When I started law school, I was not happy with some of my emotions so I suppressed them. I didn’t want to feel angry, bitter, or inadequate. The intellectual world was simpler. It was easy to unconsciously detach from the emotional world. However, when I detached from unwanted or pesky emotions, I also detached from other emotions like joy and compassion. I lived life without much sorrow or joy. I didn’t realize that suppressing my emotions would somehow damage me. At the time, it seemed like a solution, not a problem. So, when I got married, my communication with Roxann did not focus on feelings.
She’d ask, “How do you feel?”
I answered, “Fine.” My emotions rarely changed so I always felt the same.
When we attended an advanced marriage-training seminar, the seminar leader told us we were “good roommates,” but we didn’t know how to communicate heart-to-heart. I thought, So what’s wrong with being a good roommate? I didn’t want to be a bad roommate. I didn’t understand. I was clueless as to what an intimate emotional connection meant let alone that it was possible. We didn’t yell at each other, we almost never argued or fought, we were considerate of each other’s schedule, we worked together on family issues, and we got a lot done. I didn’t understand what he was saying.
But we didn’t know each other deeply, and I did not comprehend or appreciate Roxann’s emotional makeup. I didn’t understand my own emotional makeup either.
During the weeklong seminar, we dealt primarily with our emotions. We attempted to “resolve” the underlying sins and wounds that caused the unwanted emotions rather than merely suppressing them.
It was a revelation to me that God gave us emotions for specific and good reasons.
Unwanted emotions tell us that we have an internal problem. Emotions are to the emotional world what pain is to the physical world. Though physical pain feels terrible, it is incredibly important information. Pain tells us we have a physical problem that needs immediate attention.
A window to the soul.
Emotions are like a window into the soul. Emotions tell us we have a problem in our heart that needs attention. By shutting off my emotions, I could not see into my own soul. Speaking to Roxann’s emotional hurts and letting her speak to mine was a new concept.
We started down this road slowly. It took months before we could naturally ask the insightful questions that revealed the causes of negative emotions. For several months after the conference, we spent 30 to 60 minutes most days practicing. I began asking Roxann about the forces that shaped her during her early years. She cried out the hurts that had been under the surface for too long. I had only known them in an intellectual sense—at a surface level. When she knew I was “on her team” and rooting for her complete freedom, she felt safe enough to open up. When I asked if I was repeating the actions that caused her emotional pain, she could tell me. Roxann returned the favor by asking me some of the same types of questions. However, because my emotions had been undeveloped and dormant, it was hard for her to get through. She asked great questions, but I didn’t know many answers. Spouses often start at different places. That’s okay.
During this time when you have more time at home, let me encourage you to begin getting to know your spouse at a heart-to-heart level. If you already do this, take the opportunity to go even deeper.
Here are a few questions to get you started.
Ask the question and listen well. Don’t interrupt the answer. Ask clarifying questions at the end. And then listen some more.
Describe one of the happiest periods in our relationship.
Questions to open conversation about your spouse’s feelings:
Are you ever afraid? Of what?
What causes you to be discouraged?
Am I sensitive to your needs?
Do I affirm you as a person?
(Follow up questions to go deeper: How do I do that? How can I do it better?)
It may be a little scary to get started. I know it was for me. But these conversations proved to be very rewarding and drew us together deeply as a couple. May they do the same for you.