Note: This is the first of a three part series
Dear Neil: I am in a 4 ½ year relationship with a woman I love and want to marry. But we get into such nasty, vicious and hurtful fights with each other that it makes me hesitate about the future. We get angry with each other and seem to stay angry forever, and the resulting things we say get pretty mean and insulting. We are fighting all the time. Any suggestions for reversing this process?
Weary In London, England
Dear Weary: All couples have disagreements, but all couples do not fight. Fighting means your communication system has broken down. When your communication skills are functioning you can talk with each other to solve your dilemmas—which is very different from fighting.
“Blowing off steam” can easily set off explosions of rage. The more anger you express, the more anger you will feel, the longer you will remain angry afterwards, and the more anger your partner will feel toward you. Expressing anger tends to make you even angrier—and solidifies an angry attitude. Dealing with the problem indicated by anger is helpful, but dealing with it in an angry way creates additional anger.
The toxic impact of fighting can be remarkably long-lasting. One spiteful interchange can undermine weeks of positive time together. You are almost guaranteeing that your relationship will suffer if you become angry frequently, if when you get angry you get really angry occasionally, if you stay angry for a long time, or you persistently harbor subtle angry feelings that never fully go away.
Anger is the reverse of love. Love enables us to see our partner’s attributes in the most positive light. By contrast, anger actually causes you to lose the ability to see what is attractive about your mate. The angrier you become, the less you will be able to recall the aspects of your partner that you cherish. Even after your anger has cooled, the negative views of your mate that you kept repeating to yourself when you were angry may continue to dampen your affections.
As your anger escalates, your interpretation of your mate’s actions will become increasingly negative. For instance, you may usually regard your spouse as busy. If you become angry, you may label the same productivity as self-absorbed. As you become even angrier, you may arrive at “inconsiderate workaholic.” Negative labels like this may serve to justify the impulse to hurt the person you most love. There will generally be a grain of truth in every negative you see when you are angry, but this grain of truth will be enlarged out of proportion.
Recent research studies have shown that married couples who fight are at a significantly higher risk for divorce. The test of a marriage’s worth may be it’s positive times, but the best predictor of whether it will endure is the frequency of its bad moments.
The good news is that you can create positive solutions to even your most long standing disagreements. Switching from anger to mutually respectful, problem-solving dialogue can give you a new level of respect and affection for each other.
“Be master of thine anger.” —Confucius
Source: The Power Of Two by Susan Heitler (New Harbinger Publications)