Dumping Emotional Garbage

Dumping Emotional Garbage - AdobeStock_675584567There are times in marriages when most all of us are guilty of dumping emotional garbage on one another. I’ve done it, my husband has done it, and you and your spouse have probably done it too. This is where something tripped you over into “stinking thinking” and instead of disposing of it properly, you let your “partner” have it.

Or maybe you’re on the receiving end of your spouse’s stinking thinking. Unfortunately, when we live with another human being —irritations can too easily get tossed around. Sadly:

“It’s human nature to dump our feelings on our spouses because we look to our spouses for sympathy, comfort, and understanding when we feel overwhelmed by life’s stresses. Yet if our spouses are also feeling overwhelmed by life’s stresses simultaneously, they might feel pushed off the deep end when we dump our feelings on them. In addition, if our spouses are the source of some of our stress, we might express our feelings in very blaming and accusatory ways, that fault our spouses for stressing us out. Of course, that never gets us anywhere as blamed spouses who are stressed out themselves will just respond defensively, often lashing out in anger.” (Lawrence Josephs, Ph.D., in his article, “Why People Dump on Their Partners”)

And then you both have a mess to deal with! It’s quite the dysfunctional circle, isn’t it?

But what do you do? Do you just keep quiet and let your spouse dump his/her bad attitude on you?

Most often that would be a “no”! But let God be your guide in this. We certainly can’t tell you what to do.

It’s important to note though, that abuse is never right. God doesn’t condone it. Let’s be clear on that! However, sometimes (when the action isn’t abusive), you can give grace and walk away to defuse the situation and not give it any additional energy. Other times, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.

Dumping Emotional Garbage

All of this is in the context of another scripture (among many) that comes to mind:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.(1 Peter 3:8-9)

So, when emotional dumping DOES happen, that’s when the one who is on the receiving end needs to prayerfully decide what is best to do with this type of conflict. Do you just walk away, or do you find a “meek” way to confront it? (Remember, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” And who doesn’t want to be blessed?)


Let’s also be clear on the issue of confronting. We said, “meek” not “weak.” Meekness is defined as “strength under control.” It is not about being a wimp; but it also isn’t about throwing around strength out of control. It’s not a type of weak confrontation, but rather, one that is done in the wisest way possible, for the situation at hand.

That definition has helped each of us many times, when we’re faced an emotional dumping situation.

I (Cindy) vividly remember a specific situation when my husband “dumped” some emotions on me. It was a time when I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I actually thought of that definition and stood up a bit taller and said gently but firmly, “This is obviously not about me. I didn’t do anything to deserve your anger. Do you want to talk about what is making you angry, or do you just need some space?”

Steve just stood there stunned. And then he backed off and confessed what was going on. He then apologized. At that point we talked about the whole matter in a very uniting manner.

Now let me tell you first, that Steve doesn’t usually act like that with me. As a matter of fact, I am more often the one who tends to “dump” than he does. But that specific situation was actually a turning point for both of us. We both learned from it. And both of us have been learning to be more “meek” in how we react since that happened. We’re not as quick to snarl back. Instead, we try to give more grace and space to each other when one or both of us need it. We’re not always perfect in this, but that is our goal.

Sometimes it’s best to confront, sometimes it’s best to wait to confront (when the timing is better), and other times it’s best to just let it go.

Speaking Truth

But when you DO confront, make sure your purpose is to “speak the truth in love” (in other words, motivated by the love for Christ and each other).

Unfortunately, you can’t always avoid conflict in your marriage, nor should you. As author Paul Coughlin explains:

“Conflict is the price you pay for intimacy. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in. If you want to connect genuinely with other people, you have to risk conflict by being frank and firm in addition to gracious and loving. It’s that ‘salty and sweet’ combination. And though it’s not a popular message, risking conflict by speaking the truth in love is part of following Christ. This is what the real Jesus modeled for us. He didn’t avoid necessary conflicts if those interactions could possibly lead to a more authentic, intimate relationship. And he always spoke the truth in love.” (From the Crosswalk.com article, Friendships and Family: How Nice Wrecks Your Relationships)

With that said though, sometimes there are spouses who are abusive when they confront or are confronted. (We have an Abuse in Marriage topic that could be a good start in helping you in that type of situation.)

However, for those of you, who aren’t dealing with abusive situations, make it your goal to confront in love, or give some grace and space, when it’s appropriate. (This is difficult to remember to do when we should, but it sure can be beneficial, when we do it.) Your spouse may need your encouragement in some way.

We’re told in Isaiah 35:3 to “encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.” In applying this verse to your marriage, April Motl (from the Crosswalk.com article, “Making Your Marriage a Safe Place”) gives the following challenge to consider.

She writes:

“Is your honey worn out? Find a way to tangibly come alongside him or her to give encouragement and strength to them. Maybe it is some time away from the responsibilities of life, a shoulder rub, making and cleaning up dinner or just listening to them process life.”

There’s no doubt that it isn’t always possible to do this, but when it’s appropriate, give the type of love and grace that you would want to receive from your spouse. Give that, which you’ve received from Christ.

In Closing

We want to give you a little more info. We realize that what we wrote above may or may not work for you in your marriage (or in some of the incidences in your marriage as it applies to emotional dumping). Let’s face it, every marriage is different. So, we recommend that you prayerfully read the linked articles below to see if you can learn more tips that you can use.

You sure don’t want to allow the garbage to build up between you and your spouse. It can divide you. Unfortunately, as Dr Carol points out:

“You each brought old stuff into the marriage that irritates and wounds each other and limits the intimacy and connection between you. You misunderstand each other and your old hurtful ways of coping come out and hurt each other again. You’re certain your spouse fails you, and you also fail your spouse.

“If you don’t deal with such marriage debris it will begin to stink like an overflowing trash can. It may already be stinking. Neither stuffing it nor dumping it on your spouse will work. So what can you do to deal with the trash your marriage accumulates?”

Hopefully, the following articles can help you:

Getting Rid of the Trash Your Marriage Has Accumulated

Emotional Dumping: How to Avoid Displacing Undeserved Anger on Your Mate

And if you want some tips to help you rebuild your love after getting rid of some of that dumping trash:

8 Ways to Eliminate Emotional Baggage and Rebuild Love

We pray all of this helps.

And, in the way that you react to emotional dumping:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ to whom be the glory for ever and ever.(Hebrews 13:20-21)

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

7 Essentials - Marriage book


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2 responses to “Dumping Emotional Garbage

  1. The Word tells us to bear each others burdens and in a marriage, intimacy requires you to do that. But I’ve seen where it can be a hindrance to the spouse if you do not handle your emotional garbage right. Like the article says: speak the truth in love. I believe this sort of communication is what keeps marriages healthy.

  2. My husband and I have been together almost 8 years and Married for almost 5 years. I Love Him something so fierce that I actually believe sometimes I may be the very thing standing in the way of his calling. The relationship became rocky way too soon but I pursued because I felt hope. He has accused me of being unfaithful basically our whole marriage. I can’t seek to understand this because there’s no reason. I also fear he may be delusional. I’m truly scared. I haven’t done anything that should lead him to believe such lies. I’m so tired of defending false accusations and I really feel he doesn’t love me but won’t end it. I’m a bit intense and emotionally aggressive when these situations arise so I come of demeaning but I’m frustrated because my faithfullness and loyalty are being questioned. Help me! I want this marriage to be a marriage of choice. I dont want a marriage of convenience.