When was the last time you (or your partner) proudly smashed things in the name of anger? Often, this is a concept driven far from the realm of relationship repair, but I urge you to give this initially odd idea at least a cursorial coaxing back into the realm of possibilities before shucking this blog into web-based oblivion.
As emotionally charged beings, we are well aware that anger is one tricky beast. On the one hand, a natural, purposeful, and expected companion. And on the other, an up-ending, chaotic, even terrifying creature, which becomes even more convoluted within the dance of our intimate partnerships. There exists an interesting, profound, and low fuss exercise to harness anger in relationships. Consider the construction of an at-home relational practice designed to demolish yet simultaneously rebuild and strengthen your partnership(s). Take a few minutes with me to explore, even begin to design, what we shall now be calling a breaking wall for couples (and all forms of intimate partnerships!). Ultimately, you’ll be crafting or designating a convenient spot to house a solid surface and some invaluable, breakable objects. This place will then serve as a stage upon which you’ll physically and smashingly exhaust relationally-charged anger. If this operation lands, your emotional health will thank you. And if it can be sustained, your family and friends may also express their gratitude. The breaking wall requires minimal prep yet can manufacture some heavy-handed and lasting benefits. Based in sound science, it can be adjusted, continuously re-imagined, and includes clear, cathartic action.
The crux of this concept necessitates two fairly accessible items: a solid surface and one or many smashable objects. If this combination is just beyond your reach or interest, I urge you to keep on reading till the end. The simplicity and potential power of a breaking wall will make it worth your while. Safeguarding your coupledome often necessitates some creative efforts.
Before we begin, an important caveat for this exercise must be considered. If you or your partner struggle with any form of interpersonal violence (IPV) or domestic violence (DV), this is not a strategy to undertake without a professional’s go-ahead combined with ongoing intensive support. If you are experiencing or believe you may be experiencing IPV or DV, please seek help today. Compassionate and well-trained practitioners at The Center For Growth offer expansive support and informed referrals for those facing IPV and DV (215) 922-5683 x100.
Preliminary construction of a breaking wall to harness anger in relationships begins at a point which may seem surprising to some. It centers upon a solid, open-minded reintroduction to outrage and anger. In other words a complete overhaul, or at least refreshment, of our take on anger is required.
Emotions exist as physiological flares. They are part of a highly intelligent system honed over millions of years to ensure survival. These signals are energetically costly. Our bodies expend tons of reserves to maintain the responsiveness of emotional reactions. Doesn’t it then serve to reason that emotions must be astronomically important if the act of feeling is so physiologically expensive. Otherwise, they would have been booted out of the human experience quite some time ago.
Thus far we’ve learned or have been reminded that anger is to be welcomed as critically valuable rather than feared, ignored, or villainized. It’s now time to better understand its function. Each emotion serves a finely tuned role. Anger is one priming us for movement. When our ancestors were faced with saber-toothed tigers, they needed to mount an attack or hasten a retreat rather than ponder the situation. Hence, in order to survive, react first, reflect second. All levels of anger, from irritation to fury, create rapid physiological responses. Perhaps picture the tightening of a spring. Blood pressure and heart rate climb. Energy hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are released. All biological focus rests on priming our bodies for movement, and so mechanisms are shifted to a heightened state of responsiveness.
Let’s continue this exploratory journey toward harnessing anger in relationships by traveling into a realm most relevant to couples. Humans no longer subsist in a land of primordial beasts yet continue to navigate an onslaught of present and/or perceived threats. Surprising to some, one of our greatest yet often misunderstood threats is that of isolation. Many leaders in the field of biological and social science tout this experience as our most intense fear by vast leaps and bounds. Humans are literally hardwired for connection. Our brain and nervous systems have configured themselves to log abandonment or rejection from those we adore as physical pain. When we feel rejected by our partners, the age-old threat response is activated.
Take a moment to search your relationship memory bank. Can you recall moments in which you noticed a surge of resentment or anger when your partner does seemingly innocuous things? Forgets to put the dishes away, leaves for work without the routine goodbye, or perhaps neglects to call when he/she/they are running late? These relatively small oversights or missteps act as bullhorns, alerting our nervous systems to the threat of relational rupture and causing us to make some too hasty, damaging decisions. As you will soon learn, a breaking wall may just honor anger’s mechanism and purpose while simultaneously utilizing them for good.
