Think about it: when you’re in a good mood, you might cut your partner some slack. 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’re in a bad mood, you’re more likely to perceive what our partner says negatively. This point is illustrated by Rachel’s bad day and her negative interaction with Tom when she comes home feeling hungry and aggravated.
Rachel, age 37, (in a frustrated tone): “You have no idea how stressful my day was since you work at home.”
Tom, age 38, (in an icy tone of voice): “Are you saying I never have a bad day?”
Rachel (feeling defensive): “I’m just annoyed since I didn’t even get to eat lunch today.”
Tom (rolling his eyes): “Would you prefer I go back to working in person to even the score?”
Rachel (feeling angry): “I never said I’m not glad you are home. I know you do more housework than I do and pick up the kids from after school activities.”
In The Dance of Connection, psychologist Dr. Harriet Learner explains that when the emotional climate of a relationship is spontaneous and relaxed, there is a lot we can let go. In the above example, Rachel comes home from a stressful day at her office and is just looking for validation from Tom. It’s obvious she feels frustrated as he throws her car keys on the counter and sighs. Tom is aware of her frustration and but gets defensive rather that listening to her, so he says things that upset her even more.
In the following scenario, Rachel comes home after a tough day and Tom acknowledges it and offers validation and support instead of getting defensive.
Rachel (in frustrated tone): “My work was overwhelming today since Sue called in sick. I didn’t even get a lunch break!”
Tom (in a calm, loving tone): “I’m so sorry you had to deal with such a long day with no lunch. What a crazy day, you must be famished.”
Rachel (giving Tom eye contact): “Exactly! Do you think we can order take out so we don’t have to bother with dinner preparation?”
Tom (in a soft, loving tone): “My week has been busy too so why don’t we get take-out Chinese or pizza. What do you prefer tonight? I’m happy to run out and get it for us.”
Without being explicit, Rachel and Tom acknowledged that Rachel’s bad mood was a filter. When Tom responded with empathy and understanding, it diffused her bad mood. 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 filters can color your interpretation of what your partner says – and your response to them. The next time your partner tells you that they had a frustrating day, put your phone, laptop, iPad, or worksheet aside and tune into the message they are sending. Then validate their feelings and show empathy by giving them reassurance, comfort, and offering to ease their burden. This will go along way to improve their mood and strengthen your positive connection.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry