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Balancing emotions in professional, personal relationships

  • Published
  • By Dr. Michael Jarzombek
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Director of Psychological Health
Happy fall one and all. If emotions were colors we would be as colorful as the changing fall leaves.

Everyone has probably heard the expressions, "green with envy," "red with rage," or a "bit blue today." Hopefully we manage to stay away from the reds associated with anger, and are infrequent visitors to the blue zone of depressed feelings or the green of envy.

Emotions play a big part in our lives, and can be thought of as the glue that binds us together, or as the wedge that drives us apart. In this article it is the emotional part of our relationships that takes center stage.

Emotions typically play a significant role within marriages and families as those relationships hold deep meaning and maintain long histories; the perfect soil to cultivate emotional connections. Emotions can also play significant roles within workplace relationships as well; particularly with longer term relationships.

Developing relationships often follow a typical pattern: Early on during the "honeymoon phase" we are able to ignore aspects of others that we find disagreeable because we anticipate good experiences with them; in short we want to like them, and them us. Over time however, disagreeable aspects of the other person might become increasingly hard to accept. As this happens we can lose our ability to relate positively to the other person, and we might end the relationship with the person all together. Eroding relationships can lead to serious problems for both married people and for coworkers.

Within marriages an outcome of long term relationship breakdown can be seen in a couple that is at odds with each other in extreme ways such as one partner exploding when problems arise, while the other partner withdraws.

In professional relationships a supervisor might be over critical of another's performance, while the supervisee engages in behaviors that "seek revenge" upon the "unjust" supervisor. Unfortunately, the negative patterns of relationship decay and emotional swings are amplified in marital and professional relationships, often leading to extreme hardship. Dealing with emotionally charged problems over time they can lead to serious mental and physical health problems including depression, elevated stress levels, anxious-ness, fear, and anger control issues.

Hope is not lost however. There are a few things we can do to keep our emotions in check, to reduce behaviors that lead to stuck re-lationships, and to generally improve things:

Take stock of emotional make-up. Type A personalities might be more inclined to "see red" and go on the attack in their automatic responses to situations. If you are a "high-octane" personality type it is probably a good idea to pause more and react impulsively less; in short, temper your reactions. If you are not the type to go on the attack, but the type who might withdraw during a disagreement, you could be doing as much damage to the relationship as the aggressive person and causing both parties to get stuck with an unmoving problem. Remember that it takes two to make a relationship, two to break a relationship, and two to fix a relationship.

Always work at communication. Good direct, honest and respectful communication is so important to healthy relationships. If you have a tendency to become emotional discussing certain topics, try to pause more often and breathe deeply so that you stay calmer and more relaxed. If the opposite is true, infuse a bit more passion in your communication; speak from the heart. The key to commu-nication during an impasse is in trying to find a middle ground from which connection, collaboration and compromise can be achieved. Remember that listening is often the most important way to connect. A third party such as a counselor or a neutral friend can be helpful at times when people are stuck.

Controlling emotions and changing relationships takes time. Be patient!

Laugh often. This is one recommendation you will see in many discussions as it plays a central role in lowering emotional intensity, diffusing charged situations, processing difficulty, lubricating stuck positions and creating common bonds. Smile and laugh.

Remember that for every color association that is negative there is a strong positive association present as well. In red there is an association with anger, but at the other end of the spectrum there is love. For Blue there is sadness, but there is also tranquility and calmness. In green there can be envy, but there can also be associations with nurturing and safety. Like fall leaves in New England, we too are quite colorful and distinct in our emotional make-up, and together, create one beautiful landscape.

Be respectful of each other, remain open to change, and enjoy the season! Kind regards, Doc