One of my most frequently used interventions in Gottman Method Couples Counselling is exploring meta-emotion mismatches. So what is meta emotion? It's how you feel about feelings. Specifically, negative emotions like sadness, fear, loneliness, and anxiety.
People generally fall into one of two groups:
I’ll explore these more in depth but can you guess which styles applies to you and which applies to your partner?
Emotion dismissers tend to avoid negative emotions if they can. They still experience the same number of emotions as coachers but they deal with them differently.
When dismissers experience struggles that lead to negative emotion they do not want or need to talk about them. Instead, they look for solutions to get out of that feeling or remedy the situation so they don’t need to feel that emotion any longer. In other words they want to move on. They are good at looking on the bright side, counting their blessings, finding exceptions, or “fixing” things. They often feel like talking about their emotions is a waste of time for themselves and those around them.
Dismissers feel that it's valuable to be happy and that others should try and be happy as well. They see expressing loneliness, sadness, or fear as “dwelling on the negative” and as we covered above…they don’t see the value in processing emotion through expression.
Dismissers can be excellent at compartmentalizing emotions. Thats why it can seem like they move on quickly from emotional upheavals such as a fight between partners. Dismissers can argue with their partner and then seem fine 30 minutes later. For coachers this can be extremely difficult to understand.
Emotion coachers tend to be accepting of negative emotions like sadness, fear, rejection, and disappointment. They process emotions by expressing and sharing them. In romantic relationships they particularly want to share their emotional experience with their partner. They feel connection when they are able to share their feelings and have their partners reciprocate with understanding and empathy.
Coachers, unlike dismissers, are not looking for solutions when they express their emotions. Not at the beginning anyway. Later, once they feel understood and validated they can move towards finding solutions either on their own or with their partner. But in the beginning they are seeking reassurance that they aren’t alone. They want to know that their partner gets them and their experience.
Coachers can have difficulty compartmentalizing emotions and often feel disconnected after an argument until it can be processed and they feel understood again.
How Meta Emotion Processing Impacts Relationships
As you may have guessed if a coacher and dismisser end up together they may struggle to communicate through their different systems of processing emotion. Often dismissers offer solutions too quickly and the coacher doesn’t feel validated or understood. Coachers then seek to meet their needs by requesting that their partner “listen” to them. As they feel more disconnected coachers will attempt to restore the connection by criticizing the dismisser about unrelated stressors in the relationship. They do not do this intentionally…they are seeking reconnection but are not aware of the event that led to feeling disconnected.
Dismissers often then become exasperated because they do not understand what the coacher wants from them. So they wade in again trying to solve the problem as they would for themselves: with solutions. These get rebuffed by the coacher as they are looking to share rather than solve. They may offer a statement such as “you never listen to me!”
When dismissers begin to feel critiqued by their coacher partner they feel attacked and picked on. They will often conclude that their partner is unreasonable and difficult.
If this deteriorating cycle keeps up for too long coachers will confide their emotions to others outside the relationship. Dismissers start to feel like they can’t do anything right and they may end up blaming their partner's character. Needless to say neither of these outcomes is what either partner wants.
How To Address a Mismatch In Your Relationship?
If you identify with any of the above statements you may be feeling discouraged, disconnected, and unloved. But don’t give up hope. There are steps we can take in couples counselling to begin rebuilding connection. We start by identifying and understanding our partners processing style. From there I provide you with concrete steps to address the emotional communication divide and reduce the animosity and negativity you may be feeling.
If you’d like more information or help understanding your processing style feel free to book an appointment online at https://app.outsmartemr.com/online-booking/2923/gaberoywright
Or calling us at 250-362-5035
Looking for more information on what happens in couples counselling? Check out this post