The Role of Primary Emotions in Your Marriage

Emotions can be extremely complex. It is possible for people to have emotions about emotions. For example, you may get sad because your spouse does something and then get angry about being sad. At the same time, most people, including married couples, oversimplify the subject of emotions and the issues that surround them. They tend to jam all emotions and variations together into one and make comments such as “emotions stand in the way of rational decisions,” “you are being too emotional” or “look at the subject without any emotions.”

For many years the science of psychology has been focused on studying thoughts and behaviors and not emotions. Even today this largely remains true, even though the latest developments in neuroscience are proving that the reality of how humans operate is very different. The emotional process is very fast. In life, you feel before you think. Neuroscience claims that emotions appear in your body about 2 times faster than thoughts do. Emotions set the stage for intellectual thinking, which is a much slower process.

All of this doesn’t mean that emotions are more important than thoughts. What it does mean is that you should be paying attention to both your thoughts and your feelings, especially in an area of your life as important as your marriage.


Primary emotions

There are three levels of emotions: primary, secondary and instrumental. Primary emotions are the basic, “gut level” sensations you feel in your body about your surroundings and situations that you engage in. When talking about intuition, in reality many people are talking about their primary emotions. There may be something in the behavior of a person or in your surrounding that just doesn’t feel right to you. It doesn’t because there is an emotion inside of your body that is trying to tell you something.

When you become aware of your primary emotions and learn to listen to them, you can take your relationships and decision-making to the new level because your primary emotions are a source of information that you can trust.

Examples of primary emotions

You may feel a primary emotion as emptiness. It may be a tingling or a sinking feeling. You can also feel primary emotions as stress that makes your shoulders tight. While you currently may not be aware of them, ever person has primary emotions manifesting themselves in the body.

Primary emotions can be positive or negative. They consist of sadness, anger, fear, hurt, joy, excitement, shame and surprise. You feel all of these as a first response to various situations. Negative emotions tend to turn you to focus on yourself while positive emotions typically lead to people expanding outward.

How primary emotions work in a marriage

When a married couple is going through a hard time in their relationship, most often there is a negative primary emotion present, such as anger. For the emotion to be there, spouses don’t even have to talk or interact. You may have a fight and there’s an issue that is unresolved. During the fight you may feel very angry. The next day your emotions may calm down, but you still feel angry, especially when you are around your partner. At this point your spouse doesn’t have to do or say anything. Your anger will still be there.

It is important to understand this fact. Your emotion at this point is within you and is completely independent of your spouse. Your spouse may have been a trigger for the emotion, but once you start experiencing the sensation, it is within you and it is about you. It is up to you how you deal with your emotion and what happens next. Couples in successful marriages do communicate about emotions and help each other, but it is still your emotion.

Sometimes the underlying emotion goes largely unnoticed. A couple would have a fight and then the spouses would still be angry at each other, but they would try and continue their lives and the relationship as if nothing happened. What you want to do is the complete opposite. Do your best to notice the primary emotion. It will tell you what is really going on with you and your partner.

What your primary emotion can tell about your marriage

Primary emotions inform you about what is most important to you in the moment. To become successful at understanding your primary emotions and what they are telling you, you need to learn to slow down and make sense of the meanings of these emotions.

For example, everything in your marriage may be going well. You and your spouse love each other. You both are very considerate. You care about each other and listen to each other, yet when you are thinking about your anniversary approaching, you feel heaviness in your chest. Explore this feeling. It is telling you that there is something important that needs your attention. Don’t neglect the emotion. Stay with it, get it touch with it and only then try to understand why it is there. For example, this heaviness may be sadness because your husband or wife is very important to you, yet you’ve been ignoring the approaching anniversary because you are too busy at work.

This is what will happen when you stop cutting yourself from your primary emotions and allow yourself to fully experience them. They are in your body for a purpose.

How to learn to get in touch with your primary emotions

You may be used to ignoring your emotions and telling yourself that everything is okay. The first step on the journey of getting in touch with your emotions is to slow down. Next, focus on the sensation in your body. Don’t think about it intellectually or try to explain it yet. Explore the sensation and stay with it for as long as you need. If it is hard for you to describe it in words, think about situations in the past when you’ve felt this emotion. Putting the emotion into a frame of your personal past experiences can greatly help you narrow it down. Is it fear? Anxiety? Something else? Once you are able to label the emotion, think why it is there in the present and what it is trying to tell you.