Know More About The Emotions of Social Interaction

While we are quite sensitive to negative emotional displays of those with whom we interact, we’re hardly sensitive at all to our own. In fact, we’re prone to self-deception in that regard, confusing the motivation of emotions with conscious goals and intentions. Because habituated emotional responses are dominated by the Toddler brain, we’re blindly committed to the toddler coping mechanisms of blame, denial, avoidance:

“You’re critical; I give useful feedback.”

“You’re stubborn; I’m firm.”

“You’re wishy-washing; I’m flexible.”

“You’re raging; I’m upset.”

“You’re vindictive; I’m standing up for myself.”

Because objective analysis of our own demeanor and behavior in emotional exchanges is so difficult, we need to understand the function of certain emotions in social interactions, which are likely to exert more influence on what you do than what you think you’re doing.

Anger Escalation and Retaliation

Although it’s the most contagious of emotions, anger is often an exception to the principle of reciprocity, the tendency to match the emotional output of others. Instead, it has a built-in escalation mechanism. Unless shame or fear of consequences inhibits us, we return anger cues from others with increasing intensity, and up the gain of any counter-response.

Automatic escalation has survival significance. Anger is for winning, not for ties. We don’t want to hurt the saber tooth tiger just as much as it hurts us. We want to destroy its capacity to hurt us.

Escalating anger, with its built-in retaliation motive, accounts for why, despite political rhetoric, the oppressed (actual and self-perceived), almost never settle for equality but feel compelled toward dominance or at least retribution. The notorious “cycle of violence” that infests certain regions of the world (and some communities in the United States) owes to the law of anger escalation and retaliation. Actual or expected reprisals and counter-reprisals keep the cycle going for generations.

Value Judgment: You must be moral, while I avoid guilt.

Most emotions represent implicit value judgments. In many ways implicit value judgments form the core of social interactions.

Value judgments allow us to predict and to some degree control the behavior of others. The ability to predict and control provides an illusion of safety. Unpredictable behavior raises alarm even when harmless. Think of your response when someone disrobes in public or speaks loudly in a restaurant.

A sense of safety in modern times is influenced less by actual dangers in the environment than by predictability and a sense of control. For instance, soldiers can feel relatively safe during hostilities if confident of their combat skills, which allow them to predict and to some extent control threats to safety. The same soldiers can feel unsafe in peacetime work negotiations, where combat skills are of little utility.

A primary instrument of social control is moral reprobation. We describe failures to sustain pro-social emotions like compassion and remorse as “inhumane” and hold deficits of sincerity and trustworthiness in contempt and disgust. Of course, value judgment is greatly influenced by the emotional state of the person making the judgment. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” is a common cry of people with low self-value who depend on presumed moral superiority for a tolerable sense of self. Only the shamed are likely to shame in ordinary social interactions.

Moral judgments, like all other emotional responses, are primarily reactions to inferred emotional states, rather than observed behavior. We regard emotional states, before and after the fact, as mitigating factors in both morally and legally proscribed behavior. We tend to forgive the penitent for greater offenses than the unrepentant. Studies of discretionary criminal sentencing indicate that murderers showing remorse are punished more or less the same as robbers who seem entitled to commit their crimes.

The value judgments of emotions concern other people’s behavior more than to our own. We tend to judge the actions of others in moral terms and our own in terms of utility—what works for us. Similarly, while we’re hypersensitive to unfair treatment, we’re hardly sensitive at all to our own unfairness. The latter takes determined self-reflection. Our judgments of others come easily; objective self-reflection takes focus, energy, and determination, if not a weekend retreat.

Self-Other Construction: We become what we make of others.

We tend to suffer the emotional judgments we make of others. When we’re dishonest, we don’t trust others; when we perceive others to be dishonest, we’re apt to be less than forthright. If we see others as unworthy, we become less worthy of cooperation. If we see them as dull, we lose interest. When we hold others in contempt we’re contemptuous. Hatred demonizes others at the cost of devaluing the most humane parts of the self. A toll of physical and emotional disorders befalls those who fail to sustain trust, enjoyment, compassion, and interest in others. Negative emotions directed at others is one of the worst things we can do for our health and well-being.

Emotions emerged over a much longer evolutionary history than language. Along the way, they developed considerable complexity that can easily confound social interactions. Those will be the subject of the next post.

What To Do When Your Partner Is Upset

There are many ways to respond when our partner is upset or angry with us. We can shut down and clam up, launch a counter attack, try to reason with them, make excuses, explain why they are wrong, offer a quick apology and hope that will be the end of it, and others. However, none of those alternatives will calm things down and lower the tension between you as much as doing one crucial thing—providing emotional validation.

