Dear Reader: The following is a co-written article between the creators of Sex the Podcast, Natalie Vartanian and Bob Schwenkler.
But Isn’t Anger Bad?
“The devil is in the details.” “It’s the little things.” “God is in the details.” “Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.” “It’s the little details that are vital.” “Little things make big things happen.”
Have you noticed how so many sayings refer to how attention needs to be paid to what may seem small or insignificant. There is a reason for that. If you ignore or are oblivious to those tiny moments or have a tendency to sweep things under the rug, they eventually build up, and potentially blow up. We believe the same is definitely true when it comes to relationships.
There is a great analogy about honesty and timing in relationships. Imagine something happens, whether intentionally or intentionally, that annoys you or pisses you off, and that feeling is directed at your partner. At that moment in time, a small seed gets planted. You can speak to that feeling in that moment, air it out, and remove the seed. OR you can ignore it because you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings or are afraid to open Pandora’s box.
What happens with that seed when it is ignored is it begins to get covered up. Layer by layer it is glossed over and over time, it grows and grows. What was once a small seed because a huge ball of resentment and anger and frustration. And that huge ball begins to create a rift in your relationship.
One day, that ball may explode and create a canyon sized rift in your connection, which may be extremely difficult to heal or mend.
The very thing you may be avoiding could happen but ten times more severe and hurtful.
What this article speaks to is why it is even more imperative to address that seed, to figure out ways of venting out frustrations, so that they do not lead to irreparable and destructive balls of resentment.
I like to tell people, sometimes, that I have an anger problem.
It’s not the kind you might think though. See, my anger problem is that I don’t know how to express it. For years I thought of myself as “someone who just doesn’t get angry.”
Though your relationship to and experience of anger might be totally different than mine, I would wager that you too learned that anger is something to be avoided. Whether, as a child, you experienced an excess amount of it or learned that it’s something to be avoided, my guess is that you didn’t receive the message “Anger is healthy.” It was more like “Anger is bad. Avoid it. It can damage relationships and hurt people.”
What if, though, anger was not something to be avoided, downplayed, or diverted?
Anger is a powerful force, and when we try to avoid, downplay, or divert a powerful force, that’s where the damage, hurt, heartbreak, and mistrust occurs.
Put differently and in blunt terms, when you’re not acknowledging, owning, and communicating about your anger, you’re lying. You’re lying to yourself firstly and your partner secondly. You’re denying a part of your from expressing itself, from being seen, heard and felt.
I’m not intending to place blame, I don’t have any judgement that you do this. I do it myself. It’s just that we’re not really able to change a pattern that we don’t even acknowledge exists.
You’re disowning a powerful force inside of you. You’re offering it no guidance, support, structure, or love. No wonder it then feels so scary, this unknown creature that you’ve nurtured and created. You didn’t create it on purpose or consciously, but you did create it.
So what would you choose to do with a creation of yours? Would you like to continue to deny it and avoid it? Or might it work better to develop a relationship with your anger?
Step 1: Acknowledge that you have it. Learn how it feels when it’s coming up for you.
Step 2: Find safe places to practice letting it out. This could be a men’s group, your pillow, or taking a kickboxing class. This may feel really scary. That’s a sign that you’re doing something right.
Step 3: Communicate about it honestly and openly. This might even mean showing frustration or anger when you’re around someone you care about. It doesn’t mean pointing it at them. It means allowing it into your experience without allowing it to dictate your experience.
What happens then? Simply, communication. When we stop trying to suppress our emotions we begin communicating them. We begin communicating about the “little” things before they snowball into big things.
We begin modeling to our partner that it’s safe for them to do the same.
We communicate that we trust them enough to show them ALL our sides, even the ones we most fear ourselves: Those places where we have hidden behind a passive aggressive demeanor or a wall of anger.
We begin to truly connect with and love the person in front of us. That’s what you’re in relationship for, right?
