All of us get mad over things. Some of us keep our mad inside our bodies and don’t say anything even when we get upset. The rest of us just release the anger—usually on others.
Being the angry one and sharing it is the way I am wired. I have been getting mad since I was a toddler. I wish I had a different experience of having this feeling, but I do not. I grew up with this feeling and I learned also that yelling, stomping my feet, or just being ornery created attention for me, and that was better than being left alone. I guess you could say I learned to get taken care of when I got angry.
People frequently ask me about how to stop an argument. When they do, I’d love to give them a fool-proof way to get it done. I wish it were as simple as saying one or two words, instantly turning two people amidst taking each other’s heads off into docile, compliant, happy people free to go about their business as if nothing happened.
Unfortunately, nothing short of physical distance stops an argument. I know this, because I have spent much of my early life arguing. I have never been able to stop arguing once I get started.
Constant fighting in a relationship can be exhausting. It can also be frustrating and disappointing. And there are many, many other emotions that might be felt too.
Constantly fighting in a relationship is just hard. And it makes the tender parts so few and far between that couples might be asking themselves if the relationship is even worth it. So why do couples do this?
Sometimes we learn how to argue a point of view, if we grow up in a family that practiced using this technique. If so then we have some built-in skills to take into our adult relationships.
But for many of us, we didn’t learn effective ways to get our points across without having some sort of disagreement. Disagreements are a natural part of relationships, but most people don’t expect to argue with the one they love.
No two people are exactly the same and as a result each will have some different thoughts and ideas about how things should be. This is where disagreements begin. Two people—couples—will have differing views.
So, how to handle these disagreements? That is the question for every relationship on the planet. Here are some of the skills I like offer to clients.
I was running in my neighborhood one Thanksgiving Day. The streets were empty, and smells filled the air. I was thinking about the meal I would be eating later, with loved ones, when a sharp yell pierced the air. It was a woman screaming at a child.
I heard it come from a home across the street so I couldn’t see who was yelling, but I got an instant picture. At first I felt pain for the child, but then the mind traveled to the one who was yelling and I realized something else. It was something familiar I must have felt as a child, something this woman could be feeling at this moment.
Even though all of us are different, if we blame someone or something for our discomfort, then we have one thing in common: we’re internally wired the same. There are many of us in the world. And it’s my guess that if you blame or criticize when you are unhappy, you have heard about your behavior from others all your life.
I know I have. When I was little my older sister called me “the angry child,” because of my loud, blaming ways. I didn’t intentionally come into the world this way. I didn’t have a conversation with myself when I was learning how to express myself that said, “Start blaming. It’s a good system.”
No, that’s not what happened. I imagine it was my circumstances that encouraged me to use my voice to let my caregivers know I needed something. I just used my vocal cords to be heard. This habit just morphed over the years and I got better at leveling the criticism or blame when I got upset.
All of us feel like leaving when we get mad. It’s just something that happens to us when we are in relationships with others. We get our feelings hurt and we have to get away as soon as possible. We can’t help it. Getting away is just the quickest way to end our suffering, or is it?
I know the times I have grabbed my dog and headed out the door to get some relief from an argument I had with my boyfriend I was just protecting myself from further pain. I had to go. I had to go cool off and figure out what just happened.
I was walking the neighborhood recently with a friend and we passed by a car parked on the street. The windows were down so I could hear a young couple sitting in the front facing each other and having a discussion.
I heard a few words from the man. He was explaining something to the young woman about how his feelings were hurt. I could feel his earnestness, even after just a couple of moments. I also could tell that he was trying really hard to get her to understand him.
Every one of us has hurt someone we care about. Unless we live alone in a cave and don’t interact with another human being, we will sometime in our life be hurting someone we love. It just goes along with being alive and interacting with others.
But when we hurt the person we love and are in relationship with—well, that can weigh heavy on us and make us feel pretty terrible. I know there have been many times I have been cross or said something sharp to my husband. I also know that even the slightest shrug of the shoulder or snappy reply has an effect on him.
So if we do things that are bigger than a rolling of the eyes, like hanging up on our partner, cussing them out, or slamming doors and leaving, well we have made not just a statement, we have made a big impact on the person we love.
As someone who is interested in what causes behavior, I am convinced that the madder you are, the more wounded you have been. It’s hard to think of an angry person as in pain though. Most of us want to get away from someone who is angry. We feel their fierceness and we just want to back away and not have anything to do with them.
I tried to calm him down. I did so three times. The fourth time I just let him rage, and that’s exactly what he did. He raged and raged and raged. And when he was done he got up and left the room. I continued with the wife and soon after the session ended. I felt a lot of emotion in the session and a lot of it was mine. I felt helpless to help him. I felt very sad for his inability to find a way to be understood by his wife. I felt him trapped inside himself and having no way to express himself except with a big booming voice that no one could tolerate.