“How was your day?” It’s one of the most common questions couples ask each other and either leads to a dead-end response like, “fine” or “busy” (which usually means “I don’t want to talk about it”), or a long-winded description of meetings, frustrations, errands and other ‘busy’ stuff.
It’s what we call a ‘data transfer’ conversation. Such exchanges are important for coordinating our lives and avoiding unnecessary misunderstanding, but they don’t do much for building intimate connection. They’re functional, rather than relational, conversations.
But what if instead of talking only about what we did, we shared more of how we felt about it? Shared more of the emotional content of our day?
Daily Strongest Emotion
That would never be a short conversation, and most of us would likely find it too demanding to do it every day for every part of our day. Which is why we crafted a simple couple ritual we call the ‘Daily Strongest Emotion’ tool.
Instead of asking, “How was your day?”, we ask, “What was your strongest emotion today?”. This helps us to focus on one event that was associated with a significant emotional response. It might have been a pleasant or unpleasant experience or just an unexpected reaction to something.
Most days, we haven’t really stopped long enough to reflect on our interior life. So, the question invites each of us to slow down, step back from just moving through our life on autopilot and connect with the meaning of what we are doing.
Strongest Emotions day by day
There’s a rich tradition in the Catholic church of regular interior reflection, one of which is the Examin by St Ignatius. This daily prayer format provides a structure for recognising the presence of God in our lives and acknowledging our success and failure in fully living God’s will.
The Examin helps us to be more intentional in how we live, rather than passive. It helps us grow in self-awareness and, by sharing our reflection in prayer, also deepens our intimacy with God.
The Daily Strongest Emotion tool provides a similar benefit in the couple relationship. By reflecting on our emotional response, even for just one aspect of our day, we gain insight into our emotional needs and our spiritual desires.
And when we share that reflection with our spouse, our bonding and unity deepens. Done daily, we grow as individuals and our relationship can’t help but flourish.
There’s another benefit to this daily practice. Identifying and naming our emotions helps us regulate them, especially intense emotions that may be driving undesirable behaviours.
We may intellectually recognise a particular behaviour as a damaging reaction and seek to control it, but it will always be a battle between our will and our emotions. When we’re tired or stressed, the underlying emotions will usually have their way.
For example, perhaps I am frustrated by my spouse’s tendency to get absorbed in some activity which leads me to be irritable and critical in reaction. I know it’s unloving, but it’s hard to resist that impulse to criticise.
Reflecting on my emotions, I discover beneath the frustration a feeling of unworthiness and a fear of being irrelevant. It’s a wound that has a long history dating back to childhood.
Being able to name these deeper emotions allows me the choice to share them with my spouse and ask for what I need to help heal the wound. I can also bring those emotions to God in prayer.
This is a healthier and more effective way to address the compulsive criticism than simply using will power. I grow, and our relationship grows.
We are all called to be saints; to have an intimate relationship with the God who has loved us for all eternity and longs for us to share in his life.
Our marriages are meant to point to this reality. As spouses, we are called to love each other with a deep and intimate love that reflects the kind of love God has for each of us.
That intimacy needs to be actively cultivated and one very powerful, yet simple, strategy is the Daily Strongest Emotion. It transforms an every-day, mundane conversation into one with deep and lasting impact.
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Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children.
Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links.