Emotional validation involves conveying we understand how a person feels and acknowledge they have every right to feel that way. Now yes, telling someone who is upset or furious with us that they have every right to be seems highly counter intuitive as it might seem that doing so will only make them even angrier or more upset. Yet, when we convey that exact message and do so from a place of empathy and sympathy—magic happens (psychologically speaking). Rather than fueling the other person’s fire, our message of emotional validation will actually douse the flame.

Here’s why:

Emotional validation is something we all seek and crave far more than we realize. When we are upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed or hurt, what we want most is for the other person to ‘get’ it and to convey to us they do with a dollop of empathy and compassion. If you think back to a time you were a recipient of true emotional validation, you will recognize that having your feelings validated accurately and with empathy is powerfully cathartic and the recipient is likely to experience a significant and immediate sense of visceral relief.

The problem is true cathartic experiences of this kind are actually hard to come by because emotional validation is a skill set most of us have yet to develop. It is also one that is very much worth practicing. When both members of a couple use emotional validation, their arguments will be kinder, gentler and far more productive.

The 5 Steps of Emotional Validation

Please note: It is important to perform all 5 steps correctly to achieve the desired impact.

1. Let the person complete their narrative so you have all the facts, and more importantly, so they know you are aware of their feelings (otherwise your effort to validate them will not seem genuine).

2. Tell them you get what happened to them from their perspective (whether you agree with that perspective or not and even if their perspective is skewed). Doing so is not an admission of wrongdoing. You can let them know you get their point of view and still advocate for a different one.

3. Tell them you understand how they felt as a result of what happened (from their perspective). Try to name specific feelings rather than state generalities.

4. Tell them their feelings are completely reasonable (which they are given their perspective).

5. Convey empathy or sympathy for their hurt or angry feelings. Again, doing so is not an admission of fault because you can always add your perspective later (e.g., “I get how annoyed you must have felt waiting for me at the restaurant for half an hour and that it put you in a terrible mood. But your text said to meet you at 8, not 7:30”).

Lastly, emotional validation is always more effective when both members of the couple practice it. So you might want to share this article with them.

Discover Your Partner Is Cheating

The way people manage the shocking news that their committed partner is deceiving them by engaging another lover behind their backs predicts how healthfully they recover from such a betrayal. Here are 5 ways to NOT react when you discover your partner is cheating on you.

1. Don’t Panic: When we perceive danger or a threat, our bodies release excess stress hormones and adrenaline, essentially putting us in a hyper-vigilant, ready for action state. Although the chemicals associated with panic make us ache to take action, what we really need to do is take a breather. Pause instead of giving into the panic and throwing your partner’s clothes on the front yard or making a down payment for a new home. Give yourself the calm and tranquil space necessary for the chemicals to run their course through your nervous system. No one, and I mean no one, makes decisions in his or her best interest when in a panic state. You need just enough calm to return so you can begin to think through how best to handle the situation.

2. Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself: The shock of discovering an affair can make you want to pull up the blankets and hide from the world. As I describe in my workbook, Breaking Up and Divorce, the problem with this approach is you stop taking care of yourself and providing what you require to heal and recover. Treat yourself the same as you would if you had the flu and a fever. Be kind and gentle. Buy soup and easy/healthy foods, make sure you are drinking enough water. Try to rest, even if you can’t sleep. Every day go out and walk or sit on a bench in your yard to quietly reflect and feel the sun on your face. Remind yourself that your partner cheating is not a statement about who you are or what your worth is as a human being.

3. Don’t Tell The Whole World: The panic of discovering a betrayal compels many to immediately tell the world about how they were mistreated. The outrage of having been wronged and lied to calls for action and for people to stand up on the side of your honesty and against your ex’s perfidy. You do need support, but resist the immediate desire to tell your mom, colleagues and neighbors. As you get some time to process what’s happening in your relationship, you may regret sharing too much too soon. Many people recover from cheating and affairs—sometimes they go on to have better relationships as a result. You don’t want to feel you have shared intimate details with people that you would ordinarily not be that intimate with. It is better in these circumstances to pick one or two loyal and trusted friends to use as a sounding board. Wait on telling others until you have determined for yourself how you wish to proceed.

4. Don’t Rush to Court: If you are married, the impulse to immediately file for divorce can be one of the hardest to resist after discovering a spouse is cheating. The courts aren’t going anywhere. There is time for all of that. You will prolong the grief if you rush before you have emotionally processed what’s going on and has gone on in your marriage. And too, filing for divorce is not an immediate fix for the painful and complicated feelings you are having. In fact, it often makes them even more complicated.

