I've been in this relationship with my boyfriend for two years going on three in August. And our relationship is well when we're happy and not arguing, but when we get into (an) argument, it gets really bad where we won't talk to each other for a couple of days. And I think that's where my anger comes in and I won't even try to attempt to solve the problem. So my question is, are there any tips you could possibly give me to make sure that this problem that we have (arguing and not speaking) to each other for days (could get better)? I'm sure you have some sort of tip. Much mahalo! (Thank you) -- A.M., Hilo, Hawaii
Here's a tip. And it's not rocket science. It's not some profound psychoanalytic insight. It's actually absurdly simple . Only you are in charge of your moods. So, my tip is this: Decide, right now, to be in charge of your moods.
If you want to participate in great love, then the singular work before you is finding the courage to forge intimacy. In love relationships, intimacy has many faces and forms. The obvious ones are great sex, rich romance, faithful friendship, abiding advocacy and encouragement. But there are many other, much less romantic intimacies that must be navigated. One of them is the intimacy of anger.
Yes, anger is an important intimacy in a great love. If you are going to be this close to another human being, the closeness must occasionally provoke anger. Thriving couples, if they are to thrive, must learn together and individually how to share anger as yet another way to know and honor the beloved. But most people -- including me -- find it damn scary.
It is so very painful to be angry at someone you love. So painful, in fact, that most people regularly hide that anger. Withhold it. Then it leaks out in reactive mood -- bickering, fighting, impatience, contempt, criticism, shaming, pouting, aggression or passive-aggression. So, you might ask, if we're doing all this fighting, why would I say that anger is being hidden or withheld? I'm saying that couples fight all the time as a strategy not to talk about their authentic anger. Said another way, it never ceases to astonish me the way couples can bark at each other for sometimes years about something that has little or nothing to do with the real grievance or fear!
So, A.M., I'm asking you to sit down, right now, and make yourself a promise: "I will be in charge of my moods, especially angry moods."
To be in charge, the first thing you do with the surge of upset is ... stop talking. I mean shut the hell up. Why? So that you can examine the mood. Is it fair? Is it accurate? What's really going on? Is this really the "big deal" that my mood insists it is? Or am I just tired and grouchy? Was there really a sleight? Or am I just feeling insecure and sensitive? Am I angry, or really just afraid and anxious?
Our mate can't hear our self-doubts and fears when those fears are shrouded in bitterness and attack.
Ooh, now we have choices. And, so far, we don't have a mess to clean up in the relationship because we just lost our temper and entitled ourselves to talk to our beloved like they were a child. Or a dog. Truth is, I know spouses who talk with more consistent love, warmth and understanding to their dogs than they do their mates. I see spouses address their mates with utter scorn, then turn in that same moment right where they are standing with a bright smile to address a drugstore clerk with warmth and decency.
If you step to the back porch at an adult party and find your mate kissing someone that's not you, go for it. Have a rip-roaring fight. But, if all you're dealing with is the ordinary negotiations of respect and reassurance with an ordinary mate, then you can decide not to surrender to mood and reactivity. You can breathe through the temptation to mood ... and then say, "I need to talk about something."
Speaking with decency, honor and the benefit of the doubt is something your mate deserves in principle, let alone because you purport to love your mate. But this principle is never more important than when you're angry.
Together, you two could agree that it's simply beneath you to stop talking for days at time.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or email@example.com.