August 1

Stop It!!!

August 1, 2011

Anger Management, Marriage, Personal Growth

A married couple, Jack and Amy, were telling me how unhappy they were. Amy was an attacker who angrily criticized people—especially Jack and her children—from the time she opened her eyes in the morning until she fell asleep at night. She may well have criticized people in her dreams too, but I didn't ask about that. Jack simply withdrew from the onslaught, avoiding any kind of contact with Amy—emotional or physical—as much as possible.

"You're both empty and afraid," I said, "and it's going to take a lot of effort on your part to find the Real Love that will fill you up individually and heal your wounds. That will take time, but in the meantime, at the very least we have to stop the wounds."

"What do you mean?" Amy asked.

"Imagine that you want to increase your physical health, so I prescribe a healthy diet and exercise. But every day that you're trying to do these health things, I stab you with a knife or shoot you with a gun. How healthy would you be?"

"I wouldn't."

"It's the same in your marriage. I'll be suggesting a number of things for you to do—reading, calling wise men and women, attending Real Love groups, and more—that will help to fill your emptiness and build your emotional and spiritual strength. But all that won't do any good if you continue the stabbing and shooting that's going on in your marriage."

"Like what?" Amy asked.

"You have to stop criticizing Jack and your kids, and you have to stop the anger. Completely. The anger is killing you and them."

"How can I just stop it? Won't that take time?"

"Yes, actually, with conventional means I believe it would take quite a long time. But I don't believe that you and your family can afford that time, so I suggest that you begin by doing something that can work right now."

"What?"

"If you want to increase the happiness in your family—and I remind you that this is for you, not for me—you would need to stop talking entirely. I recommend an initial period of 30 days."

"No talking?!! How is that possible?"

"You just put your lips together and keep them there."

"We have two kids I have to talk to all day. And I have to talk to Jack."

"You'll be amazed at how optional your speaking is. For one thing, if you were in the hospital for a month—with a heart attack, for example—the family would still do almost everything they do now. They'd be all right. And this is at least as important as taking care of a heart attack."

"I can't imagine how everything will get done."

"It'll happen. If you have to express yourself, you can write notes or send emails or texts."

"Okay, I don't see how it's possible, but let's assume that it is. I still don't see why this is all about me. You talk about wounds, but it's like you think I'm the only one wounding anybody. I understand that anger is wounding, but when Jack pulls away from me, that hurts my feelings too. So why are we not talking about Jack changing his behavior? Are you saying this is all about me?"

"Not at all. Your anger is unloving, and so is Jack's withdrawal. I get that, but I've learned from extensive experience that the first thing that has to change is the more aggressive behavior. Imagine that I'm hungry, and you have an apple. I ask you to give me the apple, but you refuse, so I punch you in the face--repeatedly. You tell me to stop hitting you because it hurts, but I reply that you are hurting me by not sharing the apple. Does my hunger justify hitting you?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"You can't hit me just to get something you want."

"Of course not. You have a right to require that I stop doing something TO you that is harmful. I do not have a right, however, to require that you do something FOR me, even if I claim that you're hurting me if you don't give it to me. Make sense?"

"I guess so."

"And whose behavior would have to change first? In order to settle this dispute, should you give me the apple first? Or would I need to stop hitting you first?"

"You'd have to stop hitting me."

"Right. Once I stop hitting you, we could have a discussion about my hunger and what you might be willing to do to help me."

"Makes sense."

"When you get angry at Jack, you are hitting him emotionally. Really. And that has to stop before you two can move forward toward happiness. It simply is not reasonable to ask Jack to be more affectionate toward you while you're hitting him."

"It just feels like you're telling me that this is all my fault."

"Not at all. You're both being unloving. I'm not assigning degrees of fault. I'm just saying that your behavior has to change first. If your car is out of gas and also needs new brake pads, it makes no sense to discuss which is the worst problem. We just need to identify which problem to solve first. You'll need gas in the car before you can drive to the shop to get the brakes fixed—slowly, of course."

In our relationships, we must stop the most obvious wounding before we can move on to healing those wounds and creating lasting health with love.

What can you do when you're overcome with anger or a desire to speak a critical word? Think before you speak. Don't speak at all. Call a wise man to share your anger, rather than doing it with the person you're angry with. Read or listen to some Real Love material. Meditate. Pray. But make it a solemn vow that there will be no more wounds inflicted by you.

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