As part of this re-learning process and subsequent anger wall exercise, it is crucial to identify your own physical manifestations of anger. There are many responses commonly shared yet also quite a few entirely unique and surprising. Picture an internal systems’ check of sorts which you run in order to scan for such reactions as muscle tension, sweating, rising temperature, jaw-clenching, and the like. I suggest undertaking this investigation when slightly irritated rather than furious. As we’ve discussed, our wiser self disengages when gripped by high intensity anger. Therefore, it stands to reason that this physiological systems’ check will be nearly impossible to run as intended when infuriated. Be sure to make careful note of these sensations or physical responses. Write up a list or create a note in your phone. The more attention you pay to these sensations when calm, the more monumental the shift when highly agitated. If you’d like to learn even more about this type of mind-body connection, give our mindfulness-based therapists, groups, and related blogs a try too!
Now that we have learned the process and your own distinct manifestation of anger, let’s better understand what to do with it. Perhaps you or your partner has mastered the art of locking down irritation or rage-based urges. Hence, current default responses tend to be stonewalling, shutdown, perhaps even car door slams and the like. Hijacking or channeling these seemingly damaging impulses before they take full control provides more reparative power than many of us have considered or experienced. The breaking wall provides an opportunity for an emotional and relational retraining of sorts. Harnessing anger in relationships has never been closer for you and your partner, so let’s get started on building that wall!
As a couple, designate a space which will serve as a container for the physical expression of anger. This will be a spot well-suited for the smashing of unpreferred items. Keep in mind the witnessing of anger may be distressing for some so do your best to choose a location which can remain fairly private. Begin to gather delicate yet unloved objects and store them in that location. Over time this will lead to quite the substantial stockpile of smash-worthy items positioned on a stage designed for healthy destruction. Know that ice cubes are always a ready stand-in for porcelain, glass, and the like! Also consider the act of ripping paper as a powerful alternative for those without adequate smashing surfaces or space.
An additional and integral step in breaking wall prep is the creation of a contract or structured plan. Couples must designate a word, phrase, or gesture to be used in the midst of conflict. An exceptional move is to choose a word or phrase linked to a pleasant shared memory. Even more expertly selected is a cue which may even stir up some humor or require minimal verbal expression. As with your systems’ check practice, give this cue swapping piece more than a few attempts when only slightly agitated. Teach your nervous system a new go-to option.
Commend yourselves, for you’ve now gathered the supplies necessary to give this thing a try! Moving forward, when you find your partnership locked in moments of tension, emotional standoffs if you will, rather than shutting down or lashing out, run that systems’ check you’ve been practicing. Scan for the rising spring-action anger mechanism. Trust that this time around, you’ve got a tangible, attainable, and convenient exercise to wrangle that beast into submission. Know that you may only have a flash of a moment in which to act. Remind yourself that this is expected, for your ancestral physiology believes itself to be facing down a saber toothed cat yet also recognize that you’ve been scrimmaging for these exact game-changing opportunities for a while now. Trust that you are able to behave with intention and emotional intelligence rather than reflexive impulsivity. You can do something different. Draw on that designated cue and let your partner know you’re in code red. This will calm their own ancestral response system by generating the recognition that you’ll be heading to the breaking wall. Rather than abandoning them to the imagined yet emotionally tangible saber-toothed tiger, you are adhering to that co-created, connecting strategy.
Harnessing anger in relationships can be a daunting yet achievable task when broken into bite-sized pieces. The breaking wall is one of these strategic nuggets and very well-suited to temper anger in a couples’ standoff. When set on repeat, this exercise will prove its worth by reducing not only the intensity of anger lockdowns or lash-outs but also the duration of subsequent emotional rupture. So the next time you or your partner are debilitated by blinding irritation, rage, or overwhelm, one must cue the other and force your limbs to carry you on over to that carefully chosen, well-stocked couples’ breaking wall. When provoked by your partner’s action (or inaction), shirk the urge to yell, get the heck out to that wall, and throw to your heart’s (and nervous system’s) content.
For those of us weathering rogue waves of relational rupture, it’s critical to check the deck for life rafts and solidify your safe harbors. Allow The Center For Growth to shoulder some of this burden for a spell. Dedicated couples’ and individual therapists are available to help calm storm-churned relationship seas. Our work is being there for yours.
You can call therapists directly by finding their phone numbers on their profile, or you can bypass the wait time and schedule directly online. If you prefer talking to a therapist first, you may call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with our intake department. Lastly, you can call our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267) 324–9564 to discuss your particular situation. For your convenience, we have five physical therapy offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.
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