The Blessing of Emotions

with Winston Smith | October 21, 2011

What's your EQ (your emotional intelligence)? Winston Smith, a marriage and family counselor, talks about our emotions--where they come from, what they tell us and how they reflect our Creator.

What's your EQ (your emotional intelligence)? Winston Smith, a marriage and family counselor, talks about our emotions--where they come from, what they tell us and how they reflect our Creator.

The Blessing of Emotions

With Winston Smith
|
October 21, 2011
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  How often do you get angry in your marriage?  Winston Smith says for a lot of couples, it’s a regular occurrence.

Winston:  Anger is sort of the attractive emotion for us.  Couples get into fight mode and in their defensiveness they go to anger when, in reality, what’s true at a deeper level in their heart is that they’re feeling afraid, or hurt, or ashamed.  Those emotions don’t have an immediate payoff, and they make you feel vulnerable.  The anger is just the way they’re avoiding talking about the things that hurt or the things that make them afraid.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 21st.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  Winston Smith joins us today to get to the root of anger in a marriage relationship.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  I just heard you right, right?  You just said that you think most people are emotionally illiterate.  Isn’t that what you just said?

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  I know the microphone was not on and you thought it was just between the two of us when you said it.

Dennis:  Actually the three of us.  (Laughter)  Winston Smith joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  What do you think, Winston?  Do you think people have a good grasp of their own emotions and how to manage them?

Winston:  I don’t think they do.

Dennis:  So, would you call them “emotionally illiterate?”  That’s a little—

Bob:  Probably not on national radio.

Winston:  That’s saying it strongly, but sure.

Dennis:  I’ve kind of been called out by Bob, here.  Well, Winston has written a book called Marriage Matters.  It really does address the emotional dimension of relationships, especially marriage.  Winston has a great deal of experience in counseling and teaches at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

Could you get those guys to change their name?  It’s always so hard—it’s so many big words.

Winston:  I know.  It’s like a secret handshake or something.

Dennis:  It really is.

Winston:  You have to know how to say it.

Dennis:  CCEF.  It really is.  Been married to his wife Kim for more than 21 years; has three teenagers for all practical purposes.  Let’s talk about this thing of EQ, your emotional intelligence. 

Just a little survey here at the beginning as we talk about this.  Think of a number between one and ten (ten being, “I had great knowledge of my own emotions”).  Bob, you’re entering into this as well.

Bob:  Okay.

Dennis:  You embarrassed me.  So, I’m going to turn around and turn it on you now.  What was your EQ when you started your marriage (one being poor, ten being excellent)?

Winston:  Two, definitely. 

Bob:  My own appraisal of mine would have been very high, which just shows how low I really was.  (Laughter)

Winston:  Yes, you self-tested.

Bob:  That’s right, and I thought, “I’m really good at this.  I know exactly what’s going on.”

Dennis:  I would have been down there in the “two” category as well.  We so underestimate who we are in terms of being made in the image of God, and I believe that includes our emotions.

Bob:  I have to ask you right here at the beginning—because this is one of these things that comes up.  I’ll hear people say, “Emotions aren’t good or bad.  They’re not sinful or non-sinful.  It’s what you do with them that makes them sinful or not.”  Do you agree with that statement?

Winston:  Sort of.  Our emotions are like every aspect of our personhood.  They are created good, but they’ve been broken by sin.  I think the problem comes in when we label particular emotions, in and of themselves, as sinful or non-sinful.  Typically, what we do is we say, “Well, the Bible has lots of really good things to say about happiness and joy; so, that’s good.  The Bible has all sorts of cautions about anger; so, anger is sinful.”  We sort of cut it that cleanly, and it’s much more complicated than that.

Bob:  There can be sinful joy and there can be righteous anger?

Winston:  Yes.  I can feel happy for all kinds of the wrong reasons, and my happiness is sinful.  It just feels good when I’m sinning that way.

Dennis:  Is love an emotion?

