Stephen McArthur, Advocate & Community Outreach Coordinator at Circle in Barre, Vermont
No matter how well a couple gets along, or how much they are “in love” or “best friends,” there are still times when there are disagreements, arguments, even hurt feelings because seeing totally eye to eye is not possible. These conflicts can happen for a number of reasons: different values or opinions, arguing on principle, someone is in a “bad mood” and irritable, tired or not feeling well, or simply as a result of different beliefs about relationship issues.
In an equal and respectful relationship, these conflicts are not about power and control, they don’t end up as physical violence or coercive control. They certainly can be painful or hurtful, but in ways that are not permanently damaging, such as temporary hurt feelings, frustration, disappointment, even disbelief (“I can’t believe you said that!”). One partner can actually say something “nasty” to the other partner in the heat of the moment, hurtful and denigrating words can be used. Everyone is human. However, in an otherwise equal and respectful relationship, regret and sorrow are almost always quickly a part of our reaction, our need to apologize — that ability to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and know that we really shouldn’t have said that! Some people stay “mad” for longer, but eventually the fundamentally healthy nature of the relationship overcomes.
In unhealthy, controlling relationships, where one person is exercising power and control over another person in an intimate partner relationship, there is a lack of empathy, lack of sorrow, lack of regret. The abusive behavior is part of a pattern and is intentionally repeated with the primary purpose of dominating, intimidating and controlling someone else’s life. The behavior is meant to harm, to blame, to instill fear, to intimidate and threaten.
Anger is a part of both unhealthy and healthy relationships. Is there anyone on planet earth who can claim they have never been angry? Of course not. It’s what you do with the anger that is of paramount importance. Was Martin Luther King angry? Was Gandhi angry? Was Susan B. Anthony angry?
Anger can be a righteous feeling, it can motivate for good, it can stimulate positive responses and actions. If someone is in a relationship where disagreement leads to anger but never to any kind of fear, the partner always feels safe even if the other partner is acting like a gorilla.