Coping with Pain
That’s Not
Your Fault
through discomfort—pushing beyond the point
when sinews, senses, and spirit say “stop.” Pain
can also have a completely different meaning. As
one great dancer stated, “Aches warn us we are
entering the green zone of progress. They also
warn us of the entry into the red zone of per -
manent damage. Pros learn to read the dif -
ference, stopping for reds, pushing on beyond
the greens.”
Partnership pain has similar multiple mean-
ings. Growing pains are clearly a green light.
However, red-zone pain carries destructive qual-
ities which, if ignored, can take the partnership
on the path to permanent danger. In the last les-
son, we examined pain that we cause. In this
lesson we will explore pain that comes at us from
our partner.
When Partners Get
Partnerships are sometimes
the context for great anger. Partner A gets enraged and, like a
loaded pistol, fires anger at Partner B, who is pained and may
reciprocate. This uproar is followed by a frustrated exit, by
acquiescence, by a fight, or by some other form of retaliation.
The bottom line on this anger-driven pain is this: while occa-
sionally rage is a therapeutic release, it is most typically the
medium of madness, mayhem, and maybe termination. Most
partnerships have disconnects from time to time that produce
painful emotional irritation. The kind to watch out for is the
behavior that is out of character, extreme for the circumstance,
or seemingly unwarranted.
Understanding anger and how to manage it is a hallmark
of great partnerships. Anger is not a primary behavior. It is a
secondary behavior; the primary driver for anger is a frustrated
need or motive. Anger is the way many of us express our anxi-
ety when we—especially our most dimly lit, innermost selves—
don’t get what we want.
Where does anger come from? Its root is fear or anxiety.
Most fears are illogical. Granted, there are logical fears. When
you go to the dentist, your fear of discomfort and pain is logi-
cal. There are also logical “going to work” fears. People worry
about getting rejected, looking foolish, losing power, appearing
incompetent—a wide range of fears short of “you’re going to be
abused or die.” Most fears, however, are not logical—they are
psycho logical. The source of the fear is not getting an impor-
tant psychological need met. Think of a priority need as a psy-
chological default—the one you fall back on when anxiety is
in the air.
The goal is to get a finer bead on your partner’s priority
need (drive or motive) as a path to eliminating pain (a.k.a.
anger). Pay close attention to actions your partner has taken and
ask: what important emotional or psychological need might be
met by the action she selected? Examine the timing of moments
of anger. What’s going on when ire surfaces?
Keep in mind that anger is a secondary feeling; the root
issue is generally a frustrated need. Achievers fear losing, affil-
iators fear rejection, power seekers fear appearing weak, and
control freaks fear being wrong or losing dominion over their
circumstances. The higher priority the need plays in your
partner’s life, the more fearful (and angry) she will be if she
perceives that need to be threatened.
Answering Anger
o what? Assume you now
have a clearer understanding of what might drive your partner
to anger. What next? Remember our earlier advice? Answer the
literal words of a question while addressing a deeper issue that
you think might be really fueling the fear. Assume that every
statement made to the tune of anger is a song played in stereo—
the obvious statement about the issue or concern at hand and
the underlying response to a frustrated need. Respond to both
channels in the way you communicate.
We’ve outlined a few thoughts on how you might make
your response to anger more fruitful. We encourage you to
follow our theme, but it is very important that your precise
message reflect your own style and personality. Faking com-
ments will seem contrived (which they are) and work counter to
your goal of dealing effectively with partner anger.
Sashaying with a Strutter
Strutters are extremely achievement-oriented, but with a nega-
tive twist. They use anger in a competitive way, often pushing
the confrontation to a right-wrong plane. If you allow the con-
frontation to get to that level, you will expend more energy on
Good partnerships
gone awry usually con tain
at least one of the follow-
ing statements preceding
their demise: I thought
you meant, I thought you
said, You told me you
were going to, My con-
tract says that, or You
promised me that you
would . . . .
—Michael Somers,
Computer Curriculum

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