Anger Management: Avoiding Conflicts in Relationships

Sudha and Ashok are in their second year of marriage. Sudha is a nurse and Ashok works for a software firm. They seem to have a good rapport with each other, until one day when all hell breaks loose. This one day as Ashok returns from work he finds Sudha angry and sulking. As a considerate husband he wants to know what her problem is and asks lovingly. Sudha bursts out in anger asking as to why he did not consult her while giving money for his sister’s wedding expenses. He defends his action by saying that his family is important and being the eldest son he has got the responsibility of taking care of his sister’s wedding and he assumes that Sudha will understand. But for Sudha this action was done without consulting her. She feels ignored and unwanted by her husband in something that she feels is crucial for the welfare of the family.

She wants Ashok to consult her before making any decisions so that she can be a part of the decision-making process. Now Ashok feels that as the head of the family he has every right to give the money to his sister’s wedding thinking that he can inform her later. It never came across his mind that this would hurt her this way. Similar scenarios are far too common, especially in Indian households.

Certain relationships in life we cannot choose like our parents, our siblings or our children, but there is a choice as to how we respond to these relationships

Tim Lahaye, a Christian counselor- writer, points out that anger is something that affects people internationally. Anger not only affects relationship between husbands and wives but affects every relationship. If not dealt with, anger can have dire consequences. Lahaye confesses, “I have counseled young people who wished their parents were dead, individuals who could not stand their relatives and in-laws; employees who hated their bosses and those who were disgusted with themselves and God.”

WHAT IS ANGER ANYWAY?

Eastern Bible Dictionary defines anger this way: Anger is the emotion of instant displeasure on account of something evil. It in itself is an original susceptibility of our nature, just as love is, and is not necessarily sinful. It may however, become sinful when causeless, or excessive, or protracted (Matt. 5:22; Eph. 4:26; Col. 3:8) As ascribed to God, it merely denotes his displeasure with sin and with sinners (Ps. 7:11) This shows that it is part of our human nature, this aspect of anger is dealt with in detail while discussing about the origin of anger.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

There are various approaches suggested to manage anger today. I find the approach proposed by the late Dr. Gary Smalley, a popular Christian psychologist, very appealing because it is practical, and deals with some core problems and intricacies of human relationships.

Just as “understanding our physical DNA” shows the “mysteries” of the functionality of our physical body, in the same way understanding of what Gary calls our “relational DNA” shows how relationships work. He comments that “people change as soon as they understand and apply to themselves” the “basic DNA of all relationships.”

This was confirmed to him after noticing the success of his “marriage intensives” where couples who were having severe marital problems would come for a period of two or four days. When couples understood this DNA, they experienced tremendous change in the way they related to each other. In all of us there is a longing to be emotionally, physically and spiritually connected with others. This, he opines, comes from the “relational DNA” which is “our relational hard wiring” which cannot be changed and is universal.

THE DNA CODE OF RELATIONSHIPS

DNA code for relationship consists of three “simple yet profound strands.”

  1. We are made for relationships

Most of us know that some relationships are bittersweet relationships where we have difficulties both living without it and living with it. We, in Gary’s words, “have a longing to belong to someone, to be wanted and cherished for the valued person” we are. Whether we like it or not “relationships are not an option.”

When we look for the other person to fulfill all of our needs we are in for a big disappointment as we know that God alone is ultimate fulfiller of our needs

  1. We are made with the capacity to choose

The second strand of the relational DNA shows us that God has created us with a capacity to choose. Certain relationships in life we cannot choose like our parents, our siblings or our children, but there is a choice as to how we respond to these relationships. Giving up by saying that “we have no choice” is a lie. The truth of the matter is that we have lot of choices. The axis on which relationships stand is the fact we are “made with capacity to choose” and all of our thoughts determine all of our actions and emotions. It does not matter what others think of me or “what circumstances we face everyday.”

  1. We are made to take responsibility for ourselves

When facing the consequences of our choices, many times we are unwilling to take the responsibility. We usually point the finger at the other person, and play the blame game. It is important for us to take personal responsibility for the decisions we made. If we could only focus on our problems and find solutions we could go a long way in solving major conflicts with relationships.

