Psychological Self-Help

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Semmelroth describes several couples who have anger problems. One troublesome
situation is when one partner has learned to get sympathy and support by disclosing
his unhappy marriage to a cold, uncaring woman who is more interested in getting
ahead at her job than she is concerned about the children…or a woman who has a
terrible history of being lied to and dumped on by womanizers. People with these
kinds of problems can find people who need love and want to help. The problem is
that a certain percentage of unhappy people are chronically unhappy and always feel
angry because someone is dumping on them regardless of how caring and
sympathetic the new partner tries to be. Eventually, the anger turns on the hapless
helper and the angry partner will find a more sympathetic and helpful partner and
start another relationship. How can you tell if your new friend and helper is
chronically “mistreated” and unhappy? Get to know his/her history. Just as some
people use anger to control others; other people use unhappiness and their hard-
luck stories to get sympathy and loving care.
Semmelroth gives several bits of simple advice: (1) the anger is the problem of the
person who is angry, (2) if you find yourself with a very angry person, stay calm and
listen but do not comment or try to intervene. Trying to calm down or to reason with
the angry person (who is no longer thinking rationally) is likely to draw you into the
fight and make the situation worse, (3) if you become angry, see #1 and try telling
yourself: “I should keep my mouth shut and not react while I’m angry” or “I will not
let my stupid anger run my life.” You can think better about anger problems when
you are calm and thoughtful, and (4) instead of expecting things to be done for you
(because you feel you are important) try feeling gratitude for all the things that
come your way.
Finally Semmelroth talks about a common conflict in marriage, namely, there is
disagreement about how to spend money and who is responsible for paying off
debts. This arises when there are joint accounts where there are supposed to be
joint decisions but they can’t agree. Perhaps one person wants to have the “final”
decision; perhaps the other person wants to make independent decisions. Many
couples set up separate accounts so that independence can be maintained, each
putting in his or her own money, deciding how to spend it, and being responsible for
their own decisions. When both have an income, the separate accounts usually
eliminates one person having to come hat in hand to “request” more money which
may upset the partner. A marriage of equals consists of one individual, a second
individual, and a joint partnership or family. Everyone needs their individuality and
that independence should be respected, not attacked. If your partner makes
decisions you don’t agree with, tell them if it upsets you (giving them a choice about
what to do) but don’t use anger, insults, or threats in a effort to make them change.
The last point made by Semmelroth is that communication (where we tell the truth)
should replace arguments (where we often stretch the truth when angry). He says
arguments are about who is the bigger victim. For example in a divorce court the
goal is to prove that you have been hurt, cheated or mistreated far more than your
spouse. Arguments are not to solve problems; they are a string of accusations
(attacks) to make you look good and the other person look bad. If you want to
effectively communicate then you will have to stop your habit of arguing. That
means stop using “argument starters,” such as “you don’t ever care about me,” “I
can never believe you,” “you are never on my side,” “you always misunderstand my
point,” ”you think you are always right and I am always wrong,” etc. Note all the
“nevers” and “always” in these statements. If one can just get away from arguing
and blasting away, it is easy for anyone to start a constructive discussion by asking a
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