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Look Forward to a Lifelong Bond with Marriage Advice from This Expert

Look Forward to a Lifelong Bond with Marriage Advice from This Expert

In order to make a long term relationship work, it takes figuring out how to live well in an equitable fashion.

Today’s egalitarian relationship are built on living the mundane moments with a sense of care and intentionality. Modern couples are often at a loss for how to infuse their daily lives with true meaning such that their marriage might last a lifetime.

I work on a daily basis with numerous couples who are working to figure out how to make love last. They each come in with similar stories about where they get stuck and how their love fades.

Each of them thinks that they might be the only ones going through what they are experiencing, yet they don’t realize that the next couple in the waiting room is likely experiencing very similar dynamics in their relationship.

Very few of us really know what goes on in the inside of the relationships of those around us.

We likely don’t even know half of the story of the relationship issues of those closest to us. Yet if we did, we might realize that we all struggle with very similar issues in our most intimate relationships:

Difficulty communicating, challenges in the bedroom, emotional distance, being let down by our partners and not knowing how to fight fair are just a few of the main issues that modern couples face.

I am in a privileged position, as a therapist, to hear what people’s lives and relationships are really like. It became clear to me that most people are unaware of what’s really happening in the inner lives of others.

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Most people are looking for tools to have more satisfying relationships, but are often stuck in blaming their partner rather than making changes themselves.

How I helped a couple with a fight about who does the dishes

I decided to write one of the couples I work with a letter and address their concerns from a recent session. That session focused on a fight about who does the dishes at home.

I’ve heard this sort of fight many times from couples. They argue about doing the dishes, and it becomes about much more than simply the act of getting the bowls and dishes clean. It becomes about an underlying dynamic in their relationship, and how power is distributed.

The letter to this couple is included in my book, You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2018) along with 50 or so other letters to individuals and couples. The letters are meant to help people feel less alone in their experience, and perhaps see therapy as an option for their personal growth and development.

The letter that follows is the letter to this couple fighting about the dishes. While their names and details of their situation have been changed, their story is a common one.

Perhaps their experience can teach us a little about how to create a romantic relationship that can last a lifetime.

A letter of marriage advice for all

Dear Alex and Jamie,

Our last session was the third time in the last two months that you have argued about who does the dishes at home.

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The latest episode was one in which Alex left a cereal bowl in the sink in the morning before heading off to work. Jamie, you reported seeing the bowl but did not wash it, even though you had some time to do so. Instead you waited to see if Alex was going to wash the bowl after coming home. That didn’t happen, so you let it sit there in the sink until the next morning to see if Alex would say anything. He didn’t, and that lead to an argument.

The cereal bowl in the sink was a symbol. It held tremendous meaning for you, Jamie. It was not just something that holds breakfast cereal; it became a test of who picks up after whom. The bowl became everything that is out of balance in this relationship and how you might take one another for granted.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people in therapy discuss who does the dishes. It is a very common conversation as it represents something foundational in family life. The home is where we come together to share meals. Buying food, cooking, setting the table, clearing it, and washing the dishes are all daily chores that go into a shared family life. Yet the division of household labor constantly gets well-meaning and loving couples into ongoing quarrels.

Doing dishes is the grunt work of mealtime. We speak about the joy of cooking, we watch cooking shows on television, and take great pride in preparing a healthy and hearty meal for our families. We also go to great lengths to savor food. We become foodies, try new restaurants, and revel in good company over a shared meal. Yet we do not celebrate the joy of doing dishes.

There is no dishwashing competition on television. We don’t see shows about adventurous hosts traveling the world in search of people doing dishes. No, the dishes are reserved as a chore. They take a back seat to the main event of the meal. Those who are left to tend to the dishes might also feel like they take a back seat.

Being charged with the grunt work of cleaning up after dinner might feel lower status than being the one preparing the food, and it certainly feels lower than those who are being served. The dishwasher can feel taken for granted and unappreciated, almost acting in a service capacity.

Jamie, when you saw Alex’s bowl in the sink, perhaps you felt that he was sending a message that you should wash it for him. Perhaps you felt taken for granted and in a service role. If that’s the case, then I can see how that would feel awful. The next day your argument escalated over this cereal bowl.

Alex, you felt Jamie was being ridiculous to get so upset about a bowl. In fact, you felt pretty hurt yourself that Jamie would wait to see if you would eventually wash the bowl and test you in this way.

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I know that this isn’t the type of environment in which you want to live. The argument stretched on for days and turned into extended periods of silence until you came to our couples counseling appointment.

