Today my husband and I had our fifth fight. Not bad for a twenty year marriage but regardless, for an anger management professional such as myself, I didn’t handle it very well. Actually, fight is not an accurate description as it was more like a huff, that is we got annoyed at each other. Let me explain: I asked Mac to show me how to use the power washer so that I could prep the tool shed to be painted. I had mentioned several times that this was a priority chore for me this year. The day prior, I told him that I wanted to get started this weekend. So this morning, I requested that he show me how to use the machine to which he become annoyed. “It hasn’t been used in three years,” he snapped. “I don’t even know if it works!” I made a critical mistake by taking personal offense to the way he spoke to me and responded with my own anger. “You and I are never on the same page! I try to do as much heavy work around here to make it easier on you. And you can’t even make sure the tools I need are working properly. I’m done!” I stated emphatically. “You can do it yourself!” With that, I turned and walked out of the room. He got in his car and drove off in a bad mood.
Mac in no way deserved to be on the receiving end of my ire. For certain, an apology was in order. I’ve never been one to hold a grudge so I can let go of my own anger quickly. But I also needed to do some immediate damage control as well. While he was gone, I reassessed the situation. What was really going on? Both of us are under constant pressure from our jobs, taking care of our home, dogs, and family. Stress lessens one’s ability to be patient and rational. Relatively insignificant issues can be blown out of proportion and simple requests can be seen as being demanding, threatening, offensive, or irrational. Under less stressful conditions, neither of us would have responded with such disrespect towards each other. Having said that, we both feel added pressure on the weekends to accomplish an abnormal number of chores, denying ourselves any respite from our demanding workday responsibilities.
Anger is the outward expression of either hurt, fear, or frustration (the three root causes). For certain, I was feeling frustrated. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on my “to do” list and I feel as though I (and my husband) keep falling further and further behind. Secondly, I allowed myself to be hurt by his (mildly) rude behavior which in truth had absolutely nothing at all to do with me. I fully understand that he was merely expressing his frustration as well. Upon closer examination, there were also elements of fear that surfaced. I’m concerned (a mild form of fear) that we will not have all of the larger tasks completed on our home once we are ready to sell it.
So how did I get over my anger? By considering the following 10 questions:
1. Did this situation warrant my anger or was I over reacting? In this case, I completely over reacted. This issue was relatively minor and I was reacting to my own frustration rather than my husband’s response.
2. Was I being fair and reasonable to my husband? Absolutely not! It was highly insensitive of me to think that he should immediately take action on my request. Initially I thought I had given him enough forewarning but in retrospect I realized that based on his personality, I had not.
3. Were my expectations of him, his needs, and his reaction realistic? Again, absolutely no. I know him well enough to know that he needs time to process and plan anything I request of him. He has his own day scheduled and when I interfere with that he feels pressured and minimized (that my needs take precedent over his).
4. Was the intensity and duration of my anger justified for this specific incident? Intensity? No. Duration? I’ll give myself a pass on that since it literally lasted less than five minutes. But again, the issue at hand was not a matter of great urgency as proven by the fact that I had plenty of other work to occupy my time. And I will eventually get the shed taken care of.
5. Did I fail to see his perspective and consider it equally as valid as my own? In the heat of the moment, yes, I failed to recognize where he was coming from and respect his position as much as my own.
6. What needs of mine were not being met? (Unmet needs will trigger anger.) I needed his help and reassurance that he would take care of his responsibility in a reasonable period of time (which at that moment, for me, was immediately).My fear was that I was being blown off and what I wanted to do was not important to him and would be put at the bottom of his “to do” list, thereby possibly never getting done.
7. What needs of his did I fail to provide? He definitely needs his space on the weekend to take care of his personal errands and chores without interference or pressure from me. He also needs to be asked questions (“Is there a chance we could get to this today?”) rather than demanded (“I need you to get the power washer working now.”), regardless of how polite I think I am being.
8. How can each of our needs be fulfilled? What is my role in doing so? I need to be more sensitive to what matters to him. By giving him enough notice and asking if he is able to assist me (I tend to take it for granted since he’s so talented), I can alleviate putting any unnecessary pressure on him. I can also reach out to others for assistance when necessary or for instructions so that I may rely more on my own abilities. If possible, there is always the option of hiring someone to do what we don’t have time to do on our own.
9. If changes are not immediately forthcoming, can I accept that the situation will remain status quo for now? Can I find some sort of internal resolution with my circumstances? Of course. I am actually quite good at doing so and have in many situations before. If the situation is temporary, I can call upon my patience to get me through while keeping myself occupied with other important projects.
10. If the situation is permanent, can I find internal resolution as well? Absolutely! Much in my life has not complied with my preferences and I have been perfectly fine. Understanding that life is not always meant to follow my dictates and that there are important lessons to be learned in such circumstances enables me to grow on many levels, put the event into its proper perspective, and ultimately be at peace with my current situation.
While it may seem that this technique took a significant amount of time to process and resolve, in truth it took a matter of minutes for me to re examine what transpired and let go of being angry. I felt a sense of remorse for the way I treated my husband and immediately reached out to offer him the apology he rightfully deserved. For him, an expression of remorse enables him to more easily heal his own anger, forgive me, and allow us to move back into a place of being happy and loving towards one another. It was well worth the investment of a little time and effort.
Note: for those of you who are questioning, “What about his role in all of this?”, my response is this: it’s none of my business. I need only concern myself with my own issues and actions. That is where my personal power lies and where true change occurs. What he does is irrelevant. All that really matters is how I handle myself.
“Unresolved anger leads to bitterness, resentment, self-pity and misery. Letting it go invites joy and peace to enter your heart again.”
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