Sometimes a partner in a relationship will say, “I’m unable to control my anger.” On the surface this sounds reasonable enough, but if you really think about it, it’s an excuse – an excuse to separate you from the consequences of your behavior.
However, in life and relationships, you are responsible for the consequences of your behavior.
Author and thinker Terry Real points out that if you really couldn’t control your anger, you would be in jail or an institution. If that’s not the case, it means you can control and limit your reactionary instincts. Such control arises from the part of you that is aware of the consequences of our actions and knows you will have to live with them. Applying this kind of brake on anger is something that, with willingness, can be cultivated.
At work, it’s virtually guaranteed that you will experience difficult customers, coworkers, or bosses who push your buttons by their ignorance, impatience, or condescension. The reactionary part of you may wish to lash out, but the mature part knows there will be consequences (namely disgruntled customers, coworkers and bosses), which will affect your ability to keep your job and thus support yourself and your family.
The point is, we are able to control our anger at work because the consequences, as Real says, “are in your face.”
Say you are on a flight and a baby is crying. What’s likely to come up is irritation. However, we don’t act on this irritation by getting up and yelling at the baby and its mother. We don’t do this because it wouldn’t be received favorably by the baby, the mother and the other passengers. Yelling would be pointless and perceived as mean and childish.
We tolerate the irritation without acting on it because the consequences of doing otherwise are clear and immediate.
Often in intimate relationships at home we need to be reconnected to the consequences of our anger, because they are less clear and immediate than in other circumstances. At home there is generally more tolerance for the accrual of our anger “bill.”
Such reconnecting can be painful, but an effective couples therapist who helps with this is coming from a place of loving kindness. Indulging in anger at first is intoxicating, but when we are back in our mature self, we have to clean up the mess if we can – that is, our partner still wants to be with us.
In therapy, a partner can help with such reconnection by sharing what it feels like to be the recipient of the anger, and sharing what they will do if it doesn’t improve. If someone says they can’t control their anger, there’s a good chance anger was pervasive in their family of origin. A good reconnecting question is, “Do you want this familial theme to continue for another generation?”
As a couples therapist, my work is to simply help people stay connected to the consequences of their actions at home.
When a partner is able to apply the brakes to their anger by being reconnected to its consequences, they benefit by experiencing improved relationship health. By not giving credence to the idea that they’re victims of their anger, they may also improve their engagement with other emotions such as vulnerability or empathy. They also gain the ability to have the relationship their mature self wants, as well as the opportunity to rewrite a negative familial legacy.
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