Managing Your Emotions
In order to manage what you feel, you need to be able to understand why you're feeling it, explains authors and counselors David and Jan Stoop. You can manage your feelings by disciplining your thoughts and by understanding the language of emotions.
About the Guest
In order to manage what you feel, you need to be able to understand why you’re feeling it, explains authors and counselors David and Jan Stoop.
Managing Your Emotions
Bob: Are there emotional habits or emotional patterns that reoccur in your marriage that are doing damage? Dr. David Stoop says, once you recognize that, you can begin the process of fixing the problem.
David: One of the first action plans is to identify your basic emotional posture: “Where do you go when somebody punches your button and you’re there before you even know it, in an emotion?” Because if I can identify that, that’s the first one I learn to manage / that’s the first one I want to be able to handle effectively.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 5th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to help couples develop skill in handling emotions today. What we’re talking about is called emotional intelligence. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve been having a conversation this week on the subject of emotional intelligence. You asked our guests to rate their emotional intelligence in the first decade of their marriage, and the scores were pretty low.
What was it for you [Dennis] in the first five years of your marriage; do you think? [Laughter]
David: He’s gone to meddling now.
Dennis: You’ve walked right into this, Bob; because I have an illustration here. We’ll both answer this; okay?
Dennis: I would say, just based on the rookie nature of marriage—3 ½ / 4—somewhere in there. I was very open, outgoing, kind of aware of what was happening—compared to Barbara, who, I think, struggled to understand what she was feeling all the time. She might have been a 2. So, we were kind of the blind leading the blind, starting out our marriage together.
What about you and Mary Ann?
Bob: I think I really worked hard at trying to be empathetic, and I think Mary Ann was still trying to figure out some of what she was feeling when we started marriage. I think a lot of this relates to the family of origin you come from and what were the dynamics there as it relates to emotions. You start a marriage and, all of a sudden, there are a lot of things that come to life that you haven’t really thought much about before.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
We have a couple of doctors with us, here in the studio—Dr. Jan Stoop and her husband Dr. David Stoop—welcome back to the broadcast.
David: Delighted to be here.
Dennis: You guys have been counselors for a number of years / married for 59 years. I want to provide just a theoretical story. I want you to do a little diagnosis on this story.
Dennis: Now, I have to remind you, this would not be accurate in any sense of the word. This would be—[Laughter]
Bob: In other words, he’s telling a true story and changing the names to protect the guilty; right? That’s what’s happening. [Laughter]
David: Well, that’s alright.
Dennis: Our ministry has speakers, who speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways; okay? We train the speakers and they go out and they speak.
We trained this one speaker, who I happened to be in close proximity to. I asked this speaker before he was about to speak, “Are you nervous?” He said, “No; I’m not feeling any nerves about this.” [Laughter] I said, “Do you realize you’ve just been to the bathroom four times in the last hour?” [Laughter]
Bob: —half-hour—I think it was.
Dennis: —half-hour! [Laughter]
Bob: It was a half-hour. Yes; yes; I think I remember this conversation having happened.
Dennis: Yes; so what would you say about that theoretical person about handling their emotions, at that point? [Laughter]
David: Either he was putting on a front—a tough front that he’s a tough guy—and lying to you and lying to himself, or he didn’t understand the whole world of emotions. [Laughter]
Jan: —or he had a problem. [Laughter]
Bob: It could have been that.
Thank you for some—obviously, he’s talking about the conversation we had before I spoke the first time. So, this is where all of this is coming from. I do remember—I felt calm / I felt, “I’m ready to do this.”
Dennis: And he looked calm.
Bob: I was—
Dennis: It’s just that he kept sprinting.
Bob: There was not a lot of anxiety; but I did go, “I need to use the bathroom again.” There was something in my body—
David: It was somaticized, whatever you were feeling.
Bob: It was what?
David: Somaticized—it was turned into a physical thing.
Bob: Well—and something going on—my body knew what I was feeling better than my head knew what I was feeling. Do you think there are a lot of people like that?
David: Oh, I think so. If you don’t understand the language of emotions, then you have no way to describe it.
Bob: Yes; and people who feel that way are also highly intelligent and good looking; aren’t they?
David: Oh, yes; definitely. [Laughter]
Bob: Just making sure.
Dennis: Well, for me, where I show this physical dimension of emotions is in my stomach—
—I get indigestion, and it’s real. I have to take a step back and look at the dashboard of my life, at that point: “What’s going on here? Why am I feeling / why am I displacing something into my digestive system?”
