In computer lingo there are “If, then” rules that set up software commands and functions to run programs. For example, if I push the button with the letter “I” on the keyboard, then the letter “I” appears in this column. It is the way my computer is programmed.
Have you ever made an “If, then” emotional rule for your partner that you probably should have deleted? For example, you tidy up the living room floor and notice a few more items (for instance, a shoe) that belonged to your “sweetie.” You get agitated. You then say to yourself, “If my partner leaves that shoe out again, then I will be angry!” It is now the way that you are programmed.
Tomorrow comes. Guess where that shoe is. Oh, and that anger came just as you planned. Next thing you know, your partner is saying, “What’s your problem!?!” You are quite willing to share your problem, but you are not being very pleasant about it. Remember, you have an emotional rule that calls for you to be ANGRY. You are following your program.
Dr. James J. Gross has written about a number of more effective ways to regulate these emotions we feel. He has described ways to keep from losing our cool when someone “makes” us angry. This tool is known as reappraisal.
In essence, reappraisal is taking a different point of view — and this is particularly important for us when we are in situations that seem irritating. These reappraisals may help us deal with emotions in a healthier way. They give us a new program.
To put it in terms I understand: By changing some of these “If, then” rules, I think we can learn to not get so upset at loved ones. It is time for us to reprogram.
During this summer, I set some fun goals, such as shedding some extra pounds and getting financially sound, but how many of us set goals for our relationships? How many of us take the time to be better husbands or wives? How many of us take the time to write a better emotional program?
This summer, I plan to have a few new “If, then” programmings that give my spouse, friends, family members and strangers a break from my old, rigid emotional rules. Here are a few I will set. Feel free to make your own list.
Emotional “If, then” programming:
1. If my partner says something mean, then I will tell her I love her, and I’m sorry if I upset her.
2. If my partner leaves a toothbrush on the sink, then I will not take it as a personal attack, and understand that she was probably a little stressed that morning and needed my help.
3. If my family says something hurtful, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume the best.
4. If my basset hound doesn’t come back from the yard when I call him, then I will assume his nose has caught a scent more interesting than this boring house. (I’ll then lure him in with a treat.)
5. If someone cuts off my car in traffic, then I will assume they are on their way to the ER and say a prayer for the family.
This column was originally published on twoofus.org. Daniel Hubler is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.