Being in the presence of a spouse’s strong emotions can be so uncomfortable that many people seek to avoid it. In fact, historically, marriage counseling focused on emotions being problematic. The thought was that emotions needed to be avoided, in favor of thoughts or rationalism. Now we know this is not true and actually interferes with bonding. Emotions and communication about emotions help humans connect and experience greater attachment and relationship satisfaction.
Sue Johnson is an expert in relationships and has developed a type of couples counseling called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, or EFT. She shows that emotions are the key to healing the relationship because they enable bonding and connection. To be clear, Johnson is not advocating for uncontrolled emotions to be expressed. Rather, in conjunction with a skilled therapist, the emotions are explored gently and compassionately, so each partner can witness the other’s emotional experience—be it pain, fear, joy, gratitude, or any other feeling that someone can experience.
The gentle experience of these emotions with a marriage counselor present can help partners see each other’s fears and anxieties, so they can learn patience together. Spouses and partners can learn to experience the emotions moderately, not in an overwhelming way. At this point they can learn to reassure each other, thereby reducing the experience of fear and anxiety. Johnson refers to this mutual helping as co-regulation—helping each other regulate emotions.
Johnson says that people are meant to co-regulate—we are meant to share with others to help us feel safer. The belief that we must be independent and self-sufficient is a cultural myth that keeps people disconnected from each other and looking for other ways to self-regulate their experience of emotions. A good therapist can help you and your spouse or partner learn to co-regulate.
For more information, refer to: Conversation with Alanis Morisette. Also, feel free to contact the Novus Relationship Counseling Center for a free consultation.