(Adapted from Intimate Encounters, Dr. David & Teresa Ferguson, p. 19)
God designed us with an emotional capacity, represented above as a tea kettle. He made us this way so that we could experience intimacy, closeness and positive emotions like love, joy, peace, affection, romance when our "Top 12 Needs" are caringly met by our spouse. However, when these interpersonal needs are not met by our spouse, (i.e. we get rejection instead of acceptance, aloofness instead of attention, criticism instead of respect or appreciation), our emotional tea kettle begins to fill with negative motions like pain, sorrow, bitterness, resentment--pushing out the capacity for the positive emotions.
Unmet Needs Lead To Hurt, Disappointment and Sadness
Unmet interpersonal needs are like a flickering flame beneath the tea kettle causing heat, pain and tension. Anytime our partner gives us the opposite of what God designed us to experience (i.e. affection, respect, attention, security) it hurts. And it ought to hurt since it is contrary to what God designed. We were made for heaven and we are not there yet. Hurt leads to appropriate feelings of disappointment and sadness.
Hurt Leads To Anger, Resentment, Bitterness
Once hurt, anger often follows. When we wrongly "let the sun go down on our anger" (Eph. 4:26) and it often grows into resentful feelings like "I should have never married this person." Rather than resolving the anger, and especially the hurt beneath it, we hold onto the anger for weeks, months, even years resulting in bitterness. Once bitter, we often seek to retaliate thinking "you do that to me, then I will do the same to you."
Bitterness Leads To Guilt
Guilt now follows because we seek our own revenge contrary to God's prescription to "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord (Rom. 12:19).
Guilt Leads To Condemnation
Condemnation follows if we do not correctly resolve the true guilt we experience from wrongly responding to our partner's sin against us. Thoughts like "You are no good;" "no one will ever love you;" "nothing good can come out of this;" are signs of condemnation.
Condemnation Leads To Fear, Anxiety, Resentment
When hurt in the past we now fear being hurt similarly in the future. For example if we ask our spouse to help around the house and they respond in anger, we will feel fearful about ever asking for help in the future. Hurts from the past make it difficult to be vulnerable with our needs in the future.
Anxiety kicks in as we begin to think "am I going to have to the live the rest of my life this way?" or "how is this going to damage my kids if I stay in this marriage and they see this type of marriage role modeled." This anxiety leads to further resentful thoughts like "I should have never married this person."
Anxiety Leads To Stress
Imagine staring your day with 100 units of energy. You can use it all up by 3:00 in the afternoon as you spend it all on trying to process the negative emotions inside the kettle. This leaves you stressed and zapped of all energy.
There is a little room left for positive emotions, but notice how the kettle is now mostly filled with negative emotions--which have pushed out the capacity for the positive emotions. At this level, we began to think "I never really loved this person and I should get out of the marriage."
This is how the emotional wall builds in marriage. In our Marriage Skill Newsletter we will discuss the negative physical symptoms that follow a full kettle.