By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
It’s amazing how people can accrue so much knowledge about the world and still not understand why they act as they do in relationships. While this can be baffling, it becomes much clearer when you recognize that people often don’t fully appreciate what it means to be human. They might so value logic that they dismiss their emotional and aesthetic sensibilities. Or, they are so drawn to these sensibilities that they fail to apply their ability to more objectively understand themselves. In both cases, there are aspects of their experiences that they dismiss – or even fail to notice.
To understand this better, consider examples of these two sources of confusion. I’ve provided marital therapy for many couples in which one spouse (more often the husband) tended to pride himself on being emotionally strong and logical. On a number of occasions, this husband found himself crying without even recognizing that he was emotional. Only after some discussion did he realize that he felt sad and hurt by his wife’s comments. And, only at that point could we begin to address the relationship problems related to this. Similarly, I’ve often helped spouses (more often the wife) who became so overtly overwhelmed with their emotions that they had trouble thinking clearly. So, they needed help understanding, differentiating, and articulating their emotions.
If you can relate to either of these patterns of confusion, you can help yourself gain clarity by listening to all the voices within. You can learn more about your motivations and your feelings. It can also help you to see the positive purpose – even if it is a misguided one – in your behaviors.
People who tend to value logic more need to pay attention to their thoughts that seem illogical – but are there nonetheless. Given that emotions are a part of all people, they must also learn to pay attention to their emotions, rather than dismissing them. For instance, they might realize that they dismiss their feelings by trying not to be weak – though this backfires and leaves them out of touch with their partner (because they dismiss their partner’s feelings as well as their own). By acknowledging and understanding these ‘irrational’ aspects of their experience, they can better understand themselves and their reactions to their partners.
People who tend to be more emotional are often helped by pulling back a little from their feelings. By approaching each emotion with intellectual curiosity, they can nurture their understanding of themselves. For instance, by thinking about her sadness, a wife might realize that it also involves loneliness and anger. She might also realize that she feels lonely because her husband emotionally abandons her every night when he retreats to his computer. With this understanding, she can begin to directly address the things that upset her.
So, if you find yourself feeling or acting in ways that you don’t make sense to you, pay attention. Listen to all of your thoughts and feelings. Pay special attention to those pesky little ones you tend to flick away like those annoying gnats. These may be the very ones that explain why you do what it is you do.
The Art of Relationship s blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.