Do You Know the Story Beneath Your Relationship to Emotions?

There’s an untapped power to understanding why you manage your emotions the way you do — and how that might differ greatly from your partner.

Share this post:

In counseling — and in life, in general! — we talk a lot about emotions. But have you ever considered why you engage with and process your emotions (or don’t) the way you do? 

Lately, in my practice, I have become increasingly aware of how important it is to understand our partner’s view of emotions. When one partner in the couple is conflict avoidant or doesn’t like difficult emotions and the other partner is perfectly fine discussing difficult things and processing complex emotions, we have a meta-emotion mismatch. 

Meta-Emotion Mismatch

According to the Gottman Institute studies on what makes marriages work, this mismatch can lead to difficulty in the relationship.  

However, getting a better grasp on our meta-emotions (and those of our partner) is a kind of secret sauce that you might not have heard much about.

When we are able to understand the story behind how we feel about different emotions, we can better understand our partner and how to communicate with them when difficult issues arise. (In fact, there’s often a dream hidden beneath conflict and resentment, if you’re brave enough to dig into the underlying story.)

I met recently with a couple that was facing a meta-emotion mismatch. We took a few sessions to deeply understand the story of each person’s childhood and how different emotions were either accepted or unaccepted. You might find it helpful to do the same with your partner.

For instance, consider the emotion of sadness. Did your parents readily allow you to experience sadness, holding you until you no longer felt as badly? Or did they tell you something like, “stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about” instead? 

Do you know the story beneath your relationship with emotions?

Often, the stories at the root of our relationship with our emotions are hidden deep in our past. They might be buried so far down that we haven’t been able to tell our beloved the real reason behind why different emotions are difficult for us. 

If you and your partner are ready to mine those challenging areas, questions like these can be a helpful starting point: 

  • What was it like to be sad when you were young? 
  • Who did you go to when you were sad or upset? What was their reaction to your sadness? 
  • Did you see your dad sad? Your mom? How about your siblings? 
  • What is it like when you are sad now? 
  • Can you tell when I’m sad? 
  • What do you need when you are sad? What do you not need?

These kinds of questions can lead to a much deeper understanding of your partner and how to meet them where they are especially when they’re moving through a difficult experience or managing complex emotions. 

Approach this work with your partner with gentleness and kindness. Reserve judgment. Validate their experience. You might be surprised at how much you discover about one another!

Share this post:

Sabrina Walters is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing since 2003 in Beaverton, Oregon, serving individuals, couples and families with a strengths-based approach. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist and trainer for Gottman Inc. Her work as a therapist and speaker are informed greatly by her personal life as a mother of three boys and her marriage of over 40 years to Eric Walters. Sabrina and Eric founded Core Values Counseling, and have been leading marriage conferences since 2004. If there were a phrase to describe Sabrina’s work, it would be “Hope Monger.” She often tells clients she will hunt down hope in every situation. Sabrina and Eric have published their first book; Enticing Love; Real Hope for Real Relationships.

Recommended products

Original price was: $250.00.Current price is: $179.00.

Our Best prices of the year on the Gottman Relationship Adviser. 

Celebrate Dads this month.

Sale Ends Soon!

The Gottman Relationship Adviser is a complete approach to relationship wellness. Measure your relationship health with the research-based Gottman Assessment, analyze five key areas of your partnership to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then start a tailored, step-by-step digital program proven to heal and strengthen your connection—all on your schedule and from anywhere.

The Adviser uses the legendary scientific Gottman Method to help you understand what’s really going on in your relationship—and gives you exactly what you need to improve it.

Original price was: $119.00.Current price is: $79.00.

Research-based Foundations for a Lifetime of Love.  The Gottman Relationship Coach is an inspiring and educational multimedia experience designed to enhance the well-being of relationships. Participants will be guided through research-based tools and communication skills that can transform relationships—all based on the popular Gottman Method. The first program, “How to Make Your Relationship Work”, is now available and includes:

  • The Gottman Method and How to Make Your Relationship Work
  • How do we predict the future of a relationship?
  • How to build a Sound Relationship House
  • What to do when the destructive Four Horsemen enter your relationship

“Buy Now” will take you to GOTTMAN CONNECT to purchase and view this product.

Original price was: $599.00.Current price is: $480.00.

Created by “the Einstein of Love” (Psychology Today), this two-day workshop is grounded on what actually works in relationships that are happy and stable. See for yourself why millions of couples worldwide have benefited from the Gottman Method.

Quote from participant in most recent Live Virtual Workshop:

The Art and Science of Love workshop- where do I begin? It was an absolute stellar workshop. We were looking forward to this for weeks, and it exceeded our expectations! It was well-structured, and well-organized, and provided a wealth of information with real-time demonstrations of how to work through specific scenarios. The outstanding support that was provided throughout the exercises with therapists on standby- WOW! Priceless!

Includes the Art & Science of Love box set.  Please allow time for shipping.  Please Note: This is a live online event. To attend, you will need a reliable internet connection. Our staff will reach out to you with your personal registration and access information.


Improve your relationship in 30 days! Backed by over 50 years of research, the 30 Days to a Better Relationship challenge will help you reconnect with your partner and bring more positivity into your relationship. The tools and exercises, delivered once a day for 30 days by email, build on one another and take five minutes or less to complete.


Related posts

Authenticity in Relationships

Anna Aslanian

To create a close, intimate connection we need to be authentic in our relationship. However, this is easier said than done. ...

Read More

Couple not talking where one person is stonewalling.

What Is the Difference Between Stonewalling and Gaslighting?

Laura Silverstein

Read More

Couple using the power of touch to strengthen their relationship

Touch More, Touch Often 

Cheryl Fraser

How to strengthen fondness and admiration - without saying a thing ...

Read More

Couple having a romantic date.

Date Your Mate!

Cheryl Fraser

Why date night rejuvenates long term relationships - if you do it right. ...

Read More

Turning toward and emotional bank account

The Secret Ingredient to a Thriving Relationship: Turning Towards Each Other

Kyle Benson

Read More

Couple doing breathwork

Bridging Love and Breath

Beth Wylie

The Gottman Approach Enhanced by Breathwork in Couples Therapy ...

Read More

Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes

Sign up and start your relationship transformation. Subscribe and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month