Things happen. We are not perfect beings. Lord knows I do things that probably annoy or challenge or frustrate Bob (whether he realizes it or not). The reverse is true as well. He may do things, usually unconsciously, that rub me in that oh so wrong way.
I have found time and time again that addressing those things, in the moment, diffuses so much of the charge, and we can actually work towards a resolution instead of me holding it in, silently festering and wishing things were different.
But let’s get to the heart of the matter here … what we really want in a relationship is love and trust. When things happen that piss us off, we may be taking it personally or assuming the other person did something intentionally to hurt us (for whatever reason). Translate: “You don’t love me. I can’t trust you.”
When the trust is there, it creates a space of connection and honesty. You will feel much more able to bring things up with your partner, knowing that there is trust in the relationship for the information to be received, and resolved if that is what is needed.
However when trust is low, the likelihood of things pissing you off increases. The even crazier paradox here is that the only way to increase trust again is to have the conversation about what is depleting that trust for you personally and then coming up with solutions together as to how to replenish that trust (love).
Gary Chapman who wrote ‘The Five Love Languages’ refers to this as Keeping the Love Tank full. Steven Covey of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ refers to it as the Emotional Bank Account.
Both concepts basically speak to the concept of filling the tank, or account, up of the other person, as opposed to taking from it or depleting it.
Specifically, the Emotional Bank Account concept refers to deposits or withdrawals that are made into people’s bank accounts, and the effect of those transactions. When we make emotional deposits, the other person’s fondness, trust, and confidence in us grows.
Most importantly, if we can keep a positive reserve in our relationships, by making regular deposits, there will be greater tolerance for our mistakes and we’ll enjoy open communication with that person.
On the contrary, when we make withdrawals and our balance becomes low or even overdrawn, bitterness, mistrust and discord develops. If we are to salvage the relationship, we must make a conscious effort to make regular deposits.
To me honesty, which Bob refers to so eloquently as “Truth with Compassion” will actually put deposits into the emotional bank account. If you can air out the things that may be challenging for you, it creates a space to work on the issue at hand together. Which builds connection, intimacy and TRUST.
An approach that has worked for me with Bob has been to state what came up and then approach it with curiosity, as opposed to assuming, pointing fingers or blaming.
Example: “When you did XYZ, that hurt my feelings. Was there a reason you did that (or that happened)?”
Or even starting the conversation out with “I’m really curious, was there a reason you did XYZ?” and then openly hearing his response. I eventually will tell him what came up for me as a result of his actions. But the important thing to note is I take responsibility for my feelings and reactions.
So many times the person does not even realize what it is they are doing unless we point it out to them. They can’t read our minds. We have got to share what is going on in our body, head, heart and mind.
Learning to communicate your hurts or upset, trusting that the other person loves you and wants the best for you, as well as the relationship, is paramount. Don’t let too much time pass either … time may heal but it can also atrophy. Exercise the muscles of vulnerability so that you can experience true intimacy.
What Kind of Relationship Do You Want to Create?
None of what we’re stating is hard, factual truth. It’s simply (some of) what has worked (really) well for us and people we’ve coached around communication, love, and relationship.
You get to take what works for you and leave the rest behind.
That said, pay attention for the places where you feel resistance or judgement about what we’re proposing. The things we are least willing to examine in ourselves are oftentimes the places that, when acknowledged, loved, and healed, will allow us to experience the depth and type of intimacy that we truly crave.
It’s where we get to step beyond patterns of frustration, disappointment, and resentment, and enter into a realm of incredible connection. But it takes bravery and it takes work. If it were easy the whole world would be doing it, and we’d all be enlightened. The work of responsible, deep honesty is for those who are truly ready to shift into a new way of relating.
So what came up for you as you read this article? What did you hate? What did you love? What got you thinking?
Most importantly, what changes will you make from this point on?
What brave leap are you going to make that you’ve been unwilling to make?
What conversation have you left unhad that you’re now going to have?