Think about it: when you’re in a good mood, you might give your partner the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to show generosity when they make a mistake, even granting them forgiveness more readily. Let’s face it, our moods greatly affect our communication. If you are in a bad mood, you are more likely to perceive what our partner says negatively.
This point is illustrated by Laura’s bad day and her negative interaction with Ron when she returns home late from a challenging day at work. Her use of “You” statements and Ron’s defensiveness set the stage for miscommunication and hurt feelings.
Laura (in a frustrated tone): “You have no idea how horrible my day was.”
Ron (in an icy tone of voice): “Are you saying I never have bad days?”
Laura (feeling defensive): “I’m just annoyed because you got home before me and didn’t start dinner.”
Ron (rolling his eyes): “Would you prefer I always cook dinner since you hate your job?”
Laura (feeling angry): “I never said I wouldn’t do any cooking. It’s just been a busy week with my performance evaluation and deadlines. I guess I should have been more direct and asked you to cook this morning before I left the house.”
As Laura acknowledged in her last statement, the best way to prevent emotional states from damaging your relationship, is to be vulnerable and to discuss this issue when you are aware of it. In the example below, Laura comes home late from work. It’s obvious the she feels frustrated as she throws her car keys on the counter and sighs. Ron acknowledges that Laura has had a tough day and says things to diffuse the tension and minimize the damage to their relationship.
Laura (in frustrated tone): “I had to stay after work because too many people were out sick.”
Ron (in a calm, loving tone): “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that pressure. What a pain to have to fill in for other people.”
Laura (giving Ryan eye contact): “Exactly! The last thing I needed was to work late when we are remodeling our kitchen.”
Ron (in a soft, loving tone): “My week has been busy too so why don’t we get take-out or a pizza. What do you prefer tonight? I’m happy to run out and get it for us.”
Without being explicit, Ron let Laura know that her bad mood was legitimate and he responded with empathy and understanding. While being in a bad mood does not excuse awful behavior, it’s a reason why couples often get in to arguments about trivial matters and tend to dig their heels in – leading to escalading disagreements and a tense home environment.
Many emotional states, such as sadness, anger, and frustration, can color your interpretation of what your partner says – and your response to them. In the above conversation, Ron’s response was helpful because it allowed Laura to be vulnerable and for them to come up with a solution based on understanding. As a result they deescalated their emotional states and avoided an argument. Rather than trying to prove a point, they enjoyed a delicious take-out meal together.
In this second example, Ron was able to turn towards Laura by offering her active listening, support, and a solution (take-out). Dr. John Gottman explains: “People who have trouble with the bidding process also have more conflict – conflict that might be prevented if they could simply acknowledge one another’s emotional needs. Many arguments spring from misunderstandings and feelings of separation that could be avoided if people would have the conversations they need to have. But because they don’t, they argue instead.”
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, will be published by Sounds True in February of 2020.