Reduce Anger In A Relationship

Published on by CMe




Reduce Anger In A Relationship

Anger in a relationship stems most frequently from irresolvable issues. Issues that can be resolved seldom create nearly as much anger in a relationship.

Sally was a neat-nick. Her motto was "a place for everything and everything in it's place." Walter wasn't a slob, but he was comfortable with things being a little messy.

When they married, Sally began nagging Walter to "Pick up after yourself." But, Walter often didn't pick up after himself. So Sally picked up after Walter.

They didn't realize it, but they were dealing with an irresolvable issue. Sally was a little overboard about neatness, and she expected Walter to be the same. He wasn't. Walter began to be irritated by what he called "Sally's compulsive behavior." He vowed never to be "obsessed with neatness," like he thought Sally was.

Sally started to get really angry at Walter every time she had to pick up his glass, or put a CD back in it's sleeve. She thought "He's doing this on purpose," and "He expects me to pick up after him. I'm his wife, not his mother."

So, Sally was accumulating a lot of anger; she frequently snapped at Walter for no reason that Walter could see. So, Walter began to get angry at Sally because of her snappishness, and because she still nagged and criticized him for being "a slob." When Sally and Walter learned about irresolvable issues, they finally realized they had been dealing with one.

Sally practiced better ways of dealing with Walter's messiness, and began handling those situations with humor and grace. The laughing brought them closer together, and Walter even got a little less messy.

Stop wasting your breath ... and hurting your marriage

The marital researchers at the Gottman Institute in Seattle studied hundreds of newlywed couples for up to six years. The discovered that about 70% of the conflict issues that couples had when they were newlyweds, remained 6 years later. In other words, most of the things couples fight about don't get resolved.

Here's what this means to you … and your marriage. If you have the same fights over and over, you are wasting your breath. And, you're hurting your marriage. You're fighting an endless fight. We call it a circle dance. We say that 80% of the problems in your marriage come from 20% of the issues. If you end the circle dance, 80% of your problems will disappear. But, you can't end it until you identify the issues. Failing to identify your circle dance issues will, without fail, lead to an increased amount of anger in a relationship.

Identify unchangeable differences ... and accept them

With Patty and Steve, the circle dance was about money: how much to spend and how much to save. With Eric and Millie it was about how to discipline the kids. With Dave and Sandra, it was about his drinking. With Mike and Taisha, it was about her wanting to stop working and be a stay-at-home mom. With you and anybody, there will be irresolvable issues. Maybe you could figure it out in advance, but sometimes they just appear after the wedding. So, if you've got a circle dance with your present partner, don't even imagine that it would be better with someone else. It may be different, but researchers tell us that any two people will have marital issues that cannot and will not be resolved.

So, if you can't resolve it, and want to minimize anger in a relationship, what do you do?

Obvious irresolvable issues

You'll minimize anger in a relationship if you spot the obvious irresolvable issues before you marry. If you don't think you could ever accept an issue, don't get married. If, however, you know the issue faces you — and you choose to marry in spite of it — then the only reasonable solution is to accept it, and treat it with humor and grace. One of you will be

  • neater than the other
  • more careful with money than the other
  • less ambitious than the other
  • more concerned with status than the other smarter than the other
  • more open to new things and new experiences than the other
  • closer to their family than the other.

The important thing to notice is that you're not necessarily "right" about how you are. And, your partner is not necessarily "wrong" about the way he or she is. You are simply different. And, different is actually a good thing, because it can keep each partner from going overboard on that thing. Mary married Steve partly because he was good with money and she knew she wasn't. She thought he'd be good for her.

Sam married Angie partly because she was an extrovert and had tons of friends. Sam was an introvert with few friends. We can all see what issues will arise for them that could produce anger in a relationship.

Steve could "go crazy" when he sees how Mary wastes money. Or, he could accept it and treat it with humor and grace. "I hold her hand because when I let go, she shops." Angie could "go crazy" when Sam seldom wants to go out with friends, preferring a quite night at home. Or, Angie could accept the way Sam is with humor and grace, enjoying her friends without requiring Sam to be different than he is.

Irresolvable issues that come up later in the marriage

Some issues can't be spotted ahead of the marriage. Here are some examples:

One of you will be:

  • more lenient in disciplining the children than the other
  • more willing to invite an aged and ailing parent to move in with you
  • more willing to move out of state when the other one gets a promotion.

It doesn't matter when the irresolvable issue shows up. Your partner wasn't hiding their position on the issue from you. You weren't hiding your position from your partner. Don't get ensnared by imagining motives that were never there.

So, these issues are irresolvable. What do you do to minimize anger in a relationship? Breathe deeply, wish it weren't so, then appreciate something about your partner.

To minimize anger in a relationship

We suggest that you simply accept that you and your lover have an issue that cannot and will not be resolved. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Agree to disagree.

    Clear the air with your partner. Explain that you now realize that the two of you have one of those circle dances going and that it is harmful for your marriage to fight endlessly about something that won't change. Make it clear that neither of you is to blame (or that there is some blame on both parts). If your partner won't agree, and you want to break up your circle dances by yourself, simply stop doing what you do when your partner does what your partner does. Dances can't continue with just one dancer. One way to do it is to say something like, “I love you, and I'd fee safer if we don't have the same fight over and over again. Let's talk about something else.”

  • Decide to accept some or all of your partner's position on your conflict issue.

    Do this out of love and respect for your partner. Decide to lighten up on your position on the conflict issue. No matter how important it has always seemed to be, it isn't as important as your marital happiness. This will be hard for you, because you've got such a big stake in your position, and you probably think your partner's position is indefensible. But, the issue isn't more important than your marriage, and your position may not be as rock solid as it has always seemed to you.

  • Learn to laugh at yourself or the situation.

    Many lucky couples celebrate long and successful marriages, by learning to laugh at the situation and themselves whenever their conflict issue pops up. Laugh at yourself (never at your partner): "Don't worry; in another ten years I'll have it down pat."

    Handling ticklish issues with grace and humor will bring you closer together, rather than continuing hurt fuand damaging fights that lead to anger in a relationship.

  • Practice a quick repair or deflection.

    Create and practice a quick repair if you slip and criticize your partner about an irresolvable issue. A repair for when you mess up, might be, “Oops, There I go again,” or “Sorry, I know you hate it when I do that.” Practice a quick deflection you can use when your partner slips and is critical of you about an irresolvable issue. When your partner errs, you might say: "Let's start over. That sounds like one of our irresolvable," or "Can we talk about something else?" So, breathe deeply, wish that it weren't so, and then decide not to fight about it again.


Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at  MetroSexual LA


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