David: Well, and see—that’s a part of managing what you feel—is to be able to identify it and then to understand why it is that you’re feeling that. So if you can back it up to understand what you were feeling, emotionally, and manage that—then, you’ve managed the physical manifestation as well.
Bob: And that’s where I want to get today; because you guys have written this book, SMART Love, that’s all about emotional intelligence in the marriage space. The first step, you say, toward a healthy emotional intelligence is being able to put your finger on what it is you’re feeling / to give it a name—to say, “I know what I’m feeling.”
The next step is to figure out how to manage those emotions.
Bob: Is naming it half the battle, or is it more than half the battle?
David: Well, I think it’s more than half the battle. You know, there’s a power in naming something. You named your children—you had the power to name them. You name your pets, you know. There’s power in the name of Jesus that we don’t even recognize half the time. There’s power in names. There were early Old Testament cultures where you had a secret name—your real name was secret—and you had a public name, because they felt: “If you knew my real name, you’d have power over me.”
So naming it is the first step in being able to manage it. Each step has a chapter where there are ten action plans. One of the first action plans is to identify your basic emotional posture: “Where do you go when somebody punches your button and you’re there before you even know it, in an emotion?” Because if I can identify that, that’s the first one I want to learn to manage / that’s the first one I want to be able to handle effectively, and then I can broaden it from there on out.
The first two steps are individually done, but you do them together. So there’s a—in going through the basic emotional posture, there are questions asked about your family of origin—there are questions to ask about what was behind it. It’s designed to discuss it with your wife or your husband so that you can come up with it—help each other come up with it.
Jan: Tell them what yours is and I’ll tell them mine.
David: Mine’s anger. I had to learn to manage my anger. My dad was from Ireland—had an Irish temper. I knew how to be angry, because he showed me how. He often was angry with me, and so I became an angry young man. I thought I handled it, but I didn’t handle it very well until I could identify it and manage what was going on inside of me.
Dennis: But David, I’ve known you for several years—we’ve interacted on the broadcast. You seemed like just a very mild-mannered, gentle man. You’re saying that, not necessarily, first impressions are where people struggle.
David: No; that’s right. But of course, you’ve seen me now as I’ve been older. When I was younger—the first ten / fifteen years of our marriage—and still, sometimes in our marriage, I can get angry without realizing I’m angry. Boom! I’m right there, because it’s an automatic response. Calm on the outside; but you push a little too hard, and I get tense.
Bob: Jan, what is your emotional posture?
Jan: It’s fear. Really, through our writing this book was when I really began to look at that; because I have a fear of maybe not having what I need to have—or you know what?—my fear is that I’ll be labeled as somebody who is like a hoarder or something, but I want to know where my life is going.
I realized, when I looked back—a lot of times we do this with couples—is have them go back to childhood and say, “What is it that might have started that?”
When I was about six or seven, we had an explosion in our house. My dad’s car business was on the first level, and we lived above. When there was an explosion, because he was blowing out gas lines downstairs, and it destroyed everything—we got nothing out—not even a cloth / not anything. My mom and I were sitting on the porch, and we got away.
David: You got the cat with singed whiskers.
Jan: And the cat, with burned whiskers, got out. We never could have anything that was even representative of that. This is sort of silly, but my older sister had gotten me a snowsuit or snow jacket that was burgundy velvet with trim / fur on the collar. I, as a little girl, had hung that up on the doorway, because I looked at it all the time. I knew that, when it got cold, I would get to wear that; and it was gone, just like that.
That’s just a little thing; but for some reason, it represented that things can be taken away; and I may not have what I think I have.
I sort of carry that. I have some things around, and I don’t want to ever be labeled as somebody who has too much; but it bothers me when Dave throws out things without asking me. So, I get a fear. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; sure.
David: Triggers her fear.
Jan: Yes; triggers that in me. But anyway, that’s how I came to it.
Dennis: I want to ask you a question that Barbara and I have found ourselves talking about, increasingly, because we’ve been married for coming up on 45 years. We’re looking at, obviously, getting older. As we look at the landscape of elderly people, it’s interesting that you see very few elderly people that you’d like to be, in their state of emotional condition. They seem gripey, grouchy, and negative. We’ve both said: “You know what?
“We want to display the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness—as we grow older.” Do you have a best piece of advice, as you grow older, about managing your emotions?
