A practical way to help your spouse succeed is by giving emotional support. Emotions — positive and negative — are gifts from God. How dull life would be if we were not able to feel. Try to imagine watching a sunset, a ball game or the ocean and feeling no emotion. We would be something less than human if we had no feelings. We are made in the image of God, and part of what that means is that we are emotional creatures.
Unlike thoughts, which ideally we can control, our emotions are not nearly as manageable. Feelings are unsolicited, interior, personal reactions to what goes on around us or to what has happened to us in the past.
Positive and negative emotions
Giving emotional support to your spouse begins by allowing positive and negative emotions. It means celebrating the positive emotions and affirming the negative emotions. To use the biblical phrase, it is “rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep” (author’s paraphrase of Romans 12:15). Because of personality differences, we sometimes find this difficult. I remember the woman who said to me in the counseling office, “I don’t understand my husband. Our baby has been sick for the last three months. My mother is battling cancer. The future of his job is uncertain. Yet he comes home excited that he got a 50-cents-an-hour pay raise.”
Because of her personality, her bent toward focusing on the negative, she had a hard time rejoicing with her husband over his small success. Instead, she said to him, “What good is that if you lose your job in three weeks?” He lashed out at her for being so negative and then left the room and remained silent for the rest of the evening.
How different things might have been had she been emotionally supportive by saying something like, “Honey, that’s great. That must mean they like the way you do your job. I’m so proud of you.” By celebrating his small success, she could have motivated him to pursue larger successes. By being emotionally supportive, she would have helped her husband move closer to success.
Supporting the negative; encouraging the positive
When your spouse has negative emotions — such as anger, disappointment, depression or sorrow — you can be emotionally supportive by affirming those emotions and expressing belief in your spouse.
Myra came home from the doctor’s office and told her husband, Mike, “The doctor said I might lose the baby. We won’t know for another week or so, but it’s not looking good. I feel so discouraged. I had hoped that this time everything would go well. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” She was feeling disappointment, frustration and sadness, and she was focusing the blame on herself.
If Mike wants to be emotionally supportive, he might say, “I can understand why you would feel disappointed. I feel that way, too. It’s frustrating when we have both tried so hard to do everything right. When you say, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ though, it sounds like you are blaming yourself. I guess if I were in your shoes, I might feel the same way, but I want you to know that is not the way I see it. I think you have done everything right. I think if something happens to this baby, we will have to trust God. I just want you to know that I love you, and I will walk with you through this experience. Let’s pray together.”
Mike is being emotionally supportive of Myra. He is allowing her to have feelings of disappointment and sadness. He is affirming her feelings by saying, “If I were in your shoes, I might feel the same way.” But he is being honest about his own perspective, and he is assuring her of his support no matter what. That is the kind of emotional support that often makes the difference between success and failure.
Dr. Gary Chapman is a pastor, speaker and best-selling author of The Five Love Languages.