Many people who go to relationship therapy refer to anger as a negative emotion. Although experiences with anger are terribly painful for many people, what’s negative isn’t the anger, but rather how we deal with it.

Anger itself is neutral. It’s a source of information. It’s a motivation to communicate or change. And if discussed productively (yes, that’s a big if), it almost always leads to more intimacy. So anger is a valuable part of relationships.

There are three basic reasons to communicate that you’re angry:

1. To share information: “When you flirt at parties, it makes me feel left out.”

2. To ask for change: “I want you to agree to be on time from now on.”

3. To hurt someone: “I’d enjoy sex more with someone else anyway.”

How you express your anger should be determined by your goal. If you want to be better understood, or want to change the relationship, you need to express yourself in a cooperative way—which can be difficult when you’re feeling angry.

One of the ways couples get in trouble is with the unspoken agreement that as soon as someone is angry, he can express himself in a rude or hurtful way. Unless your goal is specifically to hurt someone, you never have the right to talk hurtfully. Your own anger is no excuse.

To put it another way, express your anger as if you expect to continue the relationship after your anger has subsided.

This takes discipline. People frequently say things like, “but I have a hot Italian/Irish/African/Danish/fill-in-the-blank/ temper, and when I get angry I just lose it.” Wrong: There is no such thing as a “temper.” A temper is what we call it when people relinquish responsibility for how they express themselves.

Make a promise to express your anger responsibly, as part of the ongoing relationship, rather than a disruption of it or exception to it.

Although anger is not a sign of love, anger is an inevitable part of loving relationships. Discuss your anger with your partner as lovingly and consciously as you discuss joy and pleasure.


  • Don’t make important decisions while you’re very angry.
  • If you’re angry, don’t act like an angry person; say, “I’m angry.”

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What would you put in a time capsule to be opened a century from now if the subject were sexuality? How would you represent our eroticism? What objects would you use to help future generations understand us — and, for that matter, to help your partners understand you?

Here, in no particular order, are some suggestions. Have fun adding your own.

• Vibrator: These started out as a way for women to learn about their bodies and enjoy themselves. Now, millions of couples use them to expand their repertoire beyond intercourse.

• Condom: An incredibly thin, strong device that prevents both unwanted pregnancy and disease. Hard to believe they were illegal for unmarried Americans in the last century.

• Tampon: A perfect example of how life is easier when you’re willing to deal with sexuality and your body directly.

• Beer bottle: Too many people have their first sexual experience while they’ve been drinking. As a result, people often do things they regret. And, of course, it’s really hard to enjoy sex when you’re drunk.

• Electric bill: Representing the telephone, computer, VCR and other electronic ways we now express our sexuality.

• Porn film: Whether you enjoy them or not, they do show people smiling and enjoying what they’re doing — which is what we look like if we’re fortunate, and wish we did if we’re not.

• AIDS poster: AIDS has replaced Communism as the reason that people can’t enjoy themselves or trust each other. Interestingly, although most middle-class single people say it concerns them, most have never had a long, serious conversation with a partner about it. Honest conversation will always be more intimate — and therefore more difficult — than sex.

• Therapy bill: Sexuality is still the source of an enormous amount of emotional pain for many people. Whether because of childhood trauma, guilt, shame, and ignorance, or sexual dysfunction, millions of American men and women suffer about sex — and can’t seem to get the help they need.

• Mirror: One of the things that undermines sexual desire and enjoyment for many women is embarrassment or discomfort about their bodies. Unfortunately, many women have unrealistic ideas about how they’re supposed to look — or how their mates expect them to look.

• Lipstick: Remember when you used to love to kiss? As an adult, do you kiss as much as you like?

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From Ann Landers to Oprah, everyone’s always urging us to communicate with our loved ones. But if you think that the main goal of communication is getting the other person to understand you, you’re probably feeling disappointed with the results.

Just about everyone wants to feel more understood. But if both partners in a conversation are working hard to be understood, who’s left to do the understanding?

In a troubled relationship, mates worry that they won’t get their turn to speak or to explain themselves. Thus, they verbally push and shove, cutting each other off, insisting the other person listen to them. If someone didn’t get enough listening as a child, the reminder of this in adulthood makes things even more difficult.

Relationships work so much better when both people know they’ll each get a turn to speak regardless of who goes first. It’s easier to listen when you trust that your mate wants to understand you. And the sooner your partner feels understood, the sooner s/he will be ready to work hard to understand you.

How do you pursue understanding your mate?

• Don’t try to make your mate feel better right away.

• Ask how s/he feels, and keep asking until you understand.

• When you think you know, tell your mate how you think s/he feels.

• If you’re not completely right, ask for more information. If you are, ask what your mate wants.

• Don’t try to fix your mate’s problem unless you’re specifically asked.

Understanding others doesn’t mean agreeing with them or giving them what they want. Conveying that you understand simply puts the two of you in the best possible position to discover your actual differences (as opposed to the differences you think you have), as well as the interests you have in common. Then you can resolve those differences as easily as possible.

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