5. Don’t Stalk: Resist the impulse to figure out, analyze and scrutinize, the person your love is cheating on you with. Do not use Facebook and social media to stalk your partner’s lover. All you are doing is giving yourself more and more material to be overwhelmed by. You have enough to sort through. You don’t need the image of your partner’s lover swirling around in your brain on top of all the rest. Also, the problem isn’t the person with whom your partner picked to cheat. The problem is your partner and the fact that he or she has been dishonest with you.

Punctuality Ruin Love

“I am invariably late for appointments—sometimes as much as two hours. I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.” –Marilyn Monroe

“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.” –Charles Dickens

There are good reasons for considering punctuality to be a virtue. Is it also a romantic virtue? Is punctuality compatible with the more spontaneous and accommodating nature of romantic relationships? There are reasons to think it is not.

Emotions, politeness, punctuality

“Punctuality is one of the cardinal business virtues: always insist on it in your subordinates.” –Don Marquis

“Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” –King Louis XVIII of France

The spontaneous, direct, and sincere nature of emotions is contrary to the deliberative, indirect, and artificial nature of politeness. In intense emotional states, we often do not pay attention to practical constraints and the conventional rules of good manners. Although such manners are frequently morally valuable, profound moral attitudes go far beyond politeness. Murder is not considered impolite; it is a grave moral crime. Similarly, falling asleep during intercourse is not merely impolite; it is emotionally offensive. Emotions often hurt other people, whereas the main function of good manners is to prevent such harm. Accordingly, good manners are a useful means of hiding genuine emotions. Teaching children good manners is teaching them, among other things, to hide their real emotions.

Punctuality is the quality of adhering to an appointed time. Similar to politeness, punctuality is an important quality when it comes to strangers, people who are different in status or nature from you, and public activities in general. Punctuality is a type of good manners. Unpunctuality can cause uncertainty and hence negative evaluation of the unpunctual person’s nature and whereabouts. Letting the other know our situation (“I am stuck in a traffic jam”) can eliminate uncertainty and reduce stress.

Punctuality in love

“Few things tend more to alienate friendship than a want of punctuality in our engagements.” –William Hazlitt

In loving relationships, where the role of spontaneity, sincerity, and flexibility plays such an essential role, the role of politeness—which is usually a kind of superficial rigid manner of avoiding inadvertent offenses—is of less importance. Accordingly, lovers are less careful about what they say and do. This can hurt their beloved. As the wonderful old song indicates, “You always break the kindest heart with a hasty word you can’t recall.” The price of being able to behave freely in love, without always having to tread carefully and to hesitate before you act or open your mouth, is that you can do or say impetuous things that might hurt your lover.

Unpunctuality can harm the development of long-term profound love, which is based on shared emotional experiences and joint activities. Such development presupposes a certain coordination between the two lovers. Accordingly, some level of punctuality is also necessary in loving relationships. Lateness can indeed hurt those we love and we should try to prevent it as much as possible. However, being hurt is determined not merely by the lover who is unpunctual but also by the way the punctual beloved interprets the lover’s lateness.

The actor Chaim Topol recounted that his wife Galia was chronically unpunctual—and this often made him furious. One day he reminded himself that he loved Galia immensely and so as he was unable to change her lack of punctuality, he should keep enjoying their loving relationship and simply accept that they would regularly be late for every event to which they were invited. Topol is not blind to his wife’s unpunctuality, but he does not consider it to be a significant flaw, in part because she cannot change this tendency.

In this vein, Lisa Neff and Benjamin Karney, in their article “To know you is to love you” (2005), propose a model of global adoration and specific accuracy in love, whereby spouses demonstrate a positive bias in their global perception of their partners, such as being “wonderful,” and in this sense their love is (almost) unconditional. However, within this positive framework, they are able to display perceptual accuracy about their partners’ specific attributes, such as being unpunctual. The beloved is indeed wonderful in a comprehensive manner and therefore the lover wishes to pursue their relationships despite the beloved’s flaws, which the lover considers not to be grave. Being wonderful does not mean being flawless; it merely means that such flaws are evaluated as insignificant in the eyes of the lover.

Can one be too punctual?

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” –Lik Hock Yap Ivan

“I am always late on principle, my principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.” –Oscar Wilde

It is clear that extreme unpunctuality is harmful and could endanger many types of relationships. Is extreme punctuality also harmful? Though extreme behavior is harmful in most cases, extreme punctuality seems to be less harmful than extreme unpunctuality. Being punctual is usually beneficial in everyday life and when it is accompanied by honesty and integrity, it is a great virtue.

