The Happiness Connection  

Don't be a marriage victim

Have you ever been taken by surprise by getting angry or emotional about something you didn’t expect to be affected by?

I’m sure it is something we can all relate to. Your emotions happen without your permission. You rarely get to summon them, but you are always in control with what you do about them.

Emotions exist to help with your primary drive to survive. Your positive feelings enable you to be creative, make new connections, and learn new skills.; your negative ones get you ready to protect yourself from perceived threats.

When your subconscious mind thinks it is under attack, it will go into fight or flight mode. This means it will assess the situation and then choose to either fight the threat or run away from it. This choice is made subconsciously and depends on the action your mind believes will give you the best chance of survival.

Anger is one of the ways your brain tells you it thinks you are being threatened. That threat may be physical, mental, or emotional.

Your drive to survive ensures that your brain is constantly on the lookout for threats.

It doesn’t matter whether you are being presented by a real threat or not. If your brain thinks you are in danger, it will react as if you are. Negative emotions mean you are preparing yourself for survival.

When I had only been married for a couple of years, my husband decided to go skiing for a week in France with the boys. My initial reaction was hurt and anger. I alternated between crying hysterically and shouting.

What threat could possibly present itself from my husband saying he was going skiing with a few of his friends?

Subconsciously, I perceived that my marriage was being threatened. My parents had never gone on separate holidays, so I saw this ski trip as a sign that my marriage was failing. My anger was helping me fight for its survival.

Anger is a very useful emotion. It alerts you when someone is overstepping one of your boundaries. The key to healthy anger is experiencing it, looking to see why you were triggered and then letting it go. If you respond with frequent bouts of anger, or if you let those feelings hang around and fester, you’ve got a problem.

Feelings like anger, disappointment, and fear can morph into resentment if they aren’t deliberately set free.

Resentment is toxic and destructive, yet it is a frequent visitor in struggling relationships. It manifests itself in behaviours like distain, criticism, and emotional detachment.

Resentment is your mind’s way of defending your ego. The more fragile your ego, the more resentment you need to protect it. Unlike anger that reacts to a situation, thought, or incident, resentment builds up over time and distorts the way you see what is happening.

You may come to believe that you are being treated unfairly and that your bitter feelings are justified. Even if your spouse does something good for you, you find a way to twist it and see it through the lens of bitterness.

For example, if your partner comes home and cleans up the house before his parents are about to arrive, you may focus on the fact that he never cleans up the house for you. You are annoyed that he can do it for his parents and you ignore the fact that he has done something good.

There is a warped perception that these feelings of resentment are allowing you to take control of your life. Thoughts of standing up for yourself by not letting someone walk all over you may swirl through your mind, but in truth these emotions give the control to the other person.

Every time the object of your fury behaves in an undesirable way, they spark those negative emotions. You have given the power to the other person and are taking the role of a victim.

If you want to take back control, you must let go of your anger and resentment, forgive what has happened in the past, and reconnect with your partner, or decide the relationship is no longer serving you and walk away — without the resentment.

That may seem like a tall order and you may think that plan of action is letting your spouse off the hook, but your anger and resentment is harming you more than it is harming them.

As actor and author Malachy McCourt said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

There is every chance that your partner either doesn’t know how angry you are or doesn’t understand why you are feeling the way you are. They may go on living their life in a reasonably contented way, ignoring your behaviour. Meanwhile you are miserable.

Resentment hurts the person holding on to it, not the person it is being held against.

If you recognize this situation as being present in your relationship, don’t give up hope. There is a way to move forward. The solution to overcoming resentment is forgiveness.

Forgiveness, like happiness yoga or meditation, is a practice. It isn’t learned overnight and may never be mastered, but every time you work on it, you will get a little better.

It will allow you to let go of the old hurts, fears, and disappointments so you can move on with your life.

By forgiving your partner for their part in the hurt and sadness you’ve experienced, you aren’t condoning their actions, instead you are cutting the emotional attachment you feel to what has happened in the past. Being tethered to these memories is keeping you from moving forward into a happier future.

Don’t expect your partner to apologize or ask for forgiveness. This may never happen as he or she may not think they’ve acted in an inappropriate way, and maybe they haven’t. It is all about perspective. Hang on to the lessons you’ve learned rather than the hurt you’ve experienced.

Accept that your spouse probably didn’t set out to intentionally hurt you and remember they are on their own journey of learning and discovery. Choose to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Start by letting go of all the things you’ve been hanging on to through your resentment. I love to symbolically do this with fire, or a shredder.

Write down everything you can think of that has contributed to the anger, hurt and bitterness you feel and then burn or shred the paper. Close your eyes and breathe deeply as you let all your negative emotions go. Visualize them disintegrating.

Just because you’ve let this negativity go, it doesn’t mean it won’t reappear, or that you won’t feel angry again. Remember, forgiveness is a practice not a single action.

Talk to your spouse about your feelings, don’t bury them. You should never be ashamed of how you feel or think that negative emotions are bad and should be hidden. They are your feelings; see what you can learn from them.

Don’t believe that you and your spouse should always feel the same way about situations, or that you need to defend how you feel. Practice acknowledging each others’ emotions rather than reacting to them.

Learn to live as a forgiving person. Declare to the world that you are no longer a victim of someone else’s actions. By replacing your resentment with forgiveness and choosing to recognize and then release your negative emotions you will see your relationship in an entirely new light.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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