Infections spread easily. Being in a relationship means so much greater vulnerability for infections to spread especially if there is proximity to each other like where a couple is living together, travelling together or just physically being with each other for extended periods of time. Sometimes, couples take turns falling ill – first one gets the flu or the eye infection, and in a few days the other gets it, or both get it together. One could try and take all the hygienic precautions and escape being infected, and be in a position to care for the one who first falls ill, but it is not easy if you are in close physical proximity.
On the other hand, there are other types of infectious possibilities even when a couple is not physically close with each other. I am not talking of conjunctivitis, viral fevers or other myriad illnesses – I am talking of emotional contagion. Emotions are infectious. We are quite susceptible to our partner’s emotional state, and they to ours. It doesn’t need physical proximity. Sometimes, longer the distance, greater the emotional contagion.
A couple living thousands of kilometers from each other can pick up on each other’s sadness and start feeling the same, exhibit the same signs, get teary, distressed and disinterested in their immediate environment. When you are deeply connected, one person’s sadness can trigger an almost equal and similar emotion in the other, or even something deeper and more intense. Knowing a loved one is struggling with grief for instance, can make you even sadder than they may be, just because it is compounded with your own helpless feelings of not being able to be there with them. You might get a serious case of the blues through that.
Emotions are infectious, but may not always be the same – it often mutates. It is like someone near you has chicken pox, and that triggers jaundice in you. The triggered emotion may resonate in the same emotional space, like with the sad, concerned feelings, but quite often could be something very different.
If your loved one is really angry and shares that with you, you might get angry with them, but sometimes, you might actually get angry at them for getting into such situations. You might end up fighting with each other about it. Happy emotions might trigger sorrow, actually. Imagine a loved one calling you from the US, sharing with you how they had an amazing success, and that their project won some big prize – you may get happy for them, but you might also get really sad that you are not with each other, that you are missing out on celebrating it together. Similarly, your fear might trigger your beloved’s anxiety, and your jealousy might trigger righteousness.
The cure for emotional infectiousness is to balance with a more logical, thoughtful engagement, but then, the cure could actually be worse than the illness if overused, leading to emotional distance and a falling apart.
Just notice your own emotions. See if you can hold a bit of distance, and that should be safe enough.
As written for published in The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.