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Letting the Dust Settle

I think we are all familiar with the Rage Stage, aren’t we? Something goes wrong between you and another person, and you’re mad. You’re furious. This is the moment when things fly out into the open, and we are likely to say words we don’t really mean or, even if there is some truth in them, still they don’t come out the way we would want them to. And when all is said and done, if we are lucky, we get a chance to pick up the pieces. If we are not lucky, we wind up alone.

How many relationships end at his stage? A lot, from what I’ve seen. Plenty of mine, I’ll give you that. But that is even more true when I consider something that - it seems to me - people may be less familiar with... and that is: how long the Rage Stage can last.

There seems to be a common impression that the Rage Stage will go away once we have a chance to calm down, take a few deep breaths, go for a walk, and maybe get a good night’s sleep. It might even take a few days. After that, we should be more ready and capable of talking, and sorting things out. But seriously, is that all it is?

In my experience, the Rage Stage can indeed be short. But it can also be long. It can last for days, weeks, months, and even years, depending on the situation and also, very much, on how we choose to navigate it. Divorced couples stay angry for a very long time, and conversations between them are often tainted by that anger. Even for people who were bosom buddies or deeply in love, memories of fighting overshadow memories of bonding, and any real chance of communication remains out of reach for surprising lengths of time. The Beatles, we all know, never did get back together… even after many years.

I think that one of the biggest dangers of fear and anger is that they know how to work in stealth mode: We might think that we are over it; but the truth is that it still controls our lives, and makes all of our decisions for us.

I have seen myself and many friends in that moment of perceived clarity, when we are convinced that we have reached a sound conclusion. But the truth is that we are just so pissed off, that there is no way we can see things for what they are. We are only flattering ourselves.

And tragically, in many cases, these rash decisions that we make in moments of perceived clarity - become binding. Or at least we think they are… and so we treat them that way. We often feel like it is “too late now” to go back and fix what could, under the right circumstances, have been a wonderful friendship, or a deep and passionate love.

So how can we navigate this danger zone? How can we survive the Rage Stage?

The most important thing, as always, is to acknowledge it. But this needs to happen on several levels.

First, acknowledge that such a stage exists. You can pretty much assume that this will be one of the inevitable ingredients of any interpersonal relationship that you go through: You might as well try to be ready for the moments when anger comes. Don’t try to convince yourself that you are above anger. Accept it when it comes. Welcome it as part of the process, and give it time. The most mature people in the world are not the ones who never get angry; they are the ones who admit it when they do.

Try to acknowledge when you are angry. My best advice on that is to be open to feedback from others, because as I mentioned before, anger has a stealth mode. You may not even realize that it is happening. But you may be able to catch it in the act if you let other people help you, and even ask them to point it out if they feel that you are angry - especially if they feel that it is affecting your judgement. And if they love you enough to do that, you should be grateful.

Aside from acknowledging the onset of anger, we have to get better at acknowledging its length: Don’t go thinking you are over it so easily. As a matter of fact, you should be checking in with yourself on a regular basis to see whether you may still be angry or not: If you are going through a crisis, before asking yourself what your conclusions are, you should ask yourself: How do you feel?

Do you feel like you are ready to talk?

And speaking of feedback, does your best friend agree that you are ready to talk?

Is your partner, or whoever is in this crisis with you, ready to talk? They have a rage stage, too. Is either of you ready to make decisions?

We might feel - especially if the initial shock has already passed - that we are looking at the situation “objectively”; but we are not. We might think that we already “know what we believe”, what “our conclusions are”, and what we “want to do”. But our anger is still in control, and likely working in stealth mode. If we try to act now, we may regret it later on. So try to be aware of it, and admit it to yourself and to others when you are angry.

You may want to get the situation handled and over with ASAP, but speaking for my own experience, I believe there are very few cases when it really is urgent. Take your time. The people who love you should be capable of patience. But be open with them; try not to sulk: It’s not about punishing the other side, but about navigating the situation together in the best way that you can. Your partner should hopefully feel like you genuinely want to resolve this, you just know that it will be easier once you’ve calmed down. You can tell them that you are angry, you just want to let the dust settle and do some of your own processing before you really talk about it. And when you’re doing that processing, get some advice and support from people you can trust.

Also, if you are holding it in under the pretext of “waiting until you are ready to talk”, but in the meantime it’s making you feel worse and worse, then you’re doing something wrong. Look for ways to deal with your anger (see below), and make it a point to get to that conversation that you’re waiting for, because it’s important.

Sometimes you can even talk about the anger itself with your significant other, without skipping over it to the decision stage: What triggered you? Sometimes it helps so much to just say it, and have the other side listen without responding at all. In Israel (and I hope this exists all over the world, but I can’t figure out where it originated), we have a thing called “kala”: One person talks, the other just listens (and yes, I mean JUST LISTEN. Don’t even take notes). It has nothing to do with finding solutions, if you ask me; it’s more about being able to express how you feel, and what triggered you, while having the other person be your compassionate witness. A lot of tension gets released this way. Decisions come much later, after the dust settles.

I have yet to explore this myself, but I would certainly say that from what I’ve seen, it’s ok to wait until you are ready to talk, as long as you are open with each other during the process, and as respectful as you can be of each other’s needs.

And if you’re in the thick of things, and harsh words get said; or if you thought you were ready, but you discovered that you were not - be forgiving with each other. Everybody gets mad, and everybody has imperfect moments. It’s the conversations you can have AFTER the dust settles that really matter.

Aside from acknowledging the rage stage, DO SOMETHING to help it pass. This is what can make the difference between a short, passing phase or a long one. Time is powerful, but often it is not enough on its own. It can even cause things to fester and get worse, if you ignore them.

Find ways to address your anger and help it heal, before trying to make decisions or take actions. I have discussed a few ways to do this in another post, and I would love to hear suggestions if anyone has them!

If there is more anger than you believe you can handle, just ask for help. Help is a good thing: Help in healing your anger, help in communicating with your loved one, help in being a better person. Any kind of help you need - just ask!

We were never meant to navigate this world alone.

Ask for help.

Take your time.

And forgive yourself, and others, for being angry. It’s a natural part of the learning process.

And remember that underneath all that anger, love is always there.

Photo by Kaboompics,


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