Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over (By Ron)

Have you ever heard anyone say this? It usually has a Biblical connotation representing an overflowing of blessings. In my work with couples, however, I’ve found it to be a good metaphor for how we use anger. Assume you and your partner are arguing about something minor that just happened. All at once you are being bombarded with anger about things that happened yesterday, or last week, or last month. Well, you may have been “anger cupped.”

Imagine that somewhere in your brain there’s an area that functions like a cup. This is your anger cup. This is where you store slights, and hurt and judgments and other angry feelings and thoughts. When he doesn’t help do laundry you store that anger in your cup. When she forgets to pay a bill on time you store that anger in your cup. When he… When she… and on and on.

Each of us has a different sized cup. Each of us can store different amounts of anger before we go ballistic. But, there comes a time when your anger cup is full. Full to the brim. Not running over, but there is simply no more room. Then something minor happens and before you know it you are “hitting” your partner with every unexpressed bit of anger you have experienced towards him/her in the past days or months. You couldn’t stop if you wanted to. There was no room in your anger cup and when you tried to stuff one more thing into it, it exploded.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in arguments with our partner when the original problem is forgotten. Arguments that get out of control because of the amount of anger one of you has held inside. We don’t know why, but we seem unable to stop refilling the cup. We hold that anger until we simply cannot control it. Then we let go! Is it any wonder that we continue to argue about the same things over and over? When we store our anger we seldom have a chance to address the causes individually.

One of our psychotherapist friends once gave us some very good advice. When one of you feels angry because of something that just happened, say “that pissed me off.” Yep, that directly. There are lots of other ways to say this but I particularly liked his wording and have used it effectively in my relationship with Gayle. Some people might say something like “that hurt,” “that made me angry,” or “ouch!”

The words you use are not important so long as they are not blaming. For instance, “you pissed me off” puts the other on the defensive. Nothing will be solved that way. “That pissed me off” says what you are feeling, not what they did to you. It may seem to be semantics but I can assure you it works. What is important is that you attend to problems when they occur. You have much more hope of clearing the air if it isn’t polluted by anger that may be so old you don’t even remember it.

So, be aware of your anger cup. As long as you continue to put your negative feelings inside it you can expect only more problems. Address problems when they arise. Let your partner know what you are feeling at the time you feel it. Asking them to remember how they “made you feel” sometime in the past rarely works. Also, addressing it immediately gives you an opportunity to find out if you actually heard what your partner meant to say. It may all be a misunderstanding. What a shame to miss an opportunity to understand one another better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good advice for all of us. I need to put this to work in my relationship as well.