Monday, September 25, 2017

Relationships Require Emotional Creativity

When you think about the hard, dreary, and painful aspects of your romantic relationship, you probably don’t think to yourself—“I need to be more emotionally creative.” But that is the case—that is, if you want to stop being part of the problem and instead become part of the solution.

couples therapy as creative work

emotional creativityHuman creativity takes many forms. But emotional creativity is not a concept that most people think about or are familiar with, even though it is a significant dimension of what successful relationships are based on, and thus what effective couples therapy helps people to cultivate.

In essence, emotional creativity involves relating to your own negative emotional reactions (i.e. anger, fear, irritability, dread, contempt, insecurity, disappointment, etc.) as raw material with which to build and create. Once you take this perspective, you will no longer see yourself as a passive victim of your own negative emotions. Nor will you allow yourself to believe that your partner is “making you” feel this way.

Committing yourself to being more emotionally creative means that no matter what you’re feeling in a given moment you know that it is possible to make use of those difficult and unpleasant feelings, to utilize them in constructive ways. In other words, you’ll feel in your bones that you are not trapped in dysfunctional or destructive dynamics, but that you actually have choices. I’m not suggesting this comes easy. It doesn’t. Becoming skilled at this type of creativity (like any type of creative art) takes a lot of practice, work, and effort. It is a very serious undertaking, but well worth the effort.

turning a vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle

To illustrate a bit of what this looks like, let’s say you have a pattern of feeling angry/irritated with your spouse and/or insecure within yourself. And let’s say that on the basis of those feelings you’ve developed habits of shutting down (emotional silence) and at other times of being hostile/critical (emotional violence). These behaviors, of course, would lead to your partner exhibiting defensiveness, guardedness, and/or retaliation and together you’d be stuck in a very common vicious cycle.

To be more emotionally creative and start cultivating a virtuous cycle (of learning, growing, and deepening the relationship) would entail becoming more skilled at:

  1. Recognizing early when irritation/anger/insecurity/fear are coming to the surface for you.
  2. Pausing and working creatively with’ your own negative feelings to get yourself to a place where you can USE your emotional reactions in conscious and constructive ways for personal growth and for growth of the relationship.

relationships are always (creative) works in progress

Relationships consist of flawed and imperfect people trying to harmonize and build together—often in the midst of frenetic, rushed and overwhelming lives. And in that endeavor we all fall short at times; we all revert to unhelpful and non-constructive emotional/behavioral habits that injure our relationships.

But the good news is that we can absolutely become more skilled at repairing those injuries, more quickly and more consistently. And it is this never-ending repair work that plays a major role in deepening, broadening and strengthening the bonds in our relationships.

Chris Kingman lives with his wife and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn and has a full-time private therapy practice in Manhattan, NYC where he works with adults and couples. Follow Chris on Twitter or Facebook.

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