by Linda and Charlie Bloom: Hiding our anger is a form of dishonesty…
Clearing is a term that describes the process of coming to terms with our own anger without ever speaking to the other person. By developing methods to free ourselves from carrying the anger, we feel lighter and our relationship improves. One method of clearing is putting the issue in perspective by seeing that it is small enough that it does not deserve attention or mention. Another method is thinking of all the wonderful aspects of our partner, making a minor irritation fade in importance.
Everybody has areas of sensitivity, often referred to as “triggers” or “hot buttons.” These are the sore spots that ignite our feelings; frequently, anger is the feeling that erupts from these areas of sensitivity. When we are aware of our areas of sensitivity, it enables us to take ownership of our own part in the breakdown. We can silently observe ourselves going through familiar feelings, without blurting them. Meditation, and journaling about our experience, are powerful tools to quiet the agitated mind. If we try our best to let go and find that we still are unable to free ourselves from these uncomfortable feelings, then we must say something about it.
Clearing has another valuable effect. During the times when we cannot remove the feelings completely, at least we may be able to settle them down, so that by the time we actually bring them up in conversation, instead of coming out with a blaming tone of voice, or a combative posture, we bring the issue up in a way that invites communication and understanding.
When we are unable to move the anger through on our own, it is of utmost importance that we are scrupulously honest with ourselves, not pretending that we are content when we are still angry. If we have done everything that we can on our own, then we need to confront our partner and the issue.
Consider the story of Paula and Adrian:
Paula used to get really angry at her husband because he would jump out of bed in the morning, even though, as she had mentioned numerous times, her preference was for him to stay connected for a while. She knew that he knew she wanted to cuddle but ignored her preference and started his day. At first, Paula only saw two choices: simmering in silent resentment or criticizing him.
Paula: “I saw that I was making myself miserable living with angry grumbling remarks about what a selfish uncaring man Adrian was. It’s embarrassing to look back and to see how long I blamed him. But I’m proud to announce that I have come so far in my understanding of what works that it is no longer an option to simmer in resentment. Suffering in silence is now closed off. The only two options now are to clear the resentment internally and truly let go, or, if I can’t do that, to responsibly speak up without blame, to vulnerably share my feelings and my needs and be willing to gracefully accept a ‘no.’ Then later, I might be able to receive what I’m longing for.”
Adrian: “My response is different as well. When Paula used to get angry and accuse me of being inconsiderate when I got out of the bed to get dressed in the early morning, I would feel attacked and would react defensively. This would further aggravate her and we would often start our day on a pretty awful note. I think that we both made a serious effort to break this pattern. When she stopped criticizing me, to invite me back into bed for a few minutes, I not only didn’t feel defensive, but it sounded like a pretty good idea. After a while, I was often the one who was more likely to initiate that connection because I came to enjoy those few moments of connection time before we started our day. I stopped feeling that it was something I had to do to appease her, and started to enjoy it myself.”
Paula: “I’m glad that Adrian is skilled at saying ‘no’ to requests he doesn’t feel a willingness to accommodate. Because there are only a few requests that I make, he knows that I am only asking for the things that are really important to me. I’d much rather he tells me ‘no’ than do something and not feel good about it. If he can’t give me an honest ‘no,’ he can’t give me a wholehearted ‘yes.’ When he does give what I request, I can trust it is freely given and enjoy it so much more.”
Adrian: “I am not self-sacrificing. I am careful to refrain from doing things that result in resentment. I never do anything I don’t want to do; if I can’t give something to Paula without resentment, I just won’t give it. I only give what I feel good about giving. And I find that the more I give, the more I want to give. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.”
Learning how to handle differences well leads directly to a relationship that thrives. Learning how detrimental it is to harbor anger is an important step along the way. Hiding our anger is simply another form of dishonesty. Expressing the anger unskillfully is like picking up a hot coal from the fire pit and hurling it at the other person. It sears the flesh of your own hand before it flies.
It’s a good agreement to make with our partner that we do not hold on to anything that we can’t clear for more than a day. We can think of these uncomfortable feelings as dirty dishes. Most of us wouldn’t think of leaving dirty dishes in the sink for more than 24 hours. It can give us peace of mind to trust that our partner’s commitment is the same as ours, to keep our relationship cleaned up every day. It is a great gift to our partner each time we handle angry feelings and they never hear a thing about it. But we must be on alert that there is a world of difference between truly letting go and repressing the feelings. When we have truly let go, there is a warm feeling toward the other person, and trust is restored.