You've just returned from two weeks at the Honeymoon Hilton and you're so wiggy with joy, you even think his inability to toss his dirty clothes in a hamper is "adorable." You're even sharing his sweat socks!
Flash forward a few months.
Despite your loving requests, then sweet pleas, not to mention a hamper you appropriated from the New York Nets’ locker room, his soiled clothes have become part of the "decor."
Instead of sharing sweat socks, you're now wondering why a man who can make a jump shot from 15 feet can't manage a 6-inch "hamper-shot." With the business of living, those "little things" you thought were "adorable" on the honeymoon have become a little prickly. By your first anniversary, your anger is set to "Krakatoa." And then one day, you spew:
"You are a slob! You were always a slob! Your mother picked up after you! Well, I'm not her! And while we're on the subject, I didn't appreciate her bringing her own brisket to Shabbat dinner last week, and the week before! And you never take my side! Why?? Because you're a mama's boy! A mama's boy and a slob!!"
As you conjure images of tossing the brisket into the hamper, you wonder, What happened? How can I be saying such things to the man I love?!
Anger is a lot like temporary insanity.
In my advice columns and clinical practice, anger takes a top slot among the Big Issues that threaten our relationships, and our sanity. To understand how perfectly normal, generally loving people can turn shrewish, we need to understand a simple fact: Anger is a lot like temporary insanity. When in the throes, many of us are capable of using a verbal hit list on our mates we wouldn't think of using on a mugger. Threats! Maledictions! Name-calling! And the ever-effective "silent seething."
Can we lop the angry beast? No.
While each of us boils at a different temperature, anger – within reason – is a natural, even necessary part of the human condition. When it fuels righteous indignation and positive action, it's the stuff of poets, heroes and yes, survivors. But when it flails, unfettered and out of control, it can sabotage even our most loving relationships. The difference lies in how well we can tame, train and aim it so we don't “bury the hatchet” – in our mate's soul.
THE 6 "DONT'S" OF ANGER
(1) The Insult: "Are you a moron?" "What an idiot!" "You're such a jerk!" This may be the stuff of sitcoms, but without the "laugh track," insults – even when they're couched as "constructive criticism" – are character assaults. They land like a punch, and the sting renders the "victim" deaf to your legit gripe. (The proof? Has anyone ever said, "You know, you're right! I am an idiot. Thanks for clarifying!") Worse, with each assault, another precious stitch is yanked from your mate's esteem, your mutual respect, and the fabric of your relationship.
(2) The Prophecy: How often have we heard (or said), "You're lazy! You always were lazy, and you'll always be lazy!" Boom! Talk about leveling a blow, with one comment we've doomed our mate, now and for eternity. The result? As one newlywed told me, "If she already thinks I'm 'lazy,' I may as well enjoy it!" then he promptly kicked his "lack of vigor" up a few notches. Instead of positive change, this unholy M.O. invites, even dares our mate to "follow" his or her miserable "destiny" – one we've unwittingly created!
(3) Hitting Below the Belt: "Not only did you act like a fool at the party, that weight you’re gaining didn’t help!” This one-two punch qualifies as "aggravated assault." While our intention may have been to get his attention, overkill totals our point, and our mate.
(4) The Melodrama: "You always ignore me!" "You never think of my feelings!" Like salad spinners, these extremes toss us – to nowhere. We say, "You never," they say, "Yes, I do!" we say, "No, you don't!" until we're dizzy from all the "nevers," "always" "buts" and "ah-ha's!" The real problem? Lost in the cross-spin.
(5) The Laundry List: "Not only did you come home late again, you forgot to take the garbage out, and you still owe my brother $200!" Hurling an angry "list" telegraphs that "nothing" is right with our world. Who could listen, never mind fix or take the blame for that much mishegoss? Overwhelmed, our mate will shut down, rather than climb our Mt. Everest of Misery.
A close relative is The Mini-Series. Extending our grievances to a saga may get us a win, but like a confession under duress, can we really trust a deal from a mate who'd give up a kidney to get away from our harangue?
(6) "It's the Little Things": Hopefully, we've wed someone who shares "the Big Things" – our values and beliefs. But it's the "little things" that turn our laundry lists into life litanies. Carping over each small "violation" can makes us bigger violators of our mate’s human rights.
Note: Without exception, anger is never physical.
THE 6 "DO'S" OF ANGER
(1) Timing is Everything: Anger is unreasonable and unrestrained. It's up to us to set "anger" limits. Agreeing to a time period, say 10 minutes, where each may vent uninterrupted, allows us to express our anger fully, hear, then exit and end it. No "buts," "you dids," or "you saids" while the other is spouting. Each gets several turns, as necessary.
(2) Call the Act, Not Personality: If we talk behavior, not character, and how it affects us, we move from "blame" to helping our mate understand, and resolve. Listen to the difference:
"How dare you walk in here late! You're so selfish!"
"When you were three hours late, I was worried sick. It upset me terribly, and that makes me furious. What can we do about it?"
Using the "I" word (as in, "I felt") helps us stay on track and moves the sound track from liability to responsibility.
(3) Stay on Point: If we're angry over the budget, keeping it to the bucks allows us to focus on a solution, one issue at a time. That means we save the "your mother's a harpy" theme for a later discussion (with a wiser lead-in). The clearer and cleaner the grievance, the more likely we are to make positive headway with not only minimal damage, but maximum potential for creating a loving, caring and workable dialogue.
(4) Pick and Prioritize the "Poison": Is it more important that he quit cluttering up the junk drawer, or that he stick with the budget? Contrary to "popular opinion," we can't mold our mates to our personal standard of "perfection." Separating the big stuff from the little, and choosing our battles with care not only increases the likelihood of our being heard, but is easier on our stomach lining.
(5) Manage the "Little Things": As living with the "little things" comes with the territory, it's the better part of valor to let the small stuff go, take preventive measures, or trade-off nuisances. If he's into watching ESPN till 2 a.m, earplugs can save our voice and our nervous system. The toothpaste is open and crusty? Buy "his" and "hers." If he flings his shorts, we'll chuck them in the hamper – as long as he gasses up the car.
(6) "What's Fair?" These two little words carry more raw power than Don Rickles on double latte. Asking "what's fair?" demands that the adult part of us show up. It challenges us to think as well as feel, and allows us to negotiate an equitable deal. After all, isn't that what fueled our anger in the first place? Working on "What's fair?" goes to the heart of our grievance and gets us squarely where we want to be: heard and heeded.
A wise person once said that marriage is God's Great Roller Coaster. When we're on top, it's life's headiest ride. But oh, those mad, mad curves. Learning to navigate them safely insures that our most precious relationship endures and thrives – far beyond the "Mazel Tovs" and the Honeymoon Hilton.