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© NOVA AUGUST 2010 39
All couples fight. That's a given.
And it's not actually a bad thing,
contrary to popular belief. The
problems occur when individuals
don't know how to fight in a positive way.
Very few of us were taught as children how
to manage anger so as adults, we either
repress it or express it inappropriately.
In looking at ways to disagree positively,
we need to firstly understand the nature of
What is anger?
Anger is usually classified as a negative
emotion but it is, in fact, just energy and no
different to any other. All emotion is good
and part of the human experience. It only
becomes negative when we hold onto it,
try to suppress it and control it or, on the
other hand, let it take us over. Every person
has a dark side and when we accept it, we
are free from its tyranny. When we judge
and criticise our feelings, we give them far
more power. So it's not about stopping or
hiding anger. It's about accepting it and
learning how to harness it in a way that is
not destructive. We can begin this task by
making a distinction between anger and
temper. Anger is a feeling; temper is the
negative expression of that anger.
Anger in relationships
In relationships, anger is natural because
the people closest to us are most likely to
press our most sensitive buttons. But anger
can be a pointer to resolution. It shows up
differences, yes, but also can help us make
things better. For without passion, there
can only be indifference.
Let's by all means argue, let's disagree
-- it's okay. We just need to learn some skills
of combat, such as good communication,
listening ability, self worth, generosity of
spirit, stress management, mutual respect,
resolving old baggage, acceptance and
tolerance, honesty, conflict resolution.
Armed with these, we can indeed fight
Often, when we feel anger, it is not caused
by a present moment but rooted in the
past. It can relate to another person,
another time and another grievance. A
common example occurs when a man is
told off by his boss, goes home and yells
at his wife or children. This outburst may
have been triggered by a relatively small
incident within the home, but is actually
caused by the stress of his outside life.
Once we see this in our own behaviour,
we hopefully can take a breath, stop and
express our frustration differently.
Instead of waiting for anger to erupt,
possibly leading to a fight, the partners in
a marriage should discuss disagreements
and differences without emotion. Each
person should bring their separate issues
to the table, listen carefully to the other and
then be prepared to brainstorm solutions.
Compromise, of course, is essential. Once
a strategy has been agreed, it needs a trial
period, after which it can be reassessed.
This may sound tedious, but it prevents a
build-up of resentment over time.
Individually, we need to take responsibility
for our own anger.
If we allow it to bottle up, it will indeed
run over and spill onto others. As with
regular exercise, we should learn strategies
of positive anger management so that it's
part of our everyday life, not something
we trot out when we are in a bind. Physical
release is good as in playing sport, having
enjoyable pasttimes, laughing, playing,
talking out our concerns, practising
positive thinking, being with nature,
relaxing, stress management overall.
Writing out our frustrations is very powerful
because even the worst day, when viewed
in a clear perspective, can be released
when written down. Deep breathing,
relaxation, swimming, yoga and tai chi,
whatever works for you, are all useful.
After the battle
We can't leave this discussion without
touching on how to cope with the
aftermath if anger does spill over and
should call time-out. I'm often asked this
question: "Should I walk out if I can see
the fight is building into a nasty exchange?"
My answer is yes but not as a copping-out.
Storming out is not the answer. Calling a
time-out is, with the promise to re-address
the quarrel the next day when emotions
have died down. A spirit of reconciliation
and forgiveness is also essential as holding
onto ill feelings, grudges and bad moods
prolongs the quarrel and creates further
Positive fighting is an important aspect
of human interaction in general and close
relationships in particular. It's a skill worth
pursuing and practising. It is not about
avoidance or glossing over problems,
but rather a practical and healthy strategy
for understanding our individual and
relationship issues, then working them
out together so as to reduce conflict and
avoid the erosion of love and happiness.
Here again are the main ingredients needed
for this valuable life skill:
❤ good communication
❤ listening ability
❤ self worth
❤ generosity of spirit/forgiveness
❤ stress management
❤ mutual respect
❤ resolving old baggage
❤ sense of humour
❤ acceptance and tolerance
❤ conflict resolution
Charmaine is willing to answer your relationship questions
to appear in NOVA Maga zine, both in print and online.
Email her at email@example.com
there's an actual fight. I assume that I need
not emphasise the need to completely
avoid physical lashing out and verbal
abuse. These have no place in positive
fighting and healthy relationships. When
tempers flare, and they will sometimes
no matter how enlightened we are, it
is essential that the positivity continues
beyond the fight. Prolonged discussions in
anger are to be avoided at all costs. When
emotions accelerate, one or both people
Dr Charmaine Saunders.
Building stronger relationships with counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders.
'Every person has a dark side
and when we accept it, we
are free from its tyranny.'
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