When you’re away, I’m restless, lonely
Wretched, bored, dejected, only
Here’s the rub, my darling dear,
I feel the same when you are near.
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
As a junior high student, Nathan Zohner won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair. He presented some scary information about the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide.” He asked people to consider its dangers, including: 1) It is a major component in acid rain; 2) accidental inhalation can kill you; 3) it contributes to erosion; 4) it decreases the effectiveness of automobile brakes; and 5) it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state. Zohner asked 50 people if they would support a ban on the chemical. Forty-three said yes, six were undecided, and only one knew that “dihydrogen monoxide” was… water.
This project showed how the truth gets lost when words mix with emotions. Particularly negative emotions like fear, sadness, and anger are persuasive. This is true in intimate relationships, where the close proximity of partners can amplify feelings that transmit between partners and change what is seen and said. The marriage changes the mood, and the mood changes the marriage.
Partners don’t usually realize that emotion is causing them to see each other differently.
It feels the other way around like the other person is causing the emotion. One person’s mood changes how happy they are to see the other and how appealing they are. When you feel good, you wear rose-colored glasses and the relationship benefits. Every interaction seems better, and partners feel closer.
Even small emotional boosts make a difference. In one study, researchers gave insignificant gifts to passersby in a mall. Shortly after, the people were approached with a “survey” about their cars and televisions. Those mall shoppers who were given the trinkets reported being happier with their stuff at home than those who weren’t. A random bonus of fingernail clippers made people more pleased about their minivan.
Other researchers have found that doctors diagnose more accurately when given a gift before seeing a patient, and another study showed that people have a better mood after finding a dime on the photocopier. Small things make a difference, and a happy partner helps both. A rising tide lifts all boats, and a good mood improves all interactions.
However, the reverse is true as well. A bad mood can cause irritants to become big problems. Research has found that grouchy managers give worse performance appraisals, cantankerous teachers don’t teach as well, and surly students don’t learn as well. A spouse in a foul mood sees the other with a negative tint. If one person leaves the toothbrush out, it feels like a catastrophe, and the other’s cute laugh becomes an annoying honk.
For example, maybe Vern is stressed about his looming credit card debts, leading him to unfairly see his wife Donna as the target for his stress: “When you got that kidney stone and ended up in the ER, we spent all our savings on hospital bills!” Vern is unfairly implying that Donna was somehow responsible for their money strains, but the reality is that there are many factors affecting financial health, some caused by him. In today’s busy world, there is a lot of stress and struggle, and this can lead to emotional overreacting.
Feelings are filters that change how we look at each other.
This was found in one study where people were induced to feel an emotion, like frustration, and then shown pictures of faces. People usually thought the other person was feeling what they themselves were feeling. If the observer was angry, they thought the person in the picture was as well. Spouses do this when they are annoyed and then misinterpret the other’s expression as annoyance when it may have been nothing.
Consider how your stress, hectic job, processed food, and sleep deprivation may affect how you perceive your partner. Mood is a powerful filter for good and bad, and it is always worth it to slow down and care for ourselves and our relationship.