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Exploring Your Spouse’s Emotional World

What is your attitude toward emotion? What is your spouse’s attitude toward emotion? How might these attitudes be reflected in your relationship or impact your interactions as a couple?

Communicating about and sharing emotions is important for a thriving marriage. Understanding, knowing and sharing our excitement and fears or sadness and joys is what draws our hearts together. It is what provides us with information on how to better love and support our spouse. The reality is this can be challenging.

Part of how we feel about emotions is shaped by our childhood experiences with emotions. In addition, how we respond to our spouses’ emotional experiences is shaped by how emotions were expressed and responded to in our own family of origin. Marriage communication is negatively impacted if one or both spouses have a narrow, poorly developed expression and experiences of an emotion. The lack of emotional development is not unlike having a poor vocabulary – improving emotional vocabulary leads to building a rich and thriving relationship.

Below are a series of questions you can go through with your spouse to understand each other’s feelings about emotions. In addition, this exercise will lead to understanding how different childhood experiences may have led to differing expectations of you and your spouse when it comes to communicating about emotions in your relationship.

Emotions

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Excitement
  • Shame
  • Fear
  • Joy

Past

  • What was your experience with [emotion] in your family growing up?
  • What made you feel [emotion]?
  • What would you do when you were [emotion]?
  • Who did you talk to or seek comfort from when you were [emotion]?
  • How did your parents and siblings respond to your [emotion]?
  • What was it like when your father / mother felt [emotion]?
  • How did your parents respond to each other’s [emotion]?
  • What was it like when your siblings were [emotion]?
  • How did your parents respond to your siblings [emotion]?

Present

  • What is it like for you to be [emotion] now?
  • What would I see if I saw you [emotion]? How would I know if you were [emotion]?
  • Who do you go to when you are feeling [emotion]?
  • Can you give me a recent example of when you were feeling [emotion]?
  • In general, what are your thoughts and feelings about [emotion]?
  • What are helpful ways I (your spouse) respond to [emotion]?
  • What are unhelpful ways I (your spouse) respond to [emotion]?

Spouse

  • Can you tell when I (your spouse) am [emotion]? What are the cues? Tell me what it is like for you when I am feeling [emotion].
  • How do you respond when I am feeling [emotion]?
  • What do you think or feel when I am feeling [emotion]?
  • What does it mean about our relationship or you when I am feeling [emotion]?
  • What does it feel like when I am feeling [emotion] and it is directed at you?
  • If you are feeling [emotion] and I am feeling the same [emotion], how might you respond? What action might you take?
  • How do I respond to you when I am feeling [emotion] and you are feeling the same?
  • Can you paint me a picture of what this is like using a recent example of one time I was [emotion] and what happened? What did you do and what did I do?

General Emotional Approach

  • What is your philosophy about expressing emotions?
  • Are there particular emotions you feel comfortable expressing? If so, what emotions?
  • Are there particular emotions you have a hard time feeling or expressing? If so, what emotions?
  • Are there differences between you and me in the experience and expression of emotion? If so, what role do these differences play in our relationship.
Adapted from Carrere, S., Gottman, J.M., McGonigle, M., Prince, S., Yoshimoto, D., Hawkins, M. W.,
Dearborn, S., & Tabares, (2014). A. Meta emotion interview questions. In J. Gottman
& J. Gottman Level 2 Clinical Training Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Section 12, 141-150.