I often get asked the “secret to a happy marriage.” In the past, I would scramble to find the perfect answer to show that I know my stuff as a counsellor! I know now that the answer always has something to do with emotional experience in marriage.
The importance of our emotional world within marriage cannot be overstated. Emotion is the glue which connects us and the healing balm when we feel distant from each other. Being able to access, express and respond to emotional needs is the deeper way of relating which makes us begin to feel safe around each other so that we can remain fully present and share ourselves authentically with our loved ones.
MARRIAGE IS AN EMOTIONAL BOND
“Emotion is then the music in the dance of adult intimacy. When we change the music—we change the dance” (Johnson 2004, p.67)
Where two or more are gathered, emotion is always the most powerful experience! Either We:
- feel safe and welcome,
- unsure and ambivalent, or
- insecure and rebuffed.
Emotions are often seen as negative, as something to be controlled. Part of the reason for this is neurological. The human brain has a bias to recalling negative experiences more than positive ones. So, if we want better relationships, we have a responsibility to reinforce the good and the positive to tilt this negative predisposition. (Baumeister et al, 2001)
At times we feel unsure and insecure. Ideally, we want to feel safe and welcome and that has a lot to do with emotional availability. When we are emotionally available, we are fully present to our own and our spouses’ experiences. To do this sometimes takes deliberate and intentional actions on our part to make our spouse feel important, valued, and respected. Here are four ways we can signal our emotional availability to the one we love daily so they feel safe and welcome.
- Nothing says I care for you quite like a smile at the correct moment.
- Making eye contact conveys attentiveness.
- Paying attention to the signals we send via our bodies is a powerful way to convey availability. The way we walk toward or away from our spouse. Even the pace in our steps. These can convey a readiness and willingness to be with them and make them feel like a priority, especially in hard times.
Start with something small. For example, deliberately looking up to notice, and give a smile to your spouse when they enter the room.
Or you could be more intentional about turning towards them when you listen to them speak to you!
Believe your spouse’s EMOTIONAL experience! Believing their EMOTIONAL experience, makes them feel like you believe in them as a person and that you value their whole being. This can be important when spouses come from backgrounds where stress and difficult experiences are treated differently. You may have grown up in an environment where stress was dismissed and denied, and they may have been brought up with better ways to do self-care in stressful and difficult circumstances. Being emotionally available means believing and validating one another’s lived EMOTIONAL experience in good times and in bad.
By being aware of what our spouse needs before or without them asking, we can offer them a powerful experience of being cherished and valued. It could be a cup of tea or coffee, a helping hand with the kids, or time to themselves. Most of us recognise moments when we can be there for our spouse in service and support. Listening to that emotionally attuned part on the inside which tells you what they need, and acting on it to meet their need, puts into action emotional availability which builds a marriage that feels more loving and supportive!
BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH THE UNCOMFORTABLE!
Finally, often the stress of life kicks up negative and uncomfortable emotions. This is unavoidable. Rather than dismiss or overlook those experiences, learn to linger a little longer with your spouse in those moments. It will feel uncomfortable to start, but eventually you will find those are the moments you bond and feel close to one another. This is another way to show your care, and to provide comfort by being emotionally available to them in your marriage.
Our Creator has given us all the tools we need to make life comfortable, and safe one another. By listening to our inner world and remaining open to emotional experience we can be available to the one we love and begin today to create an environment where each person feels like they matter, and someone is there for them.