Bob is lying in bed, wide awake. Earlier, he'd been laughing, smiling, and telling Susan how beautiful she looked. But his mood crashed when he approached her for sex and she said three simple words: "I'm tired tonight."
He feels rejected, disappointed, frustrated, and angry. His negative emotions hold him prisoner.
Then there's Marcia. She and her husband, Merv, had planned a special night out. She delivered the kids to her mother's, dressed, and waited—for an hour and a half. By 8:30 Merv still wasn't home—and hadn't even called.
When he finally walked through the door, her emotions set her up for a miserable evening.
Many of us can identify with Bob and Marcia. But what should we do with our negative emotions? We know what we've done in the past: withdraw and suffer silently, or engage in word battles that leave everyone wounded and bleeding. Is there a better way to respond?
1. Acknowledge and identify negative emotions. Negative emotions aren't sinful. Even Jesus felt anger, disappointment, and frustration. When the Pharisees criticized Jesus' healing on the Sabbath, for instance, Jesus "looked around at them in anger … deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts" (Mark 3:5).
Ask yourself, What am I feeling? Name your negative feelings. Be specific. You may even want to write them down.
2. Find the source. Next, ask yourself, What caused my feelings? Often there's both an external and an internal source. The external source may be something your spouse did or failed to do. Marcia's disappointment was stimulated by Merv's failure to arrive on time. Internal sources may include lack of sleep, stress, unrealistic expectations, and unmet emotional needs.1