.

Four | Try to shorten the time of the reaction/emotion

Negative emotions tend to hang around for a while. After identifying the emotion 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; if within a few hours, then within an hour. The sooner you can normalize your reaction, the sooner the relationship can reestablish 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 her what is going on with you and what you are trying to figure out. And be honest about what you believe triggered your reaction—not as a matter of blame, but to increase her awareness of your sensitivity to the issue. Tell her also that you are working on “moving through it” more quickly, so she knows you are aware and working to avoid the emotional hijacking.

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