She Said He Said: He’s not emotional enough
She Said He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband and I have a good marriage overall. My one wish is that we would have more emotional connection. I often find myself sharing important experiences, thoughts and feelings with him and would really love for him to do the same. He has told me he thinks I’m too emotional in general, but especially when we’re arguing. My belief is that he’s not emotional enough. Is there a way to invite more emotion from him, or are we just fundamentally different in this area?
Signed, Needing Emotional Balance
Lori and Jeff: We all have emotions. Differences in how they are expressed often come down to personality aspects as well as socialization in the family system, community and culture. Emotions are energies that live in our body, which is why sadness, anxiety and anger each create different physical felt experiences. It’s what we do with the energy — disconnect from, avoid, stuff, process, indulge in or fuel — that makes the observable difference.
Jeff: It’s very important to understand that there is a fixed amount of emotional space in relationships at any given time. If one partner is taking up too much of that space, the other may feel unable or less inclined to lean in. This can also occur based on assumptions and projections we have about our relationships. Even if space may be available, our stories and narratives about how much space we are supposed to be taking up can greatly impact the degree to which we feel invited to show up in an emotional way.
Emotional space needs to be a fluid dynamic where, depending on the needs of each partner at any given time, the space is utilized by whomever needs it the most, and the other is willing and able to accommodate and support. These need to be equally shared roles. The best way to create this fluidity is to develop a stronger awareness of when you need to express or share an emotional experience and when you have the bandwidth to hold that space for your partner. Emotional adaptability and flexibility, meaning that you are able to shift your mindset through your own emotional regulation, is also crucial for the balance you’re seeking. And lastly, it’s important to actually provide the support. This often gets confused with empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. That’s only part of the equation. There also needs to be compassionate action, which is offering assistance in whatever way is possible at the time. It might be reflective listening or collaboratively coming up with a solution, but ultimately, it has to reveal your intention of presence and care.
Lori: Partners often communicate about important needs and concerns with vague, broad concepts and when left undefined, couples struggle to create a clear path forward. What is the translation for “too emotional” or “not emotional enough” and do these terms actually mean the same thing to you and your spouse? Does being too emotional mean that you often identify having feelings? Is your husband frustrated that you tear up during difficult conversations? Or do you easily lose your centeredness and lash out, shut down or turn into a sobbing heap? What does not emotional enough mean to you? Does your husband seem cold, stoic or uncaring? Does he avoid talking about important matters? Or is he just not as emotionally excitable as you? The first step in creating a bridge on this issue is clarifying what you specifically want and being open to changing the stories you have about your partner’s level of emotionality.
The second step is taking time to look within. Emotional wellness can be conceptualized as an internal balance of masculine and feminine energy. Everyone has both. A friend recently shared with me the image of the feminine being a flowing river and the masculine the canyon walls through which it runs (thanks, B). The feminine is emotion, intuition, creation and the source of healthy destruction for anything that doesn’t serve our true self. It is vitality, life, pleasure and pain. Too little connection to the feminine can leave us numb, ineffectual, stagnant or lost. On the other hand, without containment for its flows, we can experience flooding and lose our sense of ground. This is why the masculine is so important. It is the internal structures, beliefs of “okayness” and self-soothing that allow us to acknowledge and feel the emotions without being overwhelmed or consumed by them. Be honest with yourself if doing some internal work here would be important.
Lori and Jeff: Both of you want the other to show up differently, but you have work to do in figuring out exactly what you’re asking for. Reflect on what specific behaviors and interactions you want with your partner and how you would know if they were more emotionally healthy. Then be willing to explore how your own level of emotional presence in the relationship might be impacting your partner.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit http://www.aspenrelationship.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.