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.
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.
Acceptance is a concept – a state of mind – a way of looking at life and problems. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance. It is a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options and choices.
Problems have a magnetic way of holding us in place. Like an insect caught on fly paper, we get stuck in the mess of it all and can’t see a way out.
Acceptance takes us out of the victim role and puts us in the administrator role.
It keeps us from playing the blame game where everything – from circumstances to people, parents, siblings, religion, God, whatever – are blamed for our inability to do anything.
Acceptance puts us in control of our responses regardless of what life throws at us.
Acceptance is a necessary step in helping us recover from losses.
When we accept our circumstances, their formidable impact on our life is reduced while helping us find ways to reconcile and heal.
In many ways, we are addressing stressful events every day. We acknowledge, accept, look for options and work to find solutions instead of allowing them to create ongoing turmoil. Because acceptance is such an important concept, I want to expand on how it can help us lower stress levels in our daily lives.
We are currently living in uncommon stressful times: the pandemic, inability to go back to work; wondering whether our kids can go back to school, whether we will have enough money to pay our bills or if life will ever return to normal. Add to that the emotional stress that is generated as we try to communicate and work together to solve the escalating problems we face.
When you learn the basics of problem-solving it will be a skill that you use automatically.
In last week’s post, I outlined five basic components of problem solving; questions you need to ask to find the solution you want. Today you will set the criteria to resolve your problem and learn how to identify exactly what the main problem is.
Identify the problem – define the conflict
Whether the question is how to advance beyond basic survival, how to prepare for your financial future, or how to better communicate with your spouse, it is crucial that the problem be correctly defined.
Unless the problem is correctly defined, you will be trying to rid yourself of emotional distress rather than resolving the actual problem.
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