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Edward A. Pane, LCSW, MBA, CAADA

Ed Pane

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Be careful with your words,

Once said they can be forgiven,

not forgotten.  ~ Carl Sandburg

I’ve always liked Sandburg’s poetry. There’s a bluntness to some of it that gets right to the point. The one above grabbed me by the collar as if to say, “Remember that the next time you feel like blowing your top at someone.”

When I was younger, I could be a hothead and did my fair share of letting angry words fly. As I got older, how I’d acted and who I had hurt became clearer to me. I made apologies, though probably not enough.

When I do marriage, couples, or family counseling it’s common to hear angry words.  If I ask, “What were you hoping for when you said that?”  Most don’t know, it’s become so routine they don’t even think about it anymore. 

There’s a difference between speaking assertively and attacking.  Attacking sets out to beat an opponent. Asserting tries to be clear.  It can sound something like, “I’m angry because you promised to come home on time and you’re late again. Stop promising things you have no intention of doing.”

Asserting sticks to the point. Attacking can lead to a flood of words and dragging things up from the past to win the argument.  Mudslinging.  I guess the winner is the one who lands the most mud.  But in a relationship, if one person “wins”, the relationship often loses.

Angry words hurt the ones we love the most.  Said another way, only those we love the most ever get close enough to cause that much pain.

Pause for a moment and think before you tee off on someone you love.  What point are you trying to make?”  If the other person starts slinging mud, you need to ask if you want to get in the pit and sling it back.  Before you do, remember how well that worked in the past. 

To love someone means to sometimes feel frustration, we hurt because we care.  Ask yourself if you believe your partner was deliberately trying to hurt you or it was their frustration talking.  People we love can sometimes get under our skin; we sometimes get under theirs. I don’t believe it’s usually because we want to hurt each other.

All of us are going to feel the urge to blow up about something. Difficult as it will be, step away for a moment.  Breathe.

Try to understand what happened that made you angry. Find a way other than yelling to say what you feel.

Most of all, speak to your partner in words you yourself accept hearing. Be clear about what happened; what fired you up.  Be clear about what you’re feeling because of it and what you want to change.  Then be prepared to listen.

Listening is the hard part. You don’t attack or defend; you try to understand. Then you have a chance to work it out, together.

This piece started with Carl Sandburg saying words cannot be forgotten, only forgiven.  Everyone reading this will need forgiveness at some point. Remember that when it comes time to forgive.