Most days these days, I can name a few reasons to be angry at my guy, The Spaniard. Truly. We’ve been through seemingly endless challenges — some self-created and others lobbed at us by an invisible, arbitrary all-star pitcher — and there are many times I’ve asked myself why, oh why, did he not handle x differently? (Read: The way I would have wanted him to.)
In our maturity, we’ve both learned not to go looking for drama. We know it has a way of finding us even when we’re hiding behind things we think will protect us: well-laid plans, a retirement account, historically good health. But drama has a way of slipping in just when you think you’ve closed the door tight. It doesn’t discriminate. This, we now know.
The Spaniard and I don’t have screaming fights. We don’t (anymore) go days on end without speaking. When we do argue, it’s usually because I’m unhappy with something he’s done. Truth be told, he rarely complains I’m not holding up my end of the relationship bargain. That’s either because, a) he’s more open-minded and forgiving, or b) I’m not doing much to derail our happy place. Okay, honestly? It’s a combination. Cross my heart.
Part of our ongoing challenge is we have a blended family. And blended families don’t come with easy-bake directions. They’re messy and raw. And frustratingly chaotic. Add the recent death of the ex-wife to the mix and you can toss the whole Brady Bunch-esque fantasy into the Nutribullet. There’s grief and disillusionment. And anger. And disagreement about whose anger and grief should be prioritized. And whose disillusionment should top the specials board on days that end in the letter y.
So, I know how it feels when the people and circumstances in your life do crazy with unparalleled proficiency and panache. Your only option is to unleash — often onto your fallible partner — a well-deserved mix of rage, inarguable criticisms and the always constructive, cherry-on-top list of why and how you do the whole living and breathing thing in an obviously superior fashion. Sound familiar? But what I want to share with you has changed the way I choose to respond to the crazy. Yes, choose. And not because I’ve found some super special zen place, I haven’t. But I know, in my deepest core, that it’s the most accurate, frustrating, righteousness-negating truth of truths about all disagreements. Whether you’re expressing anger at your spouse, your friend or your child, what you’re really saying, without exception, is this: Stop making me feel this way.
Yep. That’s it.
Stop making me feel sad or lonely or betrayed. Stop negating my feelings. Stop making me feel this out of control. Quit making me feel like I’m needy or demanding. Or crazy jealous. Or that I’m not an effective parent. Stop making me feel like I’m not a priority. Or that I’m not worthy enough or pretty enough or enough enough. Stop. Just stop. Because the more terrible or threatened or scared I feel, the more vicious and fervent the resulting argument will be. Full stop.
Whatever you’re in disagreement about is indisputably related to what’s it’s triggering in you. Okay, yes, you’re angry your child stayed out past his curfew. But what is the real feeling attached to it? Well, perhaps it made you feel disempowered or unheard in a way that’s historically painful for you. Or maybe you’re pissed your husband just checked out — for the second time — that hot brunette who just walked by your table. But, again. Could it be your insecurity about your own attractiveness — or your fear that he’ll up and leave you for someone else — that’s driving the upset?
When our basest selves are provoked, we lash out at the person we perceive has injured us in some way. Do the people in our lives hurt us? Hell yeah, they do. But, more often than not, your reaction isn’t about the actual event or behavior, but to the wounded space it activates inside you. The space that would really rather not be poked or prodded thankyouverymuch.
So, what’s the benefit of knowing this? Well, back to choice. Next time you feel that bile of anger rise, stop. At least pause. Is your child’s tardiness really egregious enough for you to go off the rails? Isn’t it true your boyfriend thinks you’re so sexy and beautiful that he’s chosen only you to partner with? Take a breath and shift your lens. Look inside and take ownership of your reactions. When you’re able to identify your insecurities and sore spots, you can teach the people close to you how to sidestep them. And you, in kind, can learn how to steer clear of theirs.
Will this ensure a battle-free relationship zone? Good gracious, no. But it may help hack away at any extraneous drama in your lives. And that’s a very, very good thing. At least, I hope, we can all agree on that.