The Links Between Emotion Expression, Emotion Regulation and Relationship Health

The ability to regulate your emotions and express and suppress them at appropriate times is a key part to relationship satisfaction and personal as well as shared happiness. When one or both partners are in states of insecurity, or difficult emotions such as anger, the way they manage these emotions has a clear impact on the happiness of one another.

Research papers from 2018 and 2019 have shown that the ability to regulate your emotions, and how you suppress and express them, has an impact on the wellbeing of your partner and vice versa. One particularly useful finding was that suppressing emotions in a rigid way was bad for women in relationships but for an unknown reason was less problematic for men. What this means in a relationship is that staying flexible when suppressing emotions is the best thing to do for women especially. For example if a wife sees that her husband is having a difficult day she might suppress her emotions for another time, knowing that when the time is appropriate she will express herself. This is in contrast to a wife that sees her husband is having a difficult day and suppresses her emotions, then never expresses them as a result. Suppressing emotions in a rigid way like this is particularly bad for levels of personal happiness and relationship satisfaction. It can lead to a build up of resentment, anger, and other feelings such as loneliness and depression.

The ability to regulate emotions is also linked with your own personal attachment style and that of your partner. The research showed that partners with anxious and avoidant attachment styles are more likely to cause lower rates of relationship satisfaction and impact the happiness of their partners. This is because anxious and avoidant attachment styles are linked to a decrease in how well a person can regulate their emotions.

So what can we do to help ourselves if we have trouble regulating or expressing our emotions? For emotional regulation building a sense of self awareness is vital. When you are aware of your behaviours you can act to change them. There’s always a moment before any behaviour where you can intervene and change your automatic reactions. Being aware of, and challenging your own thoughts, is a very effective way of doing this. Alongside other self-soothing techniques such as breathing techniques and distracting yourself. It’s better to go off and partake in a hobby when you feel like exploding at your partner than directing your anger at them. Anything that allows you time to calm yourself is a good way of regulating.

As well as this the expression of positive emotions has a big impact on your partner and yourself, and is an effective way to regulate yourselves. Overall the more positive emotions you can bring into your interactions with your partner the better as they lead to more relational happiness and satisfaction. The researchers found that positive emotions in particular are useful during conflict. When you express positive emotions during conflict such as appreciation, curiosity, kindness/care, humour, or playfulness etc. then it helps to deescalate any anger or tension, helping to resolve the conflict. Your ability to do this is also an accurate predictor of how satisfied you are with your relationship.

Takeaway: Expressing your emotions at appropriate times (having flexible emotional suppression) positively impacts your personal and relationship happiness levels especially if you are female. The more positive emotions you can include in your interactions with your partner the more overall happiness and levels of relationship satisfaction you will have. Expressing positive emotions during conflicts is one of the best ways of defusing them, and a good indicator of your relationship health.

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