David: Don’t retire. I say I am sort of semi-retired. I still see—counseling people; I still write books; we still speak whenever we get the opportunity. There’s a sense of wanting to hold onto life, and be productive, and have meaning. I think a lot of people that we watch—as they age, they just kind of fold up inside; and they fold down their emotions. The only emotion they have is probably sadness and despair. The despair is the loss of hope.
I look at Jeremiah—in Chapter 3 of Lamentations—and he is on the verge of despair. He says, “All hope is gone,” in about the 19th verse; and then, a couple verses later, he says: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. Great is His faithfulness. His mercies are new every morning.”
I think that’s an attitude that we have to have. We have to think young—we have to have an attitude that: “Great is God’s faithfulness. His mercies are new every morning,” regardless of how old we are and regardless of what handicaps we may have as we get older. Life is still a gift, and it’s to be invested.
Dennis: That’s good advice.
Bob: So let me take both of you back to your core emotions. David, we’ll start with your anger.
Bob: Is it easy to just manage your anger? Is that something that somebody can just say, “If I do these two or three things, I have it under control”?
David: No; a lot of it is you manage it with your thoughts. You know—Paul talks about capturing your every thought and bringing it into obedience to Christ. He talks in Romans 12 about being “transformed by the renewal of our mind.”
We manage emotions by understanding the language of emotions. There’s a language to anger that says: “Something should or shouldn’t have happened. There’s a demand that I’m making on life that I can’t enforce.”
I can’t enforce it because it’s either happened already in the past or it’s something I’m powerless to enforce. As long as it’s a demand, then I’m going to be struggling with my anger. So one of the things I have to learn to do is to remove the demand. You can replace it—with a desire, with a wish, with a want—and you can feel some sadness, briefly, as you grieve something that was done poorly or wish you could have done it differently.
Fear is the language of “What if…?”
Jan: That would be: What I have to do is—I have to begin to trust the future and not worry so much about “What if this happens,” or “What if I’m alone,” or whatever. It is a thing of changing your self-talk.
David: That’s one of the strategies.
Jan: Yes; identifying it is freeing. That’s a big thing in helping couples identify.
David: But then identifying the root of it, too, is also the next part of it.
Bob: One of my favorite quotes—and I’m not going to get it precisely, but—Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, years ago, said that we spend far too much time listening to ourselves and not enough time talking to ourselves.
David: That’s good!
Bob: You talked about self-talk, which can kind of sound like psychological jargon; but David, in the Psalms, talked to his own soul and told his, “Why are you downcast, my soul?
Bob: “Put your hope in God.” We have to tell ourselves the truth in the midst of the fear that we face or the anger that we face. We have to realign our behavior to conform to what we know is true.
David: Yes; David’s a perfect example of how he talks to himself. He always ends up—except in one Psalm / I think it’s 82—every other Psalm, he ends up with an affirmation of faith. Our faith has to be real; it has to be tangible; we have to know what we believe so that we can go to it and affirm it. That’s the best way to control / to manage what I feel.
Dennis: God does respond to faith.
David: Yes; He does.
Dennis: He does—He responds to faith.
Speak to—I’m trying to decide whether to let you speak to the dad, who’s talking to his 35-year-old son, who blows up on the phone at him and doesn’t know what to do with his son, who’s getting angry, or whether I should have you talk to the son. Let’s start with the dad, because we have a lot of listeners, who have adult children, who are still in the process of, like all of us, growing up. Some of these areas are a part of growing up.
David: Well, I think foundational to that is what the Old Testament called the blessing—we call it, now, dad’s approval. The blessing in the Old Testament launched the young men and young women into adulthood. Dad’s approval is a replacement of it, and it launches us into adulthood. A lot of us, as dads, don’t know how to give that approval to our sons; because we never got it from our dad.
Part of what I think I would tell that father is: “Try to understand what it is that is triggering his anger. What is it a demand that he’s making on you that he can’t enforce? What does he want from you?” Maybe even ask him in a more vulnerable moment—say, “What is that is missing from us that you keep wanting to experience from me?—because I don’t know how to read your mind. I know you’re upset with me, right under the surface; and I want to be what you need me to be in your life.”
One of the things I enjoy with my boys is that I’ve built a relationship with them, where I get together with one every week for breakfast; with another one we get together together—Jan and I—with him for breakfast; and the other one every other week. It’s a joy to be able to relate to my boys as man to man.
Jan: Well, and in a different way than your dad.
David: My dad never did it. He died at 22—when I was 22—so I never had that kind of relationship.
Jan: Never got his approval.
