What to Do in an Emotionally Reactive Marriage
Jill and Ted were at their home in Lake Oswego thinking talking about a plumbing project. Ted wanted to make a responsible decision by saving money. When Ted suggests that he take a crack at it, Jill looked over at him and said, “Ted, can we just call a professional?”
Immediately, Ted’s shoulders slumped and he grew quiet. He walked away and Jill could not get him to come back. She had to wait for two days before Ted would accept her apology and they could move on with the conversation.
There may be times in your marriage when it seems like everything is going well. Then, maybe you say something. Or do something. And, suddenly, everything changes.
Your spouse becomes angry. Or frustrated. Or they shut down and withdraw.
They become emotionally dysregulated or reactive. And you are left wondering how you can fix the situation so that everything can be peaceful again.
Here are three tips or ideas on what you can do when your spouse or partner becomes emotionally reactive.
Step # 1 to Take in an Emotionally Reactive Marriage — Manage Your Emotions:
Let’s start with the hardest one.
By taking the necessary steps to regulate your own emotions, you will slow down your own emotional reactivity. This enables you to make intentional decisions about your behavior and the relationships
Otherwise, if you become emotionally dysregulated, everything just kind of spirals. Take the steps to stay emotionally regulated so that you can stay in it.
Intentionality is important in emotional reactive relationships.
Step #2 to Take in an Emotionally Reactive Marriage — Get Beyond the Words:
When a person is in an emotionally reactive state, it is possible that harsh or blaming words are used. Rather than take those words at face value, attempt to get beyond them by searching for the feelings.
Listen for the emotions behind the words.
What is it that your spouse or partner is upset about? What's that pain that they are feeling or expressing? They are emotionally wounded in some way. Use active listening skills and attempt to discover what that pain might be.
Are they feeling alone? Are they feeling disrespected? Are they feeling overwhelmed? Like things are out of control?
Listen with the purpose to recognize the emotions behind the words. It will help you to know what is happening inside your spouse or partner.
Step #3 to Take in an Emotionally Reactive Marriage — Validate Those Feelings:
There are steps you can take to improve your communication in your marriage.
Learning to validate the emotions of your spouse is a powerful step. And it can be simple.
"Ah! I see that you are feeling this because I did this."
Or "Because I said this, it made you feel this way. That makes sense."
Validating a person’s emotions helps them to know that they have been heard. It communicates that you are with that person and understand them.
It helps that person to know that they are not alone.
Validation is so important to a relationship, and it literally costs you nothing to do. Use validating words. Use them as often as you can.
Being in an emotionally reactive relationship does not have to be a daunting experience. You can take steps to assist with emotional regulation for you and your spouse.
And, if you are desiring more help in reaching a marriage goal, consider marriage counseling. You can learn more tools and discover a healthier rhythm to your relationship. One that brings greater joy and peace, rather than a feeling of pain.
Jason Wilkinson loves to help couples learn how to regulate their emotions and strengthen communication at Wellspace Counseling. Wellspace Counseling offers individual and marriage counseling in the communities of Tualatin, Lake Oswego, and Portland. Counseling is also offered throughout the state of Oregon through the flexible use of online counseling.