Lauren Gulde has a fantastic post up at Austin Catholic New Media on dealing with anger in marriage. With 10.5 specific tips, it’s a very thorough look at positive ways to handle the anger that invariably weaves its way into the fabric of our marriages. Here’s one of my favorites:
8. “I’m sorry, but…” Is NEVER okay
We have a “No ‘I’m sorry, but…’ Rule” in our home, with our children, with each other. If you’re ready to apologize, then you’re either in, or you’re out. If you say something like, “I’m sorry, but that was a really stupid thing to do!”… guess what? No dice. You’re back at square one, or worse. Make sure you’re apology can hold water and be taken seriously. Make sure that you are able to be sincere, or wait. And remember, your body language speaks volumes. Make sure that your face, your eyes and your voice echo what you feel.
This is the kind of thing that’s hard to write about because inevitably someone’s going to read it and say “what’s up? Is everything okay? Are you guys still arguing over the dishwasher-loading situation? I thought you got counseling for that.” Just admitting to the Internet – hey, we aren’t perfect – is a sacrifice, I think, in that you’re sort of inviting the world to speculate about very private matters. Which some would argue is the essence of blogging, but we don’t like those people, anyway.
So – I was going to just leave a comment on Lauren’s post but I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, not because we are currently having problems but just the whole – how do we radiate joy to the world, as Catholics, while still presenting an authentic picture of our own struggles. You know what I mean?
My husband and I have been through a lot, lot, lot, and we are stronger for it. At one point I remember looking at some list of “top stressors on a marriage” and we could tick off 7 out of 10, or something like that, after having been married less than two years. Death of a parent, job loss, seriously ill child, moving across the country, trying to eliminate pasta – we’ve seen our share of troubles and anger has naturally come along for the ride at times. Here are some things I’d add to Lauren’s list.
1. Conflict isn’t a bad thing. I remember a Relative Who Shall Remain Nameless Because I Think She Reads My Blog telling a story about a regular check-up where the doctor asked if she was experiencing any stress, and she replied, “Of COURSE I have stress! I’m ALIVE!”
And, you know, I actually find that rather hopeful. If you’re alive, you are going to have conflict. The real problem is when you try to pretend the conflict isn’t a thing, or it will just go away if you agree to mutually ignore it.
2. Emotions like to dress up as each other. One of the very best pieces of advice I ever received was from a priest after the death of my father. He told me that “Grief can show up disguised as other emotions.” And boy, was that true. Sadness or fear that I haven’t dealt with can glop itself into anger. It’s really important to figure out if you’re actually mad or if you’re channeling other emotions into anger – and to identify what you’re mad about.
One technique I use, when I can find it within me to be reasonable amidst anger, is to ask myself, “How long do I want to be mad about this?” Like – is this something I can justifiably remain upset about if it’s not dealt with in – a month? Six months? A year? Or is it really rather small in the scheme of things, and I may not even remember it a few weeks from now? That’s helped me to choose my battles and identify when a conflict really does need to be dealt with and when to let it go.
3. Be aware of spiritual attack. I know half my readers just arched their eyebrows. (“I didn’t know she was a snake-handler!”) All I am going to say is that, building on Point 2, there have been times when I watched myself get very down or very angry about something that really was waaaaay not worth it, and I stopped myself short, said my St. Michael Prayer, and waited for it to pass. You can explain that as a materialist “deep breathing and use of a mantra allowed her brain to process the information in a more healthy manner” kinda way if you want, sure. I believe that evil is real. (And, in the video I linked, it resembles a grue.)
4. Don’t compare yourself to other marriages. Danielle Bean talked at a conference I attended about how unfair it is to compare whatever our reality is to the perceived perfection of another woman’s life. This goes double for comparing your marriage to another couple’s life.
5. Get enough sleep, sunlight, exercise, and decent food. It’s amazing – and slightly embarassing – how often I have found that a Battle Symbolic of the Epic Struggle of Our Lifetime can be remedied by some protein and a walk around the block.
6. Put St. Joseph on the job. This ones for alllllll the ladies out there. Ask St. Joseph to pray for your husband. When he’s not busy being randomly buried in the ground by house-hunters, he’s hanging out, ready to take your call on the prayer-request line. I just learned from the Internet that he is the “unofficial patron against doubt and hesitation.” And of workers, carpenters, and the Universal Church.
7. Ponder your spouse’s “greatest hits” in your heart. My husband has made tremendous sacrifices at times for me and for our family. I remember how he helped my mom take care of my dad on his deathbed, how he cared for me after each of my c-sections, all of the times he exercised heroic virtue for me and for us. I choose to see those times as the true essence of Who He Is. It’s easy when you’re angry to make that moment of conflict the “you are showing me the real you right now!” But gosh, if anyone were to describe my own dark moments as “the real Dorian,” I’d have to just go live in a yurt or something. I owe my husband the same respect.
So – what do you think? Something else I’m mulling over is the question of how to create a support system for yourself when conflict is more than you and your spouse can handle on your own, without it devolving into “my group of friends who will listen to me vent and give me a high-five.”