Couples Series #2: Mighty Morphin…Emotions

Jeremy Sharp, PhD relationships, therapy Leave a Comment

Here’s the second post in my ongoing Couples Series – a string of pieces inspired by Elizabeth Weil’s Married (Happily) With Issues.

Who remembers the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers? If you lived in the United States during the early to mid-90’s (or have a working knowledge of Japanese cartoons, which I don’t), it was almost impossible not to hear of these California teenagers who “morphed” into superheroes when the need arose.

So what do these teens have to do with couples? Let’s look at another quote from Elizabeth Weil’s article for some clarity. Here she’s talking about her husband’s prolific cooking and its impact on the relationship.

I knew Dan’s cooking and his obsessions in general were mechanisms to bind his anxiety, attempts to bring order to an unruly mind. Without an outlet, Dan tended toward depression, and his depression vented as anger.

So what’s this? Anxiety being bound to avoid symptoms of depression that might come out as anger? Jeez, slow down the emotion train. Upon first reading this quote, you may be thinking that Ms. Weil is taking the shotgun approach to identifying her husband’s feelings, hoping to hit the mark with one of these guesses. But the truth is, emotions can often bear a striking similarity to those teenagers from California in the way that they frequently “morph” into something different than their original state.

Weil calls her husband’s cooking “attempts to bring order to an unruly mind.” I see this happen a lot in my practice and in my own life – dealing with anxiety through action. We all do it. For me it’s running…for others it may be vocalizing their worries, or engaging in endless research to avoid making a “wrong” decision, or isolating themselves in an attempt to keep anxious thoughts from leaking out around others. I think some amount of self-care is important, and it’s a fine line to know when it crosses into the realm of unhealthy binding. For Weil’s relationship, it became unhealthy in that the cooking put distance between them.

The second part of the quote is also important – the idea that one emotion can be vented as another. She gives the depression-t0-anger example, one that occurs often among men. There’s also the classic hurt-to-anger, scared-to-anger, and anger-to-depression (self-criticism) morphing. This is all well and good, and very human, but the trouble comes in not being able to identify and communicate about this process. Then we end up with partners who wonder why they’re getting yelled at after one loses a job, or we can’t figure out why we disengage from others when we really want to reach out.

Which brings me to the inevitable mention of the importance of mindfulness and vulnerability in relationships. Being aware of your underlying emotions, then having the courage to articulate them, can go a long way in bringing people closer. Doing so activates and affirms the strong desire to feel connected, something that we all share. So even when your emotions are trying to morph into something else, strive to stay in the moment and get a handle on what you’re really feeling, then share that with your partner if it feels safe to do so.

Thoughts on the post (or Japanese cartoons) are always welcome  🙂

Jeremy

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