The situation is somewhat different in romantic relationships where reciprocity is expected. A lover who considers punctuality to be of a significant virtue would typically regard the beloved’s unpunctuality as a substantial flaw, thereby according the somewhat superficial value of punctuality, like that of politeness, too much weight, which could decrease the weight of more profound values.

Punctuality becomes a problem when lovers are incompatible regarding their degree of punctuality and the value they attach to it. When both lovers agree on the (positive or negative) value of punctuality, their relationship can withstand such differences in tendencies and attitudes. However, a normative dissonance can easily generate stress and distrust in both lovers. Even minor violations of punctuality are likely to insult the punctual lover, generating the feeling that the unpunctual partner is disrespectful not merely of his or her time, but of their more profound values. Such a feeling is also likely to generate tension and wariness in the unpunctual lover, who can interpret the punctual partner’s attitude as indicative of the failure to realize the romantic profundity of the unpunctual one.

Demanding unconditional punctuality in loving relationships, and hence considering its violation to be a significant offense, can distort the relationship, as the lovers might begin to feel like strangers who are expected to treat each other with great politeness. Lynn says, “I hate myself for being so punctual, especially when I am upset about my boyfriend’s behavior. I typically will not have a romantic relationship with an unpunctual man, but if nevertheless we are together for a while, I am okay with his unpunctuality, provided that he has significant virtues in more profound aspects.”

Extreme punctuality is often related to rigidity. The opposite of rigidity, flexibility, which is the willingness to change or compromise, seems to be a more profound value than punctuality, as it enables adaptation to all sort of circumstances. This is even truer in romantic relationships where you have to take into account your partner’s nature as well as various unexpected circumstances.

I am not saying that unpunctuality is a romantic virtue—I am just opposing the view that regards a moderate type of tardiness as a grave offense. The major problem in this view is that it often results in a distorted hierarchy of values: the treatment of a superficial value as if it were a very profound one.

Would you prefer your lover to be absent-mindedness or punctual?

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton

The major aspect of lateness that insults those who are forced to wait is that it is seen as an expression of disregard and disrespect. However, this is not the only way to interpret unpunctuality. People can be unpunctual not because they disrespect their partner or are not paying attention to the partner’s needs; it can just be due to their absent-mindedness or to their inability to estimate time correctly. Here is the story of Gloria:

“I have a very good friend who is always late. At first it drove me crazy. But soon I realized that I can compensate because I know that if we arrange to meet at 11.00, she won’t make it before 12.00, so I agree to meet at 11.00 but write down 12.00 in my diary. It works perfectly: she is always very apologetic—she didn’t expect the shopping to take so long; she didn’t think the traffic would be so bad; she forgot that she had to pop into the post office before she came, etc, etc,. I always reassure her: ‘You did not expect things to take so long, but I did, so I knew you’d be late and I came late too.’ That is part of all close relationships—compensating for the other’s flaw and expecting them to compensate for yours.”

Absent-mindedness is defined as “Deep in thought and heedless of present circumstances or activities; preoccupied” (The American Heritage Dictionary), and “Having or showing a forgetful or inattentive disposition” (OED). These characterizations certainly do not refer to a sin, as both are presented in certain positive tones. Absent-mindedness can be treated through the investment of time and effort in trying to make the person more attentive. It is dubious whether changing the other’s character is feasible or even worth the effort—though somewhat reducing absent-mindedness is usually beneficial. Moreover, trying to change someone’s character has its own emotional costs, especially when these efforts are not as successful as expected.

Being attentive to the beloved is indeed significant in loving relationships, but being attentive is not identical to the lovers being always on time; being attentive should refer to more profound aspects in the beloved’s life than punctuality.

Punctuality emphasizes the importance of timing in loving relations. Timing and punctuality are very valuable in generating new romantic experiences, such as finding a partner. Hence, I would not recommend being late on the early dates. However, when love has been established, waiting is not a disaster and can even be pleasant, as you know that soon you will be in paradise. It can be like having a tasty chocolate bar but not eating it in order to prolong the pleasant feeling of the anticipated splendid experience (sometimes, while others around you already ate their bar).

Long-term profound love can be the result of fortunate timing, but maintaining and enhancing profound love depends upon investing time and not on waiting for good timing to miraculously manifest itself. Punctuality is more important at the beginning of the relationship, when the two lovers do not know each other so well and so being late might be regarded as profound disrespect. When the lovers know each other well, such an incorrect interpretation (if it is indeed incorrect) is less likely to prevail.