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Lösung von Meta-Emotions-Mismatches

von NFI Redaktion

Do your efforts to support your partner lead to disputes?

Perhaps you can relate to Elena and Tom below.

Elena: (sighs) Today was… overwhelming. It felt like everything could go wrong, did.

Tom: At least it’s over now, right? I’m sure tomorrow will be better.

Elena: (feeling misunderstood) It’s not just about having a bad day. Today made me question if I’m even good at what I do.

Tom: You’re overthinking it. You’re great at your job! Why don’t you just relax?

Elena: (feeling rejected) I’m trying to express how I feel, and you’re dismissing it as if it’s no big deal!

Tom: (defensive) I’m not dismissing it, I’m trying to help you get over it.

The conversation escalates, shedding light on a central marital issue: the discrepancy between meta-emotions. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman found that „discrepancy alone predicted divorce or stability over the next four years with an accuracy of 80%.“ Tom and Elena are experiencing a conflict between an emotional style (Elena) and an emotion-dismissive style (Tom).

In many heterosexual relationships, the emotional neglect of husbands towards their wives‘ negative emotions is a common source of conflict, leading to feelings of abandonment and emotional neglect. This pattern significantly contributes to unresolved emotional injuries that, if left unaddressed, can undermine the relationship. But what exactly are meta-emotions?

Dr. John Gottman describes it as our attitude towards feelings. It encompasses our emotional responses to our own emotions and those of others, including whether we accept or reject them, how we interpret them, and how we react to them.

The Two Meta-Emotion Styles

Dan Yoshimoto, a former student of Dr. John Gottman, studied meta-emotion patterns and identified two distinct approaches:

  • The attuned pattern, which emphasizes empathy and understanding
  • The dismissive pattern, which focuses on logic and action rather than emotional engagement

These patterns are often rooted in our upbringing and the emotional culture of our families, shaping our adult emotional interactions. In an environment where emotions are coached, we learn to appreciate and understand our emotions, whereas in a dismissive environment, we may focus on logic and possible actions instead of understanding emotions. As seen with Tom and Elena, this mismatch can lead to unhealthy conflicts.

Gottman’s research has shown that in close relationships, the biggest marital incompatibility lies in people not aligning on negative emotions. In my work with marriages, I refer to this pattern as the head-heart problem. One partner tries to connect emotionally by expressing emotions, and in response, the other partner tries to solve the issue with logic or actions.

As a result, both partners feel misunderstood, and the conflict escalates. When the partner seeking emotional attunement perceives dismissal—a tactic used in an attempt to provide support—instinctively, they defend their actions, further intensifying feelings of isolation and neglect for the other partner. Without effective communication and resolution, the relationship faces significant challenges.

Resolving Meta-Emotion Discrepancies

Resolving a meta-emotion discrepancy is possible with the structured approach developed by Gottman.

Step 1: Understanding Must Precede Action

The first step is to acknowledge that both approaches, understanding and action, are valid concerning emotions; however, their effectiveness depends on timing. Attuning to each other’s emotional states provides the foundation for taking actions that benefit the relationship on both sides. The most structured approach for this is the State of the Union Meeting:

  1. Understanding Each Other: The first part of the State of the Union meeting
  2. Reaching a Compromise: The second part of the State of the Union meeting

Through the State of the Union, even the most action-oriented partner can experience the value of understanding before deliberating, and partners can align, feel understood, and take action. This can transform conflicts for both partners into a peaceful and bonding experience.

Step 2: Create a Common Emotional Culture in Your Relationship

This step is particularly important in families where the emotional dynamics between the two partners greatly influence the overall family harmony. The Gottmans suggest learning emotional coaching. For the partner who dismisses emotions, learning and practicing emotional coaching not only enhances their bond with their children but also strengthens the connection with their partner and fosters deeper emotional intimacy. For the emotional partner: reframe your partner’s action-oriented efforts as a strategy to do better. This validation, coupled with the partner’s work on emotional coaching, can help them engage more with emotions that were overwhelming in the past.

Step 3: Explore Emotional Upbringing

Resolving meta-emotion discrepancies can also be achieved through discussions about each partner’s emotional experiences in childhood, including how they were comforted and their parents‘ reactions to their emotions like anger, sadness, joy, fear, love. Understanding each other’s emotional upbringing fosters empathy and understanding, making things different for your marriage.

Step 4: Practice Emotional Attunement and Actions

Practice emotional connection skills, such as sharing emotions and listening, using rituals like emotional check-ins such as stress-reducing conversations and the State of the Union, to maintain and enhance emotional bonding.

The Result

After adopting these steps, interactions between Tom and Elena changed:

Elena: Today was overwhelming. Everything seemed to go wrong.

Tom: That sounds tough. Do you want to talk about it?

Elena: Yes, that would be very helpful.

This transition from conflict to connection demonstrates the power of understanding and resolving meta-emotion discrepancies. By fostering an emotional environment of attunement and then action, couples can more effectively navigate challenges by laying a foundation for a resilient, connected, and respectful partnership.

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