David is reactive. He vents his anger regularly and is quick to explode when he is stressed. Lisa is highly anxious and finds herself ruminating on the “what ifs” of life. It’s hard to have a conversation that doesn’t include catastrophic thinking. Both people struggle with emotional regulation. Their emotions get the best of them.

Emotionally unstable people are difficult to live with on a day-to-day basis. Their moods may shift regularly, and you don’t know what to expect. When you do anticipate their mood, you prepare for high intensity. Over time, this can be exhausting.

From the highly anxious to the constantly angry person, your response matters. It can cool down the situation or ramp up an already unstable emotional state.

When emotions are unstable, the best thing to do is listen. Instead of fighting back or trying to convince the person they are fine, listen and try not to react personally. Words like, “I can see how upset this is making you feel,” validates and calms. What you don’t want to do is match their intensity.

Stay calm, but also set boundaries. Listening doesn’t mean you sit and take verbal abuse or do whatever the person says. It means not being reactive. But if the person remains unstable despite your efforts to listen, tell them you need to stop the conversation until they can calm down. Then you will be happy to talk, problem-solve and address what is so upsetting. Suggest a time-out so both of you can get your emotions under control. No one can think clearly when emotions run high.

You can also ask if there is anything you can do that would be helpful. “You are very upset. What can I do right now to help?” For example, do they want to be alone, be reminded to take some deep breaths or pray together? What you don’t want to do is walk on eggshells. Instead, wait until a calm period and then discuss their lack of emotional regulation and how that pushes people away. Ask them about a plan to gain more control. Do they need emotional coaching, anger management, a therapist to help them recognize what sets them off and learn emotional regulation strategies?

The point is, if you live with an emotionally unstable person, this needs to be addressed or it will create a strain in the relationship and impact other domains of a person’s life. So, acknowledge the problem but with the intent to make changes. All of us need to understand our emotions, how they impact others and regulate them in healthy ways.

Proverbs 25:28 tells us,” A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls (ESV).” The Bible teaches us about self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and should mark the life of a believer. According to 2 Timothy 1:7, God gives us self-control so that we can live in a way that is honorable to Him. If self-control is lacking, get the help needed spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. There are therapies geared toward emotional regulation like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that teach emotional regulation skills. Also, dig deeper into your spiritual life, asking the Holy Spirit to give you self-control. This is a fruit of the Spirit, promised to those who love the Lord and are intimate with Him.