Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Emotional Jackpot You Can Give Your Spouse Today

Bells go off and coins clang as they fill up the tray of the slot machine. You hit the jackpot.

That's how it feels emotionally when your spouse can tell you're having a hard time and, instead of turning away and leaving you alone in it, they connect by empathizing on a deep level. You can tell by what they say, by the look in their eye, or by the way they squeeze your hand or hug you that they're letting in some of what you're feeling. They get it, or at least they're trying to. 

Suddenly, you're not alone in your distress anymore. And just as quickly, that distress isn't the same anymore, it's somehow more bearable. And even in that bitter moment, the connection you feel with your spouse is sweet. 

That's what it's like to hit the emotional jackpot.

You can get better at providing this kind of profound experience for your spouse. In fact, they will bond to you more securely than ever as you become their most reliable and potent way to hit the emotional jackpot. 

Here's how to do it:

Look for opportunities to encourage your spouse to talk about a time that was upsetting for them.
  • When they bring something up, encourage them to talk out the hurt rather than trying to quickly move on from the uncomfortable topic. 
  • Proactively ask about an event you know they found painful. 
  • Explore in a general way what experiences from the past still eat at them, whether or not those experiences involve you. 
If you have the courage to run into the fire of their feelings instead of fleeing their distress, you are giving them an incredible gift. You can't rewind time and take away their suffering, but now they have the opportunity to no longer suffer alone!

As they recall the events, listen for what it was like for them emotionally to go through that experience. If they don't spontaneously mention how they felt at the time, ask. Check to see if they're feeling some of that same emotion now as they think back on and talk about that time. Also ask what they were feeling in their body at the time and where they felt it. Was it in their chest? Their gut? Somewhere else? Are they feeling some of those same sensations now?

This gives you all you the raw material you need to practice deep empathy. Do it by letting into your own heart and body some of what they went through and are going through even now.

Let them know you've let in what they're feeling in any or all of the following ways:
  • Let yourself make an "ugh", "ouch", or "mmhh" noise that goes along with what you feel.
  • Let your face--especially your eyes and mouth--convey the pain and compassion you feel inside.
  • Give some other form of physical comfort such as holding or squeezing their hand or embracing them and holding them tight (if it seems they're receptive to that).
Ask them what it's like to be on the receiving end of deep empathy. Did it feel like an emotional jackpot as I predicted?

After you've tried it a time or two, share this post with them and ask them to return the favor. What's it like for you to be on the receiving end?

You and they might find that it's harder to implement than it sounds. But it's certainly something worth practicing to improve as a skill.

Let us know how it goes for you--and please pass along this post along to others. Every single one of us, as human beings, is walking around too lonely in our suffering. There's not a soul I know who couldn't use more empathy, especially deep empathy of this sort.

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