Why is it so hard for us to reveal how we feel to those we love? Some people are reluctant to say they are upset, scared, frustrated. Their presentation of themselves, even to their spouses, is calculated, guarded, and limited. In such cases, however, we end up hindering our relationships and hurting our own experience of love. Emotional revelation leads to personal knowledge, which leads to relational affection.
“Emotions are the currency of personal involvement,” writes Winston Smith (Marriage Matters, 111). That is to say, what we value is revealed in how we express our emotions. If I lose something that’s not important to me then I don’t respond with grief. If, however, I lose a valuable item, or lose an important relationship, then I will grieve. The value of investment is evidenced by my emotional response. A great example of this can be seen on Christmas morning as little kids open their presents under the tree. That child who unwraps a pair of socks and sort of begrudgingly or half-heartedly says thanks, is evidencing their lack of investment in the present. They know they are supposed to say thank you, but they aren’t actually thankful for the socks. Their emotions reveal what they value. This is true for all of us, and it plays out in our marital relationship too. So, Smith writes:
Your emotions tell you – and, when you express them, they tell others – how important something is to you and how you value it. The stronger the emotion, the more important it is to you. What do your emotions communicate to your spouse? …The absence of emotions doesn’t communicate neutrality, logic, or intelligence; it communicates indifference. Indifference can be just as painful as rage, rejection, or betrayal. the bottom line is this: if you’re unwilling to share in your spouses emotions, your spouse isn’t likely to feel loved. (111)
Expressing our emotions and participating in their emotions is one important ways we communicate the value of our marital relationship. It’s also one of the key ways that we experience relational affection.
If emotions reveal what we value then they become important communicators of ourselves. What I value tells you something important about me, and as such they help people to truly know us. We may know lots of details about people, but to truly know them we have to understand and experience something of their emotions. Again Smith helps us here, he writes:
Again, your emotions communicate what’s important to you; if you, therefore, haven’t really shared with your spouse what’s important to you, how can you believe that your spouse knows you? And if someone doesn’t truly know you, how much does it mean when he or she says I love you. To claim to love someone you don’t really know is to love only the image the person projects. If you’ve revealed noting but a carefully constructed image of yourself, your spouse couldn’t possibly love the real you. At some level you feel the pain and loneliness of that. (111-112)
In order to be truly loved, to experience relational affection, I must reveal what I value, which requires me to share my emotions.
This is not easy for any of us, but for some of us it is particularly difficult. It is difficult because our emotions make us vulnerable. When I reveal how I feel, I risk being viewed as weak, or being laughed at, or being rejected. When I reveal how I feel I risk someone abusing my emotions for their own gain. How I feel reveals my values and that knowledge can be dangerous in the wrong hands. So, many of us are couched and guarded in sharing our feelings. We present only enough information to make us look a certain way, present a certain picture, but we otherwise play our emotional cards close to the chest. But in so far as we do this, we remain more alone in our marriage than we realize. The calculated presentation of ourselves is isolating. Emotional authenticity allows us to be truly known and thus truly loved.
Relationships require risk and to the degree that you are unwilling to risk you are unwilling to truly experience a relationship. Consider, however, the example of our Lord Jesus. Jesus experiences and reveals his emotions throughout the gospels. He expresses anger (Matt. 21:12; Mark 3:1-6). He grieves, even weeping in public (John 11:34-36), and was known to have “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). Jesus expresses real emotion and is not any weaker for it. He is perfectly God and as such sees the value of expressing real emotion. It is because of his expression of emotion that we know something of His love for us, His love for the Father, His love for the world. The revelation of Jesus’ emotions allows us to know Him, and, as a result, to love Him.
If you would be like your Savior, then, friends, you must be willing to experience and express real emotions. It will not make you weaker, but more deeply loved. Dr. Charles Hodges has written insightfully about how the expression of our sorrow invites community into our lives. He notes:
Normal sadness draws social support to the sufferer. When a man loses his job, his real friends will find him in order to help and encourage. The widow generally will be surrounded by those who care for her. (Good Mood, Bad Mood, 67)
The revelation of our emotions, particularly sorrowful emotions, invite relational affection. If this is true generally, how much more true is it in our marital relationships. If it’s true with Jesus, it is also true for us as we strive to follow in His footsteps.
Reveal your emotions, share them with your spouse. Do so in order that you may develop greater levels of intimacy and that you may experience more earnest affection within your marriage. Jesus did and He calls us to be like Him in every way that we can, and that includes our emotional life.