Winston:  Love is certainly something that engages our emotions; but as I’ve mentioned before, ultimately, love is a person.  God is love, but the way we interact with love can certainly stir our emotions in lots of different ways.  So, for instance, because God loves us, He has to become angry at the things that harm us.  God is angry at sin because sin is contrary to Him and sin harms His people.  So, His anger is a product of His love.

God describes Himself to us as angry at times in Scripture, and He doesn’t apologize for it.  It’s part of His wonderful sinless glorious personhood.

Bob:  God describes Himself as a jealous God; and yet, we often talk about a jealous husband or wife in negative terms.

Winston:  Right.

Bob:  There can be righteous jealousy, can’t there?

Winston:  Right.  It’s just that the Scripture cautions us with some of these emotions because so often they are skewed and destructive.  So, the Scripture offers us lots of cautions about anger because anger can happen so rapidly.  It’s so easily distorted that, by and large, what we get in Scripture are warnings.

On the other hand, we do see God acting in anger in a constructive way that actually restores relationship.  Here again, think of the cross as both an act of God’s love and His anger.  It is most certainly both, isn’t it?  It’s the wrath of God poured out on His Son in such a way that it produces restoration and reconciliation.

Bob:  You make a statement in your book, Marriage Matters (and I underlined this because I thought this was good).  You said, “Emotions are the currency of personal involvement.  Your emotions tell you and others how important something is to you and how you value it.  The stronger the emotion, the more important that is to you.” 

Then, you say, “The absence of emotion communicates indifference, which is just as painful as rage, or rejection, or betrayal.  If you’re unwilling to share in your spouse’s emotions, your spouse isn’t likely to feel loved.”

The emotional component of a marriage relationship is something that we have to learn to cultivate, to sanctify.  It has to be a part of this process.  If we just say, “Well, it is what it is and that’s just how I am,” we’re in trouble aren’t we?

Winston:  We are.  That’s why I think it’s so important for us to appreciate the biblical roots of what I’m saying there.  I’m not saying that because of something I’ve picked up off the Oprah Winfrey Show or something.  Paul says in Romans 12, “Love must be sincere.”  Then, we get this wonderful sort of laundry list of all the things that make up sincere love.

One of them is this in verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.”  In other words, there’s something essential to love that means I enter into the experience of the other person.  When the person that I’m connected to, my spouse, is sorrowful and sad, loving her means being willing to and being able to experience that sadness with her

Likewise, with the positive, fun emotions, too.  That’s not something that the Apostle Paul is just making up either.  That’s what we see in Christ Himself—Emmanuel, God with us.  He enters into our world, He lives in our sorrows, He bears our hardships, and He groans.  We hear that groaning in His words and His actions.  We hear them in the Psalms.  God feels with us, and that’s part of how we know His love.

Dennis:  I’m thinking of First Peter, Chapter 3, verse 7 which commands husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way.  I think there’s a reason why that’s commanded to the husbands.  I don’t think we do a real good job of getting into our wife’s heart, and mind, and emotions, and bearing her weight well.  I think we tend to blow it off.

Winston:  Right.  You know what we tend to do in those moments as husbands—let’s be honest with each other as husbands right now—we tend to see our wives upset and we go into problem-solving mode.

Dennis:  Fix it.

Winston:  We feel uncomfortable with her upset; so, we want to fix the upset.  When in reality, probably, the most important thing to do in that moment is to slow down and connect with them, hear and understand their upset, and just care about the upset.  When we immediately rush to problem solving, we really invalidate their upset.

We, kind of, end up communicating to them, “You’re being silly.  You’re overreacting.  This isn’t that big of a deal.”  You aren’t loving them, and they don’t feel loved.  That’s when our wives will say, “Would you just listen to me?”  They’re right.  We ought to listen.  We can get to problem-solving; and that’s good but, now, before you’ve done the more fundamental things of love.