Of course you know that this was not about the cereal bowl. The level of emotion and argumentativeness far surpassed the indiscretion of leaving a bowl in the sink for a day.

We need to understand what was brewing underneath the surface such that it boiled over during the cereal bowl incident. We need to look at why people get so upset about who does the dishes.

You are not alone in this scenario. Who does the dishes represents so much about the structure and dynamics of a family. Why do some people share the task of dishwashing while others split the tasks and relegate it to the person who did not cook?

In your relationship, Alex and Jamie, how is the division of household labor handled? We need to examine if you are holding any deeper resentments. I would suspect, Jamie, that you are carrying resentments about certain aspects of the relationship, and that they came pouring out when you saw Alex leave his bowl in the sink.

Often what will become illuminated for couples is that issues are buried deeper than they realize. There can be a displacement of relational emotions onto household duties.

Jamie, you have talked before about not feeling like a priority to Alex. You’ve described him as someone who tends to be more concerned about his own needs, and who neglects yours at various times. It is no wonder that in the aftermath of the cereal bowl incident, you brought up that he was not around for you when your mother was sick in the hospital.

Alex had no idea why you would bring that up, and became quite defensive. Yet if we look at it together, we can see that the deeper tides of neglect and lack of appreciation overflowed when the bowl was left in the sink.

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The bowl wasn’t causal; it was merely illuminating imbalances already existing in the relationship. It brought to the surface the problems in the marriage that you have not yet addressed.

Brave couples, such as you, are willing to look at times when a fight over the dishes turns into something bigger. They are open to investigating what the fight is telling them about their relationship.

This cereal bowl incident can be an opportunity for greater insight and connection. It can be a chance to better understand and care for each other. Once you start feeling one another’s enduring care, and once you feel less neglected, then you might see the cereal bowl differently.

It might just be a bowl. It would not carry the same meaning that it did the other day.

When that felt sense of care is present, you might not worry about who does the dishes. Instead you might actually volunteer to do them!

Fondly Yours,
David

Excerpt from You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist by David Klow used with permission from Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Inc.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

How to Deal With Anger (The Ultimate Anger Management Guide)

We all lose our temper from time to time, and expressing anger is actually a healthy thing to do in our relationships with others. Expressing our differences in opinion allows us to have healthy conflict and many times come to an agreement or understanding that works for everyone. However, there are times when anger can become overwhelming or damaging, and during these times, it’s important to learn how to deal with anger.

Expressing anger inappropriately can be harmful to relationships, both personal and professional. You may express too much anger, too often, or at times that are only going to make things worse, not better. In this article we will look at anger management techniques that will help you better control your emotions.

Let’s take a deeper look at how to deal with anger.

Expressing Anger

Anger is a natural and normal part of almost any relationship. This includes relationships with your significant other, kids, boss, friends, family, etc. Anger provides us with valuable information if we are willing to listen to it. It clues us in to areas where we disagree with others and things that need to be changed or altered.

Unhealthy Ways to Express Anger

Here are some common yet unhealthy ways to express anger that you should avoid:

Being Passive-Aggressive

This is a term many of us are familiar with. Passive-aggressive behavior happens when someone is angry but uses indirect communication to express their anger.

Some of the more common passive-aggressive behaviors include the silent treatment, making comments about someone behind their back, being grumpy, moody, or pouting, or simply not doing tasks or assignments that they should.

This is a passive-aggressive person’s way of showing their anger. It’s not very productive but extremely common.

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Poorly-Timed

Some people get overwhelmed and express anger in a situation where it can’t really do any good.

An example would be getting angry at one person in front of a crowd of people. All that does is make people uncomfortable and shuts them down. It’s not a healthy way to express anger or disagreement with someone.

Ongoing Anger

Being angry all the time is most often a symptom of something else. It’s healthy and normal to express anger when you disagree with someone. However, if someone is angry most of the time and always seems to be expressing their anger to everyone around them, this won’t serve them well.

Over time, people will start to avoid this person and have as little contact as possible. The reason being is no one likes being around someone who is angry all the time; it’s a no-win situation.

Healthy Ways to Express Anger

What about the healthy ways[1] to adapt? When learning how to deal with anger, here are some healthy ways to get you started.

Being Honest

Express your anger or disagreement honestly. Be truthful about what it is that is making you angry. Sometimes this will entail walking away and thinking about it for a bit before you respond.

Don’t say you’re mad at something someone did or said when it’s really something else that upset you.

Being Direct

Similar to being honest, being direct is a healthy way to express anger.

