One of the points I often make when talking about marriage is the critical importance of not talking about something that made you mad right after it happens. You cannot possibly accomplish anything productive at that moment and you can only make things worse. So let me tell you a story.
A few days ago, my wife did something that absolutely infuriated me. I was totally incensed. I couldn’t believe she had had the poor judgment to do what she did. When the actual incident occurred, she wasn’t there – she had set things in motion from elsewhere – so right after it happened I started thinking of all the angry, nasty things I wanted to say and/or do. And I didn’t move. I allowed myself to spend some time fuming and stewing, but I firmly told myself I would not actually say anything until the next day.
Many ideas came into my mind. Sharp, angry rants, clever passive-aggressive maneuvers, or plain old blowing my top. But I didn’t move. I didn’t open my mouth. I told myself I could better deal with it the next day. I waited all day the next day without whispering a word about it. Eventually, that evening, we had a calm moment in the car where we could speak. In a very calm voice, I told her what had happened that upset me and that I was very angry with her for causing it. I expressed shock at her lack of judgment.
She acknowledged her mistake. She accepted my anger. She apologized. And then we were done. I no longer needed to get back at her, or yell, or blow off steam. It was okay. She got it.
So I do practice what I preach. And I continue to preach it, because it works. This incident could have caused a huge ruckus, a lot of anguish, a distancing in the relationship – but instead, it passed over uneventfully. As a matter of fact, it even brought us closer, because it provided yet another demonstration that we can share our anger with each other, that we can make mistakes, and that whatever the problem, we have a way to address and resolve it.
And you can learn to do it too. Step one: don’t talk about something that made you mad right after it happens!
Postscript: I wonder if many readers are thinking, “well, that’s all well and good, but the problem is that my spouse would never just apologize. S/he always has to argue/be defensive/get mad/etc.” In the next post I hope to write a little bit about how to make your relationship a place where that doesn’t have to happen, and where both parties can feel safe both expressing anger and offering an apology.