Dennis:  We’re ultimately saying in those moments, “Your feelings aren’t that important.  I’m going to move to a solution.  I’m going to fix this thing so we can move on.”  Barbara has said so many times to me (man, I wish I had gotten this earlier in our marriage), “I just want you to stop.”  You said it well just a moment ago, Winston, when you said, “You just have to stop, slow down, focus, listen to what’s going on, and then attempt to articulate back to your spouse what she just said.” 

“You just told me that you really are upset the kids are mugging you, they’re taking advantage of you, and they’re wearing you out!  I’m sorry, Sweetheart.”  Then, resist with all the fiber of your masculine heart the “pull out the tool chest and let’s discipline those—”

Winston:  Why don’t we do this?  Let’s suggest this.

Bob:  Yes, let’s fix this.

Dennis:  “We can put them under a curfew,” and all this stuff.  “Put them to bed early.  We’ll deal with this.”  That doesn’t accomplish it.

Winston:  No.

Bob:  How many times, when you’re sitting with a couple in a counseling office, are there emotional issues that are messing things up relationally between the two of them?

Winston:  Almost all the time.  What usually is happening is there is strong emotion coming out in the marriage, and they don’t know how to talk about it.  So, it comes out as they’re arguing about superficial events.  What they need help doing is understanding how those emotions are pointing them to the deeper issues of life that they don’t know how to talk about yet. 

Bob:  They need to see that, that’s like a light that goes on on the dashboard that says, “There’s something wrong under the hood.”  Rather than just saying, “We have to fix this light,” you have to pop the hood and say, “What’s causing the light to flash?”

Winston:  Yes.  Instead of smashing the light and telling the light to go off, saying, “This light means something important is happening, and I want to understand what is important going on inside of you right now.”

Bob:  In a counseling office, in a marriage relationship, is it typically anger?  What would be the other emotions that would—self-pity, hurt?  What are the things that are sabotaging marriages?

Winston:  One thing I think that we always want to watch out for is how anger is sort of the attractive emotion for us.  So, couples get into fight mode and in their defensiveness they go to anger.  When in reality, what’s true at a deeper level in their heart, is that they’re feeling afraid, or hurt, or ashamed. 

Those emotions don’t have an immediate payoff.  They make you feel vulnerable.  Anger makes me feel strong, anger appeals to pride, and anger invites me to blame the other person.  Very often, as I’m trying to help couples get to the deeper matters of the heart, I frequently will find there are deeper things going on beneath the anger.  The anger is just a way that they’re avoiding talking about the things that hurt or the things that make them afraid.

Dennis:  It’s a smoke-screen of sorts.

Winston:  Yes, it can be.  Sure.

Dennis:  I noticed in the front of your book, speaking of emotions, that you dedicated the book to your wife.  I want to read what you wrote here in dedicating this book to her because there’s a good bit of emotion expressed in this dedication.  You write, “To my Kim—your childlike delight in the most ordinary things, your revelry in the good, and your angry tears over the bad, your humility and faithfulness—in these and a thousand other ways you show me the love of Christ every day.”

Now, there’s a lot of emotion that’s acknowledged in your wife here.  You’re celebrating that emotion in her, aren’t you?

Winston:  Yes, yes.  That’s right because her emotions—like I say in that dedication—they point me to the good—and her emotions point me to the bad in a very vivid way.  She’s not an abstract, cerebral person.  She’s in the moment, she’s very concrete, and that’s exactly what I need.

Bob:  You know what I think your dedication helps us to see is that there is sometimes a misconception.  If there is a high degree of emotion, that is toxic in a relationship.  We tend to think we have to help these people learn how to control their emotion or how to drain the emotion out of the relationship in order for this to be fixed.

Winston:  Right.

Bob:  What you’re saying is we don’t want to simply try to tamp down or squash our emotional expression.  We have to learn how to move it from being destructive to make it constructive in a relationship.  You don’t do that by simply saying, “Don’t feel that way. Don’t act that way anymore.”

