Emotions: You Can’t Trust Them

A loving commitment, so critical to the success of any marriage, is needed not only for the great tragedies of life, but also for the daily frustrations that wear and tear on a relationship. These minor irritants, when accumulated over time, may be even more threatening to a relationship than catastrophic events. And yes, Virginia, there are times in every good marriage when a husband and wife don't like each other very much. There are even occasions when they feel as though they will never love their partner again.

The problem lies in that word feel. The feeling of love is simply too ephemeral to hold a relationship together for very long. It comes and goes. Emotions are like that. They flatten out occasionally, like an automobile tire with a nail in the tread—riding on the rim is a pretty bumpy experience for everyone on board.

The feeling of love is simply too ephemeral to hold a relationship together for very long.

The fickleness of emotions reminds me of the joke about the wedding of a young contract lawyer and his bride. When the minister came to the vows, he intoned, "Do you take this woman for better? For worse? For richer? For poorer? In sickness? And in health?"

He was startled to hear the groom reply, "Yes. No. Yes. No. No. And yes."

In another wedding ceremony, this one real, the bride and groom pledged to stay married as long as they continued to love each other. Let's hope they both have good divorce attorneys, because they're going to need them. Relationships based on feelings are necessarily transitory. Emotions are, in fact, inveterate liars that will often confirm our worst fears in the absence of supporting evidence. Even the young and the brave can be fooled by the shenanigans of runaway emotions.

I am not denying the importance of feelings in our human relationships. Indeed, those who have so insulated themselves that they no longer feel are very unhealthy individuals. But we must understand that emotions are unreliable and, at times, tyrannical. They should never be permitted to dominate us.

That principle has generally been understood since the days of Scripture. We read in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." That's pretty clear, isn't it? And consider Galatians 5:22: "But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (tlb). These are called the fruits of the Spirit, and they begin with the attribute listed last—the exercise of self-control.

One of the evidences of emotional and spiritual maturity is the ability (and the willingness) to overrule ephemeral feelings and govern our behavior with reason. This might lead you to tough it out when you feel like escaping; and guard your tongue when you feel like shouting; and to save your money when you feel like spending it; and to remain faithful when you feel like flirting; and to put the welfare of your mate above your own. These are mature acts that can't occur when biased, whimsical, and unreliable feelings are in charge. Emotions are important in a relationship, to be sure, but they must be supported by the will and a lifetime commitment.

I once attempted to express this thought to my wife on an anniversary card:

To My Darlin' Little Wife, Shirley, on the Occasion of Our Eigth Anniversary

I'm sure you remember the many, many occasions during our eight years of marriage when the tide of love and affection soared high above the crest…times when our feeling for each other was almost limitless. This kind of intense emotion can't be brought about voluntarily, but it often accompanies a time of particular happiness. We felt it when I was offered my first professional position. We felt it when the world's most precious child came home from the maternity ward of Huntington Hospital. We felt it when the University of Southern California chose to award a doctoral degree to me. But emotions are strange! We felt the same closeness when the opposite kind of event took place; when threat and potential disaster entered our lives. We felt an intense closeness when a medical problem threatened to postpone our marriage plans. We felt it when you were hospitalized last year. I felt it intensely when I knelt over your unconscious form after a grinding automobile accident.

I'm trying to say this: Both happiness and threat bring that overwhelming appreciation and affection for our beloved sweethearts. But the fact is, most of life is made up of neither disaster nor unusual hilarity. Rather, it is composed of the routine, calm, everyday events in which we participate. And during these times, I enjoy the quiet, serene love that actually surpasses the effervescent display, in many ways. It is not as exuberant, perhaps, but it runs deep and solid. I find myself firmly in that kind of love on this Eighth Anniversary. Today I feel the steady and quiet affection that comes from a devoted heart. I am committed to you and your happiness, more now than I've ever been. I want to remain your "sweetheart."

When events throw us together emotionally, we will enjoy the thrill and romantic excitement. But during life's routine, like today, my love stands undiminished. Happy Anniversary to my wonderful wife.

Your Jim

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By Dr. James Dobson

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