You Can’t Control Your Spouse’s Emotions (Only Yours)

Today’s post from the Marriage Laboratory goes out to all the Thriving Marriages readers who feel like they’re failing when their spouse has a negative reaction to them. Just a reminder, you can’t control their emotional responses, but you can control yours!

I was listening to this podcast this week, where life coach Jody Moore is coaching a woman who is frustrated with all the demands her husband makes of her.

He thrives on order and structure and they devised a family schedule that should provide order and structure- when the kids get home from school, they do their homework, practice their instruments and complete their chores.

The family tries to have dinner at the same time every night so they can get the kids in bed on time so everyone is well-rested, well-adjusted and happy.

Sounds great. Sounds like a good plan.

Only it was making the wife miserable. She is more laid back and schedules feel more restrictive than freeing to her.

When her husband would come home and the schedule was disregarded, he would become visibly stressed. “Have you practiced your violin yet?” “Why is this room such a mess?” “Why isn’t dinner ready?

This would in turn raise the wife’s stress levels. “Why are you so demanding?” “Why are you taking your anger out on the kids?”

I’ll be honest, listening to this podcast, I could feel my own anxiety rising.

That good-for-nothing husband! I thought. Doesn’t he know how hard it is to be at home all day with 5 kids?! The exhausting work it entails just to keep them fed, dressed and not killing each other? Not to mention to complete chores and practicing AND homework?! AND DINNER?!

What is your wife, some sort of wizard?

Clearly he needs to take his wife’s place for a month or so. See if he gets dinner out on time.

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These were the thoughts my lower brain was spewing out. Granted, I know neither this wife or husband or anything about them really, but I could feel myself taking on the wife’s frustrations.

Thankfully, we had Jody to steer us into more helpful, less reactive thoughts.

Jody points out that the husband gets to be upset whenever he wants to be upset. We are not our spouses emotional gate keepers. In fact, the more we do what we do in order to regulate our spouse’s emotions, the more we are setting ourselves up for anxiety and failure.

We are not in charge of regulating our spouse’s emotions, we are in charge of regulating OUR OWN emotions- of controlling our own reactivity.

Certainly this couple needs to have some conversations to understand each other. Certainly the wife should clearly and lovingly state exactly how these situations make her feel and make requests of her husband accordingly.

However, even after these understanding conversations and requests, he still may be choose to be upset. If the wife makes it her end goal for him not to be upset, she is going to head down a road that ends in resentment and more often than not, failure.

The wife’s definition of success should not be dependent on whether or not her husband is upset, but whether or not SHE is able to emote exactly how she wants to. If she wants to remain calm (even when her husband is not) and she does so . . . SUCCESS! If she wants to be in a good mood (even if her husband is in a bad one) and she does so . . . SUCCESS!

Anytime we equate success with something outside our control (like our spouse’s behaviors and emotions) we are setting ourselves up for failure. Our vision of success needs to be based on things that are within our control . . . like our own reactivity!