What happens to the negative emotions you experience in your relationships? For many those feelings are internalized, suppressed, stuffed, and compartmentalized until they are buried so deep that they are difficult to extract. The problem is that those feelings don’t go away over time, instead they require more effort to keep them hidden and suppressed. Some people use alcohol/drugs, food, sex, spending, or other self-destructive behaviors to numb their feelings. Others resort to choices that can be healthy but in excess are destructive to relationships like busyness with work, family, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, and/or rescuing others. The underlying emotions don’t disappear with time or activity, but provide an avoidance of conflict.
All relationships have conflict and negative emotions, but what you do with those feelings is the key to success in marriage. Often frustration and anger build over time and are followed by resentment, which is anger with a history. Many of the couples I work with have years of unresolved emotion and conflict that they’ve either chosen to ignore or don’t have the skills to resolve. Growing up with an abundance of conflict or no conflict, especially if we didn’t observe resolution can disable our abilities to effectively deal with disagreements today. Avoidance of feelings often results in health problems, emotional difficulties, and relational conflict. While healthy expression of emotion connects people, stuffing emotions disconnects people. What can we do differently?
Recognize that we all feel both positive and negative emotions, and expressing those feelings constructively is an important skill. Learn to say it and leave it without harping on the issue, but instead let it go. Choose assertiveness over aggressiveness, passiveness, or passive-aggressiveness. Decide to forgive, not necessarily forget, and don’t seek retaliation. Remember the expression, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Sharing your negative feelings is more for you than the other person, therefore don’t make expressing yourself contingent upon their positive response. Work at staying connected even at times of conflict through constructive expressions of emotion. If all else fails, seek professional help before the chasm is too big to repair.