Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Taking and Setting Your Emotional Temperature: A Handy Communication Tool

Communication between significant others can be difficult at times. Shelly and I use a useful tool on a regular basis- emotional temperature (ET.) We use a slightly less formal version than the idea I'll toss out below, but it's still exceedingly effective. 

The goal is to assess how we currently feel about our relationship. This always leads to a discussion of what we're both feeling, both positive and negative, and what may be causing the feelings. Since we both have a history of unhealthy coping mechanisms, this helps keep us from falling into the self-destructive behavior patterns of the past. In essence, it prevents the buildup of anger, resentment, disappointment, and a host of other negative emotions that plague relationships.

A more formal version can be used, especially in the beginning. Any couple could use the following seven point scale (hey look, a Likert scale!*):

  1. Frozen: You have total and complete indifference to your partner. You do not show any love/warmth/attention to them other than for day-to-day needs. When they say 'I love you" you ignore them. You don't initiate any conversation that is not logistics/schedule related. Your response when they initiate conversation about anything else is aimed at "ending" the conversation as soon as possible.
  2. Very cold: You give minimal response when they show you love. You give very brief responses to their attempts to talk to you.
  3. Cold: You respond to "their" loving overtures, but with a little less enthusiasm than they are showing you. You don't initiate any loving gestures.
  4. Room Temperature: You mirror their emotional affect. When they are warm and loving you give it back. When they are reserved/not initiating loving gestures, you don't make an attempt to initiate any loving response.
  5. Warm: You initiate some loving stuff but let them do most of the work.
  6. Hot: You initiate most loving gestures, initiate most conversations, and give your partner frequent attention.
  7. Blazing: This is where you are initiating almost all loving gestures/kind acts in an aggressive fashion. This is actively and overtly doing everything in your power to sweep them off their feet. They are the center of your universe.
Each partner can share their current "number" with each other, then discuss why they're at that particular number. The goal isn't to magically arrive at the the highest number possible, but to communicate how you feel and why you feel that way. In other words, the "emotional temperature" scale is a tool to gain a deeper understanding of both yourself and your partner.

The "emotional temperature" concept is more of a thermometer, not a thermostat. It measures how you feel; it doesn't change how you feel. HOWEVER, once we begin to understand our deepest feelings, we realize we have some power to control how we feel. We're in the driver's seat. If we're currently at a "2", we can take steps to move up to a higher level.

Far too many treat relationships as if they're a lifeboat without oars aimlessly floating around the open ocean. They act as if they're completely at the mercy of the wind and currents, then wallow in the negative self-pity and helplessness they've created. Realizing you have control over how you think, feel, and act is incredibly powerful and will immediately improve a bad relationship. Helping your partner realize the same will often eradicate most relationship problems.

Game Time!

Once you master the idea of using the scale as a tool to aid communication, it can be used to have some fun. Remember the seduction post? Seduction is nothing more than intentionally moving up and down the emotional temperature scale. Some people will strive to always be a "6" or "7." 

That's a mistake.

While everyone loves being the center of attention, we DO habituate to it. Giving your partner flowers is a great affectionate gesture. Giving your partner flowers every day for six months gets old. 

For animal lovers, the goal is to be a cat, not a dog

To use the ET scale for seduction, just vary things up from day to day. Some days you can be a 3. Other days you can be a 5. The farther you get to either end, the less you should use it. For example, don't toss out the 1's or 7's very often. Spend most of the time closer to room temperature.

The cool thing about this game is it works even if your partner knows what you're doing. That's the beauty of great communication- you can intentionally manipulate attention to make each other more interesting without the underlying resentment that would result if each knew it was just a game.


* Experimental psychology joke

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