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Don’t talk around something that is making you angry. Don’t say that one thing is making you angry when it’s really something else, and don’t stack items on top of each other so you can unload on someone about 10 different things 6 months from now.

Be direct and upfront about what is making you angry. Ensure you are expressing your anger to the person who upset you or you are angry at, not to someone else. This is very counterproductive.

Being Timely

When something makes you angry, it’s much better to express it in a timely manner. Don’t keep it bottled up inside of you, as that’s only going to do more harm than good.

Think of the marriages that seem to go up in flames out of nowhere when the reality is someone kept quiet for years until they hit their breaking point.

Expressing anger as it occurs is a much healthier way of using anger to help us guide our relationships in the moment.

How to Deal With Anger

If you feel angry, how should you deal with it right at that moment?

1. Slow Down

From time to time, I receive an email at work that makes me so angry that steam is probably pouring out of my ears.

In my less restrained moments, I have been known to fire off a quick response, and that typically has ended about as well as you might imagine.

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When I actually walk away from my computer and go do something else for a while, I am able to calm down and think more rationally. After that happens, I am able to respond in a more appropriate and productive manner. Doing things that helps you learn how to release anger can make an uncomfortable situation more manageable before it gets out of hand.

2. Focus on the “I”

Remember that you are the one that’s upset. Don’t accuse people of making you upset because, in the end, it’s your response to what someone did that really triggered your anger. You don’t want to place blame by saying something like “Why don’t you ever put away your dishes?” Say something more like “Having dirty dishes laying on the counter upsets me—can you work with me to come to a solution?”

When you are accusatory towards someone, all that does is increase the tension. This doesn’t usually do anything except make your anger rise higher.

3. Work out

When learning how to deal with anger, exercise is a great outlet. If something happens that angers you, see if you have the opportunity to burn off some of the anger.

Being able to hit the gym to get a hard workout in is great. If this isn’t an option, see if you can go for a run or a bike ride. If you are at work when you become angry and the weather permits, at least go outside for a brisk walk.

Besides working some of your anger out through exercise, this also helps to give your mind a chance to work through some ways to address what it is that upset you.

If you’re not sure where to start with an exercise routine, check out Lifehack’s free Simple Cardio Home Workout Plan.

4. Seek Help When Needed

There are times when we could all use some help. Life can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s perfectly fine to seek some help from a mental health professional if it will help you get back to a healthy balance.If you find that you are angry all the time, it might be a good idea to go talk to an expert about learning to control intense emotions. They can give you some sound advice and ideas on how to get your anger to a more manageable and healthy level.

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5. Practice Relaxation

We all seem to lead incredibly busy lives, and that’s a good thing if we are loving the life we are living. That being said, it is very beneficial to our physical and mental well-being to take time out for relaxation.

That can mean spending time doing things that help us calm down and relax, like being around people we enjoy, practicing deep breathing or listening to music. It could be making time for things that help bring us balance like a healthy diet and physical activity.

Many people incorporate techniques such as yoga and meditation to calm their minds and release tension when learning how to deal with anger. Whatever your choice is, ensure you take time out to relax when warning signs of anger start to bubble up.

6. Laugh

Incorporating humor and laughter on a regular basis will help keep anger in check and help you get over a bad mood and feelings of anger more quickly. This isn’t part of formal anger management techniques, but you’ll be surprised by how well it works. Remember, life is a journey that’s meant to be enjoyed fully along the way through healthy emotion. Make sure you take time to laugh and have fun.Surround yourself with people that like to laugh and enjoy life. Don’t work at a job that just causes you stress, which can lead to anger. Work at something you enjoy doing.

7. Be Grateful

It’s easy to focus on the bad in life and the things that cause us negative emotions. It’s vitally important to remind ourselves of all the wonderful things in life that bring us positive emotions, things that we easily forget because we get caught up in the whirlwind of day to day life.

Take time out each day to remind yourself of a few things you are grateful for in order to help you learn how to release anger and invite in more positive feelings.

Final Thoughts

Life can be overwhelming at times. We seem to have constant pressure to achieve more and to always be on the go or motivated. People we are around and situations we are in can cause stress, anger, and negative emotions. At times, it can seem to be too much, and we get angry and our emotions start to get out of control.

During these times, keep in mind that life is an incredible journey, full of wonder and things that bring you joy. When you find yourself angry more often than is healthy, take time out to remember the good things in life—the things that we seem to forget yet bring us so much positive energy and emotions.

Use some of the tips included here to help with how to deal with anger and better control your emotions.

More Resources on Anger Management

Featured photo credit: Andre Hunter via unsplash.com

Reference

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