Healing the Angry Heart

by Carolyn Schwartz, Ph.D. & Victor J. Goldman, C.S.W.

The car ride home from the dance studio seems interminable. Your stomach is in knots and negative thoughts are racing through your mind at the speed of a Viennese Waltz. The silence is deafening between you and your partner who sits next to you. You’ve read all the articles by Cooperative Partners on how to avoid dance fights, how to end them, and when to apply first aid. You clarified your expectations and presented your needs to your partner. You breathed deeply, paid attention to your body, tried to focus on your own part and respected your partner's space and pace. Despite all of your efforts, you're having thoughts of never dancing again and wondering how you even put up with this person at all.

In fact, conflict between partners is inevitable; no matter how many self-help books you have read, how much therapy you've had or how many marital enrichment courses you've taken. Thus, it is important to understand the course most fights follow, and have a plan for healing your wounds.

As we mentioned in our previous articles, ("First Aid for Dance Fights") the reptilian-instinctive part of our brain is responsible for the "fight-flight" mechanism we experience when we perceive our partner attacking us. Such a response often leads to a stormy separation and exit from the dance floor or sulking and refusing to dance. In the early stages of a fight, apologies usually go nowhere and are made by the person who hates fighting and tension the most. Such apologies are usually rejected by the person who holds onto his/her anger the longest. As most people know, fights of all types eventually end (sometimes in hours - sometimes in days) and couples resume their normal relationship patterns. However, there is often a bitter residue left in one's heart after these clashes which gradually builds up and can alienate partners from one another.

Our view is that healing takes place in four phases.

In the first phase, a couple finds themselves in an impasse similar to dancing on a crowded dance floor. All moves are blocked. A skilled dance couple will utilize patterns that keep their feet moving in place while they wait for an opening. Premature movements most often lead to contact with another couple and throw everybody off beat. Similarly, premature apologies and false acceptances are rarely effective. Instead, during this initial period when anger is strongest, each individual needs to take time to explore the wound they have suffered. Is there some truth to what your partner said to you? Do you need to look more deeply at the way you treat your partner and make some changes? If you do not find any validity to your partner's claim, ask yourself why you are reacting so strongly to his/her statements. Are you insecure, dependent on her/his approval or love, unable to handle an opinion of yourself which doesn't conform to your view? If new truths emerge, it is important to take the time to uncover the roots of your insecurities and fears and begin to confront them in order to enhance your own development as an individual.

In the second phase, as the intense anger and hurt subside, it is important to remind yourself of your commitment to a good life in which dancing is an integral part. Although you may feel a desire for vengeance or punishment of your partner, such action stops you from experiencing your own joy and the ability to dance and move freely. You may resent being the one who most often leads the way to reconciliation; however, in the long run this behavior is a sign of strength and your contribution to the couple's growth and stability.

The third phase is marked by a focus on forgiveness of your partner through an acceptance of your own limitations and mistakes. Nobody is perfect. We have all acted in ways which were hurtful to others. As you acknowledge your problem areas, you can find compassion for your partner's insensitive behaviors. As you forgive yourself for such actions, you find forgiveness for those who have hurt you. As you remind yourself of your partner's positive characteristics and strengths, your heart opens and the inherent drive to be close to another human being moves into the foreground of your consciousness.

This opening signifies the beginning of the final phase - reconciliation. Take time to review your experience. What have you learned about old patterns? Do you have plans to implement some new behavior? What did you learn about your ability to set limits, define your boundaries, and your ability to communicate? Your invitation to reconnect must be similar to a good lead in social dancing. Strong leaders do not force their partners to move when they're not ready, but provide an opening that is clear, inviting and allows the follower to move in her/his own way and time. Thus, a sincere apology is one which is given freely and is not taken back if one's partner is not ready to accept it. It's also necessary to respect one another's time frame for healing and to allow the relationship to resume naturally when both members are ready for contact.

With strong individual frames (enhanced through increased self-awareness and self confidence), fluid movement (aided by each person taking responsibility for his/her part), open hearts (forgiveness for each other's mistakes and insensitivities), and a renewed commitment to a caring dancing partnership (reconciliation) the couple can continue their journey towards the elusive goal of "Dancing as One."

For more information or to make an appointment, please call 631-255-5284 (Victor Goldman) or 631-751-5207 (Carolyn Schwartz) or email info@suffolknymarriagecounseling.com.