Winston:  Right.  The goal here isn’t to extinguish emotions.  “Emotions make me uncomfortable, so, let’s feel less or let’s talk less about them.”  It’s learning how to talk about emotions in a way that’s constructive.  Again, the emotions point you to what’s important inside of you or what you think is important.  They point you to what you value.  That’s so critical to loving the other person.

I could easily sit here and say, “Okay, guys, I’m going to get on a plane this afternoon; and I’m going to fly back to Philadelphia,” and all you know is my itinerary for the afternoon.  If I said to you, “I’m going to leave here, get on a plane, and fly to Philadelphia; and I’m going to take a couple tranquilizers before I get on the plane because I’m so nervous about it.”  Now, you really know something about Winston. That’s not true, by the way.

Dennis:  I was going to say you need to see a counselor if that’s the case.  (Laughter)

Winston:  That’s not true; but you’d say, “This guy is scared. Winston’s afraid of flying.”   So, you could love me better.  Dennis would, I’m sure, rush over here and pray with me or something and say, “Don’t be afraid.  It’s going to be okay.”  So, you get rid of the emotions, and you lose the person.

Bob:  Yes.  Your goal in counseling is not to help couples have a less emotional relationship.

Winston:  Not at all.  That would be like cutting off an arm or a leg.  They would be less of a person if they don’t feel things.

Bob:  If you have two people in a counseling setting, one of them is full of hurt and self-pity and that emotion is just always bringing the whole atmosphere of the home down to where nobody wants to walk in because there’s so much self-pity and moping there.  You have another person who just gets angry at the drop of a hat.  That’s not a good way to live. 

So, how do you take the couple from where they are and get them to where they learn how to express their emotions in a way that brings life to the relationship rather than death to the relationship?

Winston:  One of the problems is when people first start talking about their emotions, they usually talk about them as sort of a necessary consequence of what their spouse did.  In other words, “I’ll tell you how I feel,” but what I’m telling you is, “What they did to me.” 

I think one of the first steps is learning to really take responsibility for your own emotions as your response to what’s going on.  Rather than saying, “I lost my temper because of what you did to me,” saying, “I lost my temper because of sin inside of me.  I was really angry because of what happened, and I want you to understand why it made me so angry.”

Bob:  I tend to be an emotionally-controlled person.  I don’t lose my temper very quickly, very easily.  I can kind of pat myself on the back because this is the more spiritual way to be—is to have your emotions under control.  That’s not true, is it?  What I just said?

Winston:  Not if the Scriptures are any indicator.

Bob:  So, what do you do with a guy like me who says, “You know, I’m pretty good.  I don’t get flustered in these situations.  I immediately kick in, “Let’s go to the logical side, let’s figure this out.’”  Then, I pat myself on the back going, “You handled that pretty well.”

Winston:  What would I say to that?  What would I do about that?

Bob:  Yes.  I’m just looking for a little free counseling here.  We have a few minutes.  I thought I’d cash in on this deal.  (Laughter)

Winston:  One of the things I would say, if we were doing marriage counseling—my guess is your wife would help me locate things that you can’t fix.  I would say, “What do you do when you and your wife are facing something that you can’t fix? Then, how do you respond?  How do you love when there isn’t a solution to what’s going on?”

Bob:  You just don’t talk about that stuff anymore.  That’s how you deal with it and move on.

Winston:  I see.  Then, I got you.  I got you.

Dennis:  The other thing that I think a couple would do in that situation would be to throw it up into God-talk, and just spiritualize the problem away.  Just say, “You know, God’s in charge.  He’s in control.”

Winston:  Yes.  It’s funny.  I was talking with a couple not long ago.  The wife described her husband, in his presence.  She said, “Yeah, you know, he’s been a great pastor to me but not a very good husband,” meaning, “He has the God-talk down.  He will point me to the right Scripture, but he’s not personally involved.”

Dennis:  Our wives are looking for soul-mates, not the clergy.

Winston:  Yes.

Bob:  We’re looking for them, too, aren’t we? 

Dennis:  We are.