David: No; and I had to come to terms with that—I had to deal with that issue. That’s what the son has to do—is to deal with the issue of what he’s longing for from his dad that he can’t get and to identify it. And then, if they can have a good conversation together, then they might get close to it.
Bob: We had a conversation, more than 20 years ago, about your relationship with your dad—
Bob: —the approval—when you wrote the book, Making Peace with Your Father, if our listeners would like to hear how you went through that process and how you did make peace with your father, even after he was gone.
Dennis: It’s a great broadcast.
Bob: It is; yes.
David: It was easier after he was gone, because I didn’t expect anything. But I think, if you approach it without expectation, it can be done even if he’s alive.
Bob: So, a mom, who has an emotionally expressive four-year-old, and she’s trying to—[Laughter]
Dennis: This is theoretical too.
Bob: —she’s trying to figure out: “What do I do to try to help him manage his emotions? He’s only four.” Jan, is there hope?
Jan: Oh, definitely there’s hope. Part of it is that we’re not hearing the right messages from some of the people who really teach us about how to handle kids. A four-year-old needs to have that freedom a bit. We used to talk about—I haven’t heard this recently, but I don’t know—Dr. Dobson who talked about that—but they said, “Put a mental box around that kid and let them rebel as much as they want within the box, but don’t let them get out—outside of those boundaries.”
David: Set limits.
Jan: Set limits. But there’s plenty of room in here for that kid to get angry. The little one we have has been reprimanded by being bossy in kindergarten; and I’m thinking, “Where did that come from?”
But she’s exercising something that she didn’t have control of before and this is new for her, so we’re trying to see her through that. But for that four-year-old, I think so many parents just feel like they have to do it right now. They have to fix this so this kid doesn’t get out of control later. I think that—of course, I’m the grandma speaking—that they need limits, but further out, and not right up against them.
David: One of the things about that box is—as they get older, you make the box bigger until they are18—there are no more boxes, because now you trust them; because they’ve honored the box along the way. But you keep adding responsibility to them.
Bob: I really like what you said about managing our emotions being tied to truth—that reminding ourselves of what God’s Word has to say what is true / renewing our minds, having the Scriptures available in our thinking—that really does give us a handle to know how to walk through life and not let our emotions control us.
Dennis: I think it’s a good passage to read here on the broadcast—Philippians,
Chapter 4, verse 8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
David: And go on.
Dennis: It finishes up and says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Dennis: That’s a great promise.
David: That’s an incredible promise; yes.
Dennis: That’s not a theory—that’s a great promise.
Now, I just want to encourage our listeners: “Get a copy of the book, SMART Love.”
It’ll help you, it’ll help your kids, your grandkids—and I would imagine, Bob—every listener knows someone who has a problem with anger, or with fear, or the other emotions that could benefit from the Stoops’ book.
Bob: Well, and the book does include, as we’ve talked about, action plans that can help you grow and understand your own emotions and your partner’s emotions, and help you grow in how you manage those and how you express love to one another more effectively. We have copies of the book, SMART Love, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order SMART Love by calling 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tonight, we have Weekend to Remember® getaways kicking off in four cities. We have thousands of couples who are joining us in San Francisco; in Washington, DC; in eastern Washington / in Pasco, Washington; and right here in our hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas—lots of couples who are joining us for what will be a fun, romantic getaway weekend for couples.
So, we’d like to ask you to pray for these couples as they spend their weekend with us; and then pray for us, here at FamilyLife, as we’re involved in a project right now to try to keep the Weekend to Remember fresh and relevant for the future. It’s just one of a number of projects that we’re working on, currently, that we’re hoping to be able to continue the momentum that has begun; but to do that, we’ve recognized that, during the month of May, we’re going to need to raise some funds.
We need to raise $1.1 million this month in order to keep the projects that we have on track going forward.
So we wanted to ask you, as a listener, to consider making a special one-time gift that would help us reach this goal that we’ve set for the month of May. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can donate by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can also send your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and the zip code is 72223.
Let me just ask you—if you’ve been to a Weekend to Remember yourself and it was helpful for your marriage, let me challenge you to make a one-time gift in support of this ministry and help us reach this $1.1 million goal that we have set for the month of May. And thanks, in advance, for whatever you’re able to do.
And with that, we’re wrapped up for this week. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday.
We’re going to talk with a college professor, who has observed, as he works with students, how few of them are thinking strategically / thinking wisely about the subject of marriage. He has some thoughts for them and for us about what it looks like to pursue marriage with wisdom. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® ministry.
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