Being RedBy Michael Barmak, Copyright 2004
December 31, 2006
"Being Red" is a lighthearted and insightful article about taking personal responsibility for our anger and realizing that we can choose to move into compassion rather than react with blaming anger.
My wife wakes me in the middle of the night saying, "I'm seeing red!"
I groggily congratulate her on finally dreaming in color and start to fall back asleep.Â
"I'm seeing red," she repeats."You shut the bathroom door."Now her voice is louder than the "church TV" our landlord, who lives upstairs, watches on Sunday mornings.
"You know I'm blind without my glasses.I'm seeing red!Don't you remember?Our secret code?"
Our conversation comes back to me.We agreed that when one of us does something that makes the other one angry, we'll say, 'I'm seeing red.'We chose this expression because we both knew that bulls charge when they see the matador's red cape.
"You woke me up for that?You know I have an early morning appointment. Now I'm seeing red too."
Before this situation escalates any further, we agree to put a moratorium on our argument until the next night.If we don't get a good night's sleep then the only color either of us will be seeing all day is red. We agree to each make a list of ten behaviors our partner does that make us angry and compare them when we meet.
The following night my wife and I both come armed with our lists.
My wife sees red when I:
1.Stomp around the house and drop things loudly
2.Pinch when I'm massaging her
3.Forget to cut my toe nails and scratch her shins in bed
4.Lock the car doors as I'm getting out (before she opens her door)
5.Wear slightly stained clothes
6.Don't cut up the pizza box for recycling
7.Drive 'bumpy.' (She's a coffee drinker)
8.Point to the words I'm reading to her
9.Pat her like a dog
10."Therapize" her with unsolicited advice
I see red when my wife:
1.Leaves potentially dangerous items on the floor like hair clips, pens and open water bottles
2.Is a little too gritty at times.(I never thought I'd marry someone who'd give me the finger!)
3.Doesn't flush the toilet because she wants to save water
4.Tells me goodbye.Not when she's going out but when I leave the room
5.Doesn't wash her glass out immediately after having a smoothie. (She's a soaker)
6.Feeds me food and drinks that are past the "sell by" date
7.Screams "I love you Derek!" while watching the Yankees
8.Turns off the TV when the Yankees are losing and I'm still watching
9.Tells me she doesn't "appreciate" my driving
I'm about to give her my tenth trigger when we hear our local church bells ring eight times.I consult my wife with a look.We always stop whatever we're doing at 8 o'clock so that we can watch our favorite sitcom.My wife immediately turns on the TV.
In this episode, the main character's wife decides to become a vegetarian.Her husband, who is a writer, protests that she is going to put all the bull fighters on the unemployment line.
"Bull fighting is inhumane," she says. "It isn't even a sport.How can it be a sport when the bull doesn't have a chance of winning?And how can they call it a fight when the bull is up against an army of picadors on horseback, banderilleros and a matador.
Her husband disagrees."It is a sport because there are two sides and the bull initiates the fight.When the bull sees the red cape he knows the game has begun so he charges the matador.
She responds, "Bulls are color blind.What else would you do if your neck had already been pierced by lances and short harpoons and there's a man with a sword who is standing in front of you trying to kill you?Besides, the matador only brings out the red cape at the end when the bull is exhausted and severely injured."The color red is irrelevant.
"Well what about our daughter?Remember when she was first born?She used to throw up on me every time I was wearing my red tie."
Once again his wife enlightens him."Babies are color blind from birth to 4 months old.Maybe she was giving you feedback on your writing you were reading to her while she was eating!"
My wife and I look at each other at the same time.If we are color blind at birth, then the idea of "seeing red" is not a natural feeling.It must be something that we've learned.And if the red cape isn't making the bull charge, then the bull is acting in self-defense.
After a brief discussion, we decide to change our code phrase "I'm seeing red" (you're responsible for my feelings) to "I'm being red" (I create my own feelings).
I tell my wife that if she takes personal "red-sponsibility" for her anger, it will help our relationship.
An angry look comes across her face.She lays into me for blaming her for our problems.
"I see you being red," I offer in what I hope will not be a "therapizing" tone.
"Keep the focus on yourself!"
Before this can escalate any further, I quickly divert her attention back to the last few minutes of our sitcom. The husband has caught his wife in the kitchen wolfing down a roast beef sandwich she had hidden.Rather than asking if she's now a vegetarian who eats meat, he takes a salad out of the refrigerator, sits down next to her and joins her forlunch.She leans over and kisses him.
Once again my wife and I look at each other.As I walk over to her, I notice a pair of scissors, a cup half-filled with coffee and a nail clipper on the floor in front of me.Rather than say anything, I step over them, wrap my arms around my wife and just hold her.
Now that's loving.
MichaelBarmak, CSW, LCSW is an Inner Bonding Facilitator in private practice. He works with individuals and couples in person and on the phone and can be reached at 908-276-8191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What is your first reaction when someone is harsh, critical, sarcastic, angry, judgmental, attacking? Do you attack back? Do you withdraw and get silent? Do you defend and explain? Today, honor the feeling in your body that says "This doesn't feel good" and either speak your truth without blame, defense or judgment and open to learning, or lovingly disengage and compassionately take care of your feelings.
By Dr. Margaret Paul