Bob:  It’s not just that they’re looking for soul-mates, but we need somebody who loves us that way.

Dennis:  I think what happens far too often—we start out marriage with good intentions—being intimacy and knowing one another—but we don’t know how to get there, and we’re not equipped.  We don’t have the tools; and so, our problems derail us. 

You know, Bob, it’s part of why we have created the Weekend to Remember ® as a package to really equip couples in a Friday night, all-day Saturday, half-day Sunday weekend experience, where they get the biblical tools around issues of communication, intimacy, conflict-resolution, being honest and authentic with one another. 

I think it’s missing in a lot of marriages because they get used to where they are.  They settle in to mediocrity; and frankly, need something like the Weekend to Remember  to kind of jolt them out of the doldrums and move them toward the richness of what a marriage relationship was designed by God to be.

Bob:  Yes.  The thing that makes the weekend, I think, so powerful is not simply what’s communicated at the weekend (although that’s important and central to it), but it’s the experience that a husband and wife have of being away together for a couple of days—some projects that you work on together.  It’s really that connection that makes the weekend transformational in the lives of couples.

Dennis:  They leave there, not only with an intellectual game plan, but having already experienced the benefit of the teaching that they received there because they’ve done the projects. 

Winston, I just want to thank you for being on the broadcast and for lifting our sights about marriage.  I just wrote down what my take-away has been here as we’ve talked this week.  “Marriage is redemptive.  It calls us to faith in God, it saves us from ourselves, and it teaches us how to love one another.” 

That’s really what you’re exhorting people to do in your counseling, your teaching, and in the book that you’ve written.  I really appreciate you because you’ve not just put together a practical manual that helps people put a band aid over issues, but you’ve gone to the source.  You’re talking to couples about what they believe about God and the truth of His Word.  I just appreciate you standing firm on behalf of the Scriptures.

Winston:  Thank you so much, Dennis.  It’s been a pleasure being here with you and Bob.

Bob:  We do have copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  Listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to find out how you can get a copy of Marriage Matters by Winston Smith.  Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”  Ask about Winston Smith’s book, Marriage Matters, and we’ll let you know how you can get a copy sent to you.

While you’re on our website, if you need more information about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, you can click on the Weekend to Remember link that you’ll find there.  Hundreds of couples this weekend headed out to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. 

Next weekend, there are additional getaways.  In fact, throughout the month of November and into December, we have events taking place all across the country.  Then, starting back up in the spring, more events taking place; so, we do hope that you’ll get out and spend a weekend with us at this fun, romantic getaway for couples, the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. 

Again, there is a link at FamilyLifeToday.com that can take you right where you need to go, where you can get more information about the Weekend to Remember.

 

Speaking of conferences, our friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, where Winston works, are hosting a national conference here in a couple of weeks in Louisville, Kentucky, that is primarily for people who do counseling or for pastors, people involved in soul care.  If you need more information about the upcoming CCEF national conference there is a link at FamilyLifeToday.com for that as well.

Then, finally, I want to say, “Thanks,” to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLifeToday.  Your donations make this broadcast possible.  They cover the production and syndication costs of putting this program together, and we appreciate your support of the ministry.

In fact, this week, if you can help with a donation, we’d love to send you as a thank-you gift Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, Two Hearts Praying as One.  It’s a book for husbands and wives to read together so that you can begin to cultivate the habit of praying together regularly as a couple

It’s our gift to you when you make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today this week.  If you make that donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, type the word “ONE”, (O-N-E), into the key code box on the online donation form.  If you make the donation by phone, just ask for the book, Two Hearts Praying as One; and we’ll be happy to send it to you.  We do appreciate, again, your support of the ministry.

We hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend.  I hope you can join us back on Monday when Barbara Rainey is going to be here.  We’re going to talk about how we can help our children understand the whole idea of absolute truth and what it means to live according to the truth.  Barbara has a new devotional on that subject, and we’ll talk about it Monday.  Hope you can join us.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and 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. 

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Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

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