Understanding Your Feelings to Stay Connected In Your Marriage

By David and Jan Stoop
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Tanya Cooper
We can improve our ability to control our emotions. The skills we develop can make us more aware of what we are feeling, which can help us break the cycles in the way we interact with our spouse.

Jan and I were very young when we
got married — and we had a rough start. We developed a pattern of behaviors early in our marriage:
When we hit a problem, we reacted. That reaction would begin with me getting upset and Jan going
quiet. The more upset I would become, the more Jan would shut down. And the more she shut down, the
more upset I would become. It didn’t take long before she would leave the house.

I would worry about her, so I’d go looking for her. Then (the way I remember it) I would apologize,
and we would go home. Nothing more was said about what had happened. We had no idea what to do with
our difficult emotions. We both grew up in homes where we never saw our parents have a conflict. If
they did have one, we didn’t see it. So how to manage emotions was never modeled for us.

Since that time, as I’ve counseled couples, I’ve come to realize that what Jan and I experienced
wasn’t really that unusual — we were maybe just a little more intense about it than most couples.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman published his book Emotional Intelligence. In it, he made the distinction
between the measure of our thinking — as determined by our intelligence quotient (IQ) — and the
measure of our emotions. He clarified that IQ is a genetic quality that doesn’t change much over our
lifetime. It is not based on how much we have learned but describes our ability to learn. Emotional
intelligence, on the other hand, is based on how skillful we are in understanding and managing our
emotions. Unlike our IQ, we can grow and develop our emotional quotient (EQ).

Growing our EQ starts with the understanding that our emotions are never bad or wrong. If we become
angry about something, for example, that emotion is intended to serve a purpose — perhaps to
protect us or to register a protest about something. The same is true of other emotions — they
each have a positive purpose. The problem comes when we hold on to an emotion beyond its intended
purpose. We may escalate the emotion, become controlled by that emotion or sit in silence fighting
off the feelings attached to that emotion. None of those options help to manage what we are feeling.

But as we learn more about emotions and practice a few techniques, we can improve our ability to
control our emotions. The skills we develop can make us instantly aware of what we are feeling as we
begin to feel it. This emotional identification can help us learn how to break the cycles that are
so entrenched in the way we interact with our spouse.

3 Ways to Boost Your EQ

The first step to a healthy
emotional relationship with your spouse is self-awareness. The goal is to deepen your knowledge of
yourself, especially as it relates to your emotional self. Here are some suggestions on how to do
that:

Determine your basic emotional posture

We all have a reactive response to stress, when in a
microsecond we experience a basic emotion. This is called a basic emotional posture (BEP). Some of
us, when stressed, have a BEP of being angry and irritable. Others may approach life from a fearful,
anxious posture. There are also those who are more melancholic, seeing life through a generalized
sadness, while others are always fighting with themselves over unresolved guilt or shame. Take some
time to identify what you think your BEP might be.

Think about your feelings

Whenever we get caught up in our BEP, there is always an internal dialogue going on that fuels the
out-of-control emotional response. So think about what you’re thinking whenever you experience a
feeling. What are the internal conversations you have with yourself related to those feelings? It’s
never easy to define exactly what you say to yourself when you have a particular feeling, especially
one associated with your BEP. Because that response is almost automatic, we have to slow the process
down by deliberately thinking about it. Writing about our emotions can help us understand them, too.

Understand the roots of your feelings

Everyone has emotional sore spots. And they are called buttons because it is easy for someone else
— especially our spouse — to push them. When your buttons are pushed, you suddenly become
overwhelmed by negative emotions, especially defensive anger.

But you can work to better understand the roots of your vulnerable spots and make changes that will
help you. Here is a map for how to reprogram your emotional buttons:

  1. Talk with your spouse about what you think your buttons are. Listen to what your spouse thinks.
    In doing this, you bring the mechanism of the buttons out into the open — into the conscious zone.
  2. Trace back in your memory to earlier experiences of reacting, or wanting to react, when
    someone pushed your buttons. How far back can you remember?
  3. Identify the primary person who made that vulnerable spot so raw and placed it in your emotional programming.
  4. Seek to understand what was broken in that person’s life that caused him or her to act that way.
  5. Talk with your young self in your imagination. Continue the conversation verbally with your spouse. Comfort
    that young part of you that has been hurt so it can be released to become part of the grown-up you.

When we understand the emotional roots of our behaviors and how we develop our automatic responses,
we are gradually able to manage our reactions. Then we can begin to respond to situations without
being controlled by either anger or fear.

Five Competencies of Emotional Intelligence

As Jan and I began to understand emotional intelligence more, we identified five
competencies that relate to the emotional experience of marriage. We arranged them in a way that
would be easy to remember by using the letters S-M-A-R-T:

  1. Self-aware of emotions

    Self-awareness is the starting point. It involves being able to clearly
    articulate our values; know what’s really important in our lives; understand our tendencies in
    certain situations; and identify our dreams, goals and desires for our future. It’s the ability
    to fully know ourselves from the inside out.

  2. Manage emotions

    Managing our emotions is a matter
    of resolving the battle between the emotional part of our brain and the reasoning part of our
    brain and somehow calling a truce — or better yet, finding balance. When we actively choose
    how we are going to act when we feel a certain emotion, we create a growing sense of integrity,
    comfort and fairness in our marriage. We can also experience a greater degree of mutual respect.

  3. Accountable to myself, to my spouse and to other couples

    Accountability begins by holding
    ourselves accountable for our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. From that foundation, we learn
    to be accountable to our spouse out of love for him or her. And if we’re a wise couple, we go a
    step further and bring in third parties — other trusted couples to whom we are mutually
    accountable.

  4. Read the other person’s emotions

    EQ competency is essentially the ability to be
    empathetic. Understanding our spouse’s perspective in a situation requires that we know our own
    emotional world and are able to separate our emotions and expectations from those of our husband
    or wife. It is a shared process of listening and responding while we suspend our own personal
    biases so that we can share in our spouse’s personal world.

  5. Together, comfortable with emotions

    For us to relate emotionally, we have to be connected with our spouse. So to succeed in marriage
    requires that we resolve an internal conflict: How can I be connected with my spouse and yet
    still be me?
    This internal conflict means that we sometimes move toward our spouse to connect
    but at the same time feel we should move away to protect our autonomy. We must move to where we
    can be emotional with each other in an empathic way while being more confident in our autonomy
    because we are comfortable in our emotions.

Dr. David Stoop is a clinical psychologist and an ordained minister. Dr. Jan Stoop is a counselor and seminar speaker. Together they have written more than 30 books, including Smart Love.

Do you know of a marriage in crisis? Learn more about Focus on the Family’s marriage intensives by visiting HopeRestored.com

© 2017 by David and Jan Stoop. Used by permission.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

David and Jan Stoop

Dr. David Stoop is a licensed psychologist and family counselor who has been working to strengthen marriages and families for more than 35 years. He is also an ordained minister, an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and a co-host for the nationally syndicated radio and TV program New Life Live. David’s wife, Jan, is a counselor, author and seminar …

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.