THE DESTRUCTIVE DANCE

The root of the problem lies in the fact that we all suffer from a core fear(s), and it is in identifying and rightly dealing with these core fears that one finds a right solution for episodes of conflicts. Gary points out that “every person on the planet wrestles with some core fear.” Fear that destroys relationship is a result of Adam’s

fall and all the humanity has been experiencing it ever since. Commonly it is noticed that most women have a fear of being disconnected–“fear of not being heard, not being valued, somehow losing the love of another” and majority of the men have this feeling of being helpless or powerless or the fear of being dominated and of the “failure of being stepped on.”

Below diagram shows what goes on when anger escalates between two people. This happens with both parties. This is called the fear dance.

Now, let’s go back to the story of Ashok and Sudha and try to interpret what is going through the couple’s mind.

SUDHA’S SIDE

  1. Sudha hurts:

The person who gets angry is hurt because he/she has been ignored or an emotional wound has been opened. Sudha hurts because Ashok has not asked her opinion, this is the cause of severe hurt.

  1. Sudha wants

Sudha wants her opinion to be respected, to have Ashok value her feelings. She wants Ashok to meet her needs. She sees Ashok not only as the problem but also as her solution.

  1. Sudha fears

When Sudha realises Ashok’s sense of “unwillingness” and inadequacy to satisfy her wants, she fears that she might lose “connection” with him. She thinks that “if Ashok is not valuing me–who I am, what I do, or how I feel, it may be that he doesn’t want to be around me.”

  1. Sudha reacts

Sudha because of her fear reacts by yelling at Ashok and asks for a reason for his negligence by “belittling him and criticising him.” She tries to change Ashok because she feels that Ashok is her problem.

Certain things in life we cannot choose like our parents, our siblings or our children, but there is a choice as to how we respond to these relationships

ASHOK’S SIDE

  1. Ashok hurts

When Sudha starts questioning him and criticising him. He feels hurt, he cannot understand why she should be against him as he is the eldest son and anyway he is going to inform her later. What he intended to be good turns into a catastrophe.

  1. Ashok wants

He wants Sudha to appreciate his sense of duty to his family. He wants and thinks that Sudha will appreciate and approve his decision. He sees Sudha not only as the problem to his hurt but also a solution to his problem.

  1. Ashok Fears

When he sees that Sudha is not willing to help him, he fears that he is a failure. He thinks  “I am a lousy husband, I hurt my wife; I can’t do anything right.”

  1. Ashok Reacts

Ashok reacts by yelling at Sudha. He wants to change Sudha’s behaviour so that he does not keep failing like a failure. She is the problem. He thinks, “Sudha, I did not know that you want me to ask your permission before I did something good for my own family.” All of the hurling snowballs her and this dance continues.

Many times we expect that if only the other person changes, we would not have this problem. This results in misplaced expectations “when we expect people, places, and things to fulfill” our “wants”.

SETTING OURSELVES FREE FROM THIS DANCE

  1. Be in control of thoughts, feelings and actions – Take the focus out of the other person. When a person focuses solely on what the other person is doing, he/she becomes weak and loses the power to control anger.
  2. Take responsibility for your buttons This means that one has to take the responsibility for her/his buttons. People often get stuck in a “false karate” mode in which they are striving to keep the other person to not push their button.
  3. Do not give the control of your feelings to others

Freedom depends on your responsibility, they are like the two sides of the same coin. Many enter into relationship thinking that it’s the responsibility of the other person to make them happy. When we look for the other person to fulfill all of our needs we are in for a big disappointment as we know that God alone is ultimate fulfiller of our needs.

  1. Believe firmly in the fact that God can only fulfill your deepest longings or give to God
  2. Everything negative that happens has a glimmer of positiveness in it.
  3. Get helpers to help you

Taking responsibility should not mean that we fight our battles alone, this means that we talk to someone close to us about our core fears and they can help put breaks to our negative behavior. But keep in mind that these people are only assisting us and not taking responsibility for our behaviour.

  1. Forgiveness is another major thing A major part of taking responsibility for our relationship involves both giving and receiving forgiveness.

CONCLUSION

The solution to a conflict-free relationship is to make sure that we know our core fears, and deal with them. There should be a consistent effort made on an individual’s part to see when they are in conflict if the other person is pushing one of their buttons. By being conscious of this and letting a confidant know about this and working to come out of this will, in the long run, help us to live a conflict-free life.

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