We are both toxic!

This letter writer and her boyfriend are always fighting. 

Can our elder help them separate their emotions from their behavior?


Dear EWC

My relationship right now is on the rocks. My boyfriend and I are always fighting because of small things, and we can admit that we are now both toxic. His family didn’t like me at all because they think that I am the reason why he is being like that. They didn’t know that he had anger issues even before. He easily gets mad, and he’s throwing a temper whenever he’s mad. There are times that he almost hurt himself, and me as well. But once we calmed down, we could talk about what happened, and we kept apologizing to each other. I am not sure what to do anymore. Is this still worth continuing? How can we improve our relationship? Going further in this relationship makes me happy and sad. Thank you for your help.


Grandpa-Matt replies

Anger is a normal emotional response. Anger is an emotion that is based on the idea that someone or something violated a behavior that the angry person set up in their mind as a “should.” As in, “You should have done this, and you didn’t.” When the violation happens, anger rises, or hurt feelings show up. 

Almost always, the “should” calls for the other person to act that way 100 percent of the time. Since human beings do not always act in a perfect manner, the person with those expectations of consistent, excellent behavior will become angry and disappointed. So, with the pair of you. Each of you has expectations of each other that cannot be met all of the time. Each of you is trying to make the other responsible for your negative feelings.

What your partner has done to justify their upset is to take on the role of a victim. You both blame the other for your emotional distress. There is a difference between the feeling of anger and the expression of anger. Generally, hurt feelings lie underneath the anger. 

What happens is that each person is avoiding taking responsibility for their emotions. In doing so, you move into a controlling mode and attempt to control and manipulate the other. How that behavior shows up, in this case, is getting mad, having negative outbursts, and throwing a temper. All of which is to make you wrong for the violation of the rule or expectation for the partner’s behavior. 

It is essential to distinguish between the emotion of anger, on the one hand, and, on the other, your behavior when you get angry. It is easy to forget that an everyday experience of anger can be acted out in irresponsible ways. I understand that it is difficult to control your emotions when you forget that we are all 100 percent responsible for our feelings.

A couple of thousand years ago, a philosopher named Epictetus said, “It is not the events in life that trouble us, but only our reaction to them.” That is a statement of absolute power because only you are in control of your attitude. You are never the victim of anyone’s thoughts, behavior, or judgments about you. It is like the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Others can say or do something that triggers you, but only you can choose your response.

Our emotional upsets often last longer than we would ideally want. There is a technique based on neuroscience that can be very helpful. One helpful article that I suggest is called, The 90 Second Rule to Control Your Emotions. If you want to know how to be more self-controlled, this article spells out the chemical basis of what goes on when your anger hijacks your mind and suggests the way to handle things.  

Genuine forgiveness is a key to a happier future. It is less necessary to forgive your partner than it is to forgive yourself for the negative judgments that you make against yourself. Forgiveness is not about past events, but it is about your future relationship with yourself and your boyfriend. Give yourself and everyone a break by:                   

  1. Not expecting folks to read your mind as to what will make you happy;
  2. Not expecting folks to live up to your rigid expectations of them;
  3. Not being the victim of others when they say or do things contrary to your wishes;
  4. Knowing you are not a victim of circumstances;
  5. Accepting things as they are, instead of getting upset at what shows up; and
  6. Realizing that you can cope with everything that shows up in life because you are a survivor!

I believe that these six things will assist you in becoming more balanced in your life. Test these out for a while and see if they work for you. If all else fails, perhaps you might look into anger management classes for both of you.

I hope this advice is helpful in bringing more peace, loving, and acceptance to this relationship. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Article #: 480853

Category: Dating/Relationship

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