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Many families are hurting because they spend too much time in negative, destructive, communication cycles. Harsh, accusatory words from one partner often leads to a defensive, attacking response from the other. Such negative interactions take up so much of our family time because we fail to handle negative emotions in healthy constructive ways.

Certainly we cannot live in the intimacy of the family without getting angry, hurt, frustrated or disappointed at some point. Life together in the best of families is not always roses, ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies.

When the challenges of daily life provoke negative emotions, we need to face them and diffuse them before a painful, negative cycle sets in.

Anger is one emotion, for example, that most of us have trouble with. It is one of the most difficult emotions to understand and control. Some people, when angry, have tantrums and send everyone around them, friend and foe alike, scurrying for cover. Others in the face of their anger maintain a stoic, icy silence not openly letting their feelings be known. They may sulk, pout or simply tighten up their facial muscles, staring with eyes of steel. Both of these extremes of emotional expression are unhealthy: uncontrolled outbursts of anger destroys property, wounds souls, and starts large and small wars. But holding in one’s anger is just as damaging. Seething, bottled up anger leads to ulcers, headaches, heart attacks and if nothing else, nasty dispositions. Unfortunately, many people have not been able to find a happy medium between these extremes.

Healthy productive ways of dealing with anger do exist. If we can learn to handle our own anger properly, our families will have much smoother sailing now and we and our children will have a much happier, healthier lives in the future.

Healthy expression of negative feelings requires three steps:

  • First, we need to claim the feeling.
  • Secondly, we must name the feeling.
  • Third, we must properly aim the feeling.

This simple process allows us to get our feelings out in the open in an honest, non-threatening way. For instance: When the husband comes home late after work, his wife, is tempted to say, “Here you are, late again. Dinner is cold.” The more healthy response would be, “I am angry.” or “I feel frustrated.” because you are late. I wish you had called.” She claims the feeling: “I am angry.” “She names the feeling: “I am angry. . .” The she aims the feeling:I am angry because you are late and I fixed a special meal.” She is honestly verbalizing how she feels. She is not attacking her husband. On the other hand to say, “You are always late and you don’t care how hard I work to make dinner.” puts the husband on the defensive and will likely lead to a negative response on his part.

Using the simple technique of name, claim, and aim can help avoid this cycle of hurtful words.

Wayne Grant, MD
May 2022