Being “logical” isn’t always rational

Do you try hard to stay “logical” or “rational” when talking or disagreeing with someone?  On the surface this looks like a good idea – we want decisions made on factual information, not just emotions.  But, as fans of Star Trek will know, this is a doomed enterprise (pun fully intended, with apologies).

What we usually acheive is the exact opposite of being rational.   When I talk in an “unemotional” way, what I actually do is disown and deny the feelings that are the motivation for my opinion.  Emotion researcher Karla Mclaren ( stresses that emotions are a fundamental part of our cognitive system.  In other words, emotions are another way our brain sends us messages just like our senses do. We can’t think without feeling.

When we present our ideas and opinions as if they were devoid of feeling we are often trying to position ourselves as “better” than our more emotional partner.  It is common to use the fact that someone has emotions about a topic as a reason to dismiss their opinion.  There are several things wrong with this approach. 

Firstly it is rooted in a competitive, “win/lose” view of disagreements that is toxic to intimate relationships.  If your partner feels strongly about something, that’s an opportunity for intimacy, for knowing them better.  Rather than dismissive, be curious about why and what it means to them. 

Secondly, kidding ourself we are emotionless obscures our motivation and deprives both ourselves and our partner of crucial information necessary to make any decision or conclusion valid.  When we are not looking at all the facts, our choices are likely to be misguided.

Thirdly an “emotionless” presentation invites misunderstanding of our intention – our partner is forced to guess where we are coming from.  Because of the way human brains are wired, their guess will almost always be more negative or catastrophic than our actual position.  Leading to their emotional response to us being off-kilter and confusing to us.

Finally, and most importantly, when we deny or suppress the emotional aspect of our being, we issue an unconscious invitation to our partner to take care of it for us.  This leaves us feeling unnecessarily vulnerable and out of control because we are NOT in charge of our own life.  Our emotional well being is in the hands of someone else. No matter how much they love us, they cannot know or give us exactly what we need.  Frequently this results in us feeling frustrated and angry with them because of their inability to do an impossible job.  This dynamic is a recipe for mutual hurt and cannot be solved unless we reclaim responsibility for our own emotional well-being.

By contrast, the truly rational approach is to accept that you, like every other human, are full of feelings and they represent important information that needs to be acknowledged and understood.  As such this needs to be part of what we think and talk about, especially when we disagree with someone else.   When we talk about and take responsibility for our own emotions and show interest and care in those of our partner, then we are finally acting rationally in service of our goal of having a good relationship.

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