Your spouse says or does something, and you react. Later, you find yourself berating yourself: “Why did you react like that? Why did you say that? Why did you do that?”
You wonder why you react the way you do, and why it is you can’t seem to control any of those reactions.
In today’s blog, we’ll look at how your emotional reactions came about, and 3 steps for managing the ones that leave you with regret.
The Birth of Emotional Reactions
Self-recrimination and regret is a rough thing to put yourself through—especially when you feel powerless to change. But many people go through it, asking themselves why, oh why, they react the way they do to certain situations or words.
But, it’s a good thing: it means you have self-awareness. When your behavior gives you pause, that’s a good signal to be able to receive. It means you are closer to answering the question and making a change that brings you a better feeling when you are confronted with those types of situations.
Your interactions with your spouse may be less than you desire. And if your spouse had an affair, your interactions may be extremely tense with emotion. No matter the reason for the intensity of your emotions, you no doubt understand that they are quite powerful.
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So powerful, in fact, that they can override your logical thinking center. This is why you feel that you have no control: you are acutely aware, as it’s happening, that emotions just flooded the more rational circuits of your brain.
But you may wonder why you react the way you do, when someone else in the same set of circumstances or hearing the same words would not react in the same way.
It’s called conditioning.
This means that somewhere, at some time, your emotions processed some information, assigned a certain meaning to that information, and filed it away.
For example, and a very simplistic example: maybe when you were young, you ventured out into the street to retrieve a ball. Your father yelled at you to get out of the street—concerned for your safety. His yelling startled you, and then scared you. Now you associate going into the street as being a dangerous thing, and so are extra cautious and your emotions are saying “danger”.
But you know you have to cross the street to get to the other side, right? So your logical mind then takes over and gets you across the street. Here, your logical mind has performed an override of your emotions.
Which means, you can override your emotions. Just like the crossing the street example, at some point you became aware that there would be times you would need to step into a street, and so you were prepared for that time by realizing you would have the reaction of it being dangerous, but you would forge ahead because you at some point would need to get somewhere on the other side of the street.
The great majority of our emotions and logical thinking occur without us having awareness of them. However, especially strong emotions are difficult to ignore, because they tend to shake our inner cage. You have a strong connection with your spouse, so things they do or say may cause a strong emotional reaction in you. That’s part of having an intimate relationship. With strangers, your emotions are not that vested.
Here are three steps to managing your emotions a little better with your spouse:
Step 1: Identify your Emotional Triggers
Just as you saw in the street crossing example, certain things will trigger certain responses. When it comes to interactions with your spouse, what are your hot buttons? What, exactly, are those occasions when you later say to yourself, “Why did you react like that?”
Write down what those situations, words or turns of phrase are that lead to a surge in your emotions, causing you to react in a way that you aren’t happy with.
Step 2: Prepare for Next Trigger
Once you are aware of what your emotional triggers are, create a backup plan for how you would like to react next time—and then rehearse it.
What this does is help you to override the natural reaction you have—the one that is steeped in conditioning from long ago—and replace it with the type of reaction that you feel is more appropriate.
Step 3: Trigger Time-Out
Preparation will help you feel more in control the next time the trigger occurs. Now, when the trigger does appear, imagine yourself hitting a large “pause” button on your reaction. This will give you time to retrieve the reaction that you have prepared for this occasion and to put it into action.
When you have done this enough times, you will be creating a new pattern—a new conditioning—to go with that trigger, one that will help you feel in control.
My best to you as you overcome emotional reactions that leave you feeling out of control.
Do you ever berate yourself for reacting to things the way that you do?
Are you aware of the emotional triggers that set off this reaction?
Do you feel out of control when this happens? Have you tried to manage these reactions any differently?
Please share your ideas and personal experiences on this topic with other members of the community.
Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,