For example, it is unavoidable for Joyce and me to sometimes say or do something that triggers hurt feelings in the other. Usually this is completely unintentional. Our goal is to say something like, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me by your action, but it did hurt me.” I have to admit, Joyce is better at it than I am. When she makes that statement, it helps me in two ways. Firstly, it acknowledges that I didn’t mean to hurt her. This is very important to me, often preventing me from going to the old tape of “I’m a bad boy,” or “I can’t ever do it right.” Secondly, it allows me room to hear her feelings and immediately apologize, which can bring us back to love very quickly. When the hurt or fear is not felt and expressed, anger is the next level. Here are some guidelines for the healthy expression of anger: “I” statements are rarely abusive. Try saying, “I am angry,” rather than “You did this,” or “Why did you do that?” Healthy anger is not intimidating or controlling. Even “I” statements can be abusive if you are scaring the person you are addressing. If you are physically or emotionally dominating this person, you are being abusive. This includes not letting him or her speak, and of course, touching him or her in inappropriate or aggressive ways. Healthy anger stays in the present, rather than bringing up unrelated things from the past to fortify your argument: “You came home an hour late without calling, yesterday you forgot to take out the garbage, and the day before, you left your dirty dishes on the table.” Not healthy. Healthy anger does not generalize: “You’re always breaking your commitments,” nor does it make threats of any kind: “Break one more commitment and I’m out of here!”
Lastly, name calling or swearing is unhealthy. Period. After the anger is expressed in a healthy way, it’s time for both of you to address the hurt or fear underneath the anger. Take responsibility for your deeper feelings and apologize for hurting the other. Cade’s apology to Lana allowed her to quickly let go of her anger. Lana acknowledging her hurt and fear made it easier for Cade to apologize. Address the hurt or fear beneath the anger and there will usually be no need to express anger at all. Prevention is always more effective. But if the hurt or fear remains elusive, you have a conscious choice to express your anger in a healthy way. Follow the above guidelines and you can have an abuse-free interchange. When Joyce and I are angry with each other, we stay connected and work it through to the very end. We know we are done when we can sincerely hug and kiss one another and even laugh at our behavior. Because of this, the flame of our love and commitment to one another has been allowed to burn brightly. Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse and medical doctor couple since 1964 whose medicine is now love, are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom and Meant To Be. Call 800.766.0629 or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001 for a free newsletter or more information on counseling sessions, recordings or schedule of talks and workshops. Visit sharedheart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.
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