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  • Are You Suppressing Your Emotions or Your Relationship?

    There has been plenty of research done to show that suppressing emotions within a relationship also shuts down communication.

    One scientist who studies emotion, James Gross, found that when we try to suppress emotion:

    It essentially doesn’t work

    We often get increasingly agitated and tense, which is particularly true in close relationships. In a close relationship the trigger for the emotion is usually the other person, and since the other person is around it can rev up “suppressed emotions”.

    Emotion doesn’t live in our skin.

    When we try to isolate ourselves from our feelings or to, in effect, shut them off completely, the people around us also get more tense and agitated.

    Denying our feelings to ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean that others won’t pick up on this issue. Our partners get tense because we’ve been evolutionarily wired to be able to quickly examine and identify facial expressions (which often register our feelings) way faster than the brain can mimic indifference or nonchalance.

    What does this mean? It means even if you’re trying to keep your emotions under wraps, our partner almost always knows there is something wrong. When they press the issue and we’re acting non-responsive or dismissive, they also know we’re shutting them out.

    Their ability to be able to read our cues becomes affected and they can’t predict our behavior, which elicits tension.

    Emotions are fast

    Astonishingly fast. It takes only 100 milliseconds for our brains to respond emotionally and about 600 milliseconds for our thinking brains to register the reaction. Which means by the time you’ve decided to get mad or to be sad, your face has already been expressing it for 500 milliseconds.

    This should make clear the reason why when you deny that something is bothering you that this is puzzling for your partner, who sees a different story written all over your face.

    These situations provide invaluable insight into the communication between partners. Namely, shutting down and emotional suppression are strategies that should be used with caution (or preferably not at all). These defense mechanisms rarely do what we hope. Whether that’s calming us down, lowering the tenor of a conversation, or helping to bypass a fight.

    We mostly shut down out of habit because we don’t know what else to do. Dr. Sue Johnson believes however, that there is a whole host of other options available to us. Admission of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, shame or joy are much more constructive and conducive for healthy communication between partners.

    When we can name our emotions and express them to those we care about, a feeling of being more grounded and more in control generally accompanies it. And we also give our partner the chance to respond. To empathize with us and what we’re currently experiencing.

    Giving our partner that chance, Dr. Sue Johnson argues, “To show us they care, that they can be with us and be there for us, is one of the magic ingredients of a loving relationship.”

    John Gallagher, LMHC has been a practicing therapist for over 20 years and specializes in both individual and couples therapy. Schedule your appointment today.