This has been a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, the inability to meet with each other, give hugs, and share concerns of the day.
We have learned to use more technology to operate our businesses and hold group meetings. We have driven up to our churches and stayed in our cars to listen to our pastors speak or we have listened to sermons on YouTube.
We have had groceries delivered and become familiar with masks. We have prayed and reached out to each other in the safest way possible.
It has been a surreal world – one in which we struggle to create a sense of normalcy. We are even learning how to sing as a choral group, rehearsing without gathering together in a group.
Everything was going so nicely, and then life stepped in. There’s not enough money to pay the bills, the credit card debts are piling up, in-laws intrude with too many visits or too much advice, to keep my job I have to work longer hours and accomplish more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more – tempers flare, anger rises beyond the norm, and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy, and support.
And the scene is set for more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
Communication is a skill that is learned and developed over time. When we recognize what isn’t working, we can replace it with something that will work.
We communicate all the time. We cannot not communicate. With our facial gestures, postures, words, or attempts to change the other person, we need to know how to become the type of communicator who respects ourselves and others.
Knowing yourself is vital in becoming a good communicator.
You need to know what triggers your stress buttons or emotional upsets, your fears of being hurt or looking stupid. Finding ways of dealing with adversity are often hidden from you until you are willing to accept yourself unconditionally, with both the good and the bad. When you feel okay to face your vulnerabilities you are taking charge of your interactions and your life, and that is reflected in your conversations.
“But you said. . . ”
“No, I didn’t. . . ”
“Yes, I heard you say. . . ”
“Well, that’s not what I meant!”
And so, it goes – round and round and round and we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend and destroy each other.
Anger builds as each continues to dig in their heels and insist they are right, and the other is wrong. You probably have had such conversations or have witnessed them. Discussions at this point soon move into the blame game:
“You always try to pin the blame on me. If you were here instead of out golfing, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Oh, and how about you – out shopping again.”
The conversation has gone beyond misunderstanding and name calling.
So many things that contribute to high levels of stress in today’s world. Not having a job, home schooling while maintaining a job, unexpected financial concerns, trimming our budgets to bare bones, travel restrictions, and the inability to enjoy social functions, are but a few.
When the cares of the day max our ability to cope, we find that those high levels of stress can make it harder to maintain positive relationships.
We know that anxiety levels can dramatically rise as optimism flies out the window and worry about our future takes over. Anger, guilt, and shame are quickly activated. Learning to calm ourselves through slow, even breathing whenever stress levels rise is imperative.
Like summer wildfires, the results of anger unleashed and unchecked by logic or reason can leave behind destroyed relationships and ruined lives. Left unrestrained, our lives can become tinder boxes ready to explode with just a spark of irritation.
Anger, like fear, is a great stressor when it becomes the norm for dealing with life’s problems.
As therapists, we see the effects of growing up in homes where anger is out of control. The wounds and scars run deep. Unless recognized, addressed, and changed, the patterns of behavior repeat themselves from one generation to another.
It’s okay to be angry. It is not okay to be aggressive.
You may have been led to believe that anger is never good and when you get angry you should quickly censure it. As I described in my earlier posts, anger has a purpose and we need to pay attention to what it is telling us.
Aggressive behavior often accompanies anger out of control, but anger and aggressive behavior are not necessarily synonymous. You can feel angry without being aggressive.
When we feel we have little control over our life and anger becomes our predominant way of resolving conflict or problems, it can lead to aggressive behavior.
Whether you are a man or a woman, understanding your feelings of anger and what triggers it is important. The inability to understand its origins can result in hostility, silent rage, or passive-aggressive behavior. Understanding and becoming accountable for our emotions allows us to assert ourselves responsibly.
Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It is neither bad nor good on its own. When managed and expressed appropriately, it can be an important ally and friend.
The energy that anger creates can help us make important changes. When used as a motivational force it gives us the motivation to change our lives for the better.
Left unchecked, however, it simmers beneath the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Anger then focuses on everything that is and has been going wrong in our lives. It keeps us from seeing anything good.
It is to our benefit to find out how we acquired an angry-aggressive habitual response before it becomes a wildfire that burns everything in its path.
Someone has wronged us or betrayed us. Anger rises. It simmers in our thoughts as we contemplate our revenge: “Just wait; I’ll get even with you.”
And we repeat to ourselves over and over the injustice of the situation, of how we were treated and why we didn’t deserve it.
What felt like a kick in the stomach the first time is repeatedly replayed as we continue to stoke the flames of anger, hurt, and betrayal until we have a raging furnace inside of us – our stomach churning into hard knots, chilling our bones.
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