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updated: 12/2/2011 3:12 PM

Sometimes it's healthy to get 'hopping mad'

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I once had a friend who literally hopped up and down when she was angry.

She added some other touches -- clenched fists, lips drawn back in a grimace and a beautiful scowl. When she was mad, we all knew it.

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Unfortunately, many of us have quite another way of dealing with our anger -- we sit on it. We try not to let anyone know we are mad. Often we try so hard that we don't even know it ourselves.

The problem with that approach is that it doesn't work; we simply cannot avoid our anger forever.

Let's say, for example, we're mad at our spouse for forgetting our birthday. We don't want to let on that we're really upset; we'll just wind up having a fight. So when we meet our spouse after work, we force a smile and a kiss and sullen silence.

Of course when we are asked if there is anything wrong, we insist that everything is just fine. Later that night, when our spouse is feeling a bit amorous, we roll over and pretend to go to sleep.

Who are we kidding? It has taken our spouse about five minutes to figure out that we are upset. And though he or she may initially cooperate with our avoidance of anger, we can bet that sooner or later it will all come out in a fight about one thing or the other.

No matter how hard we try, our anger does come out. We may get grumpy, touchy, cold, sarcastic, withdrawn or depressed. We may act out our anger through drinking or violence, or by simply leaving.

The fact is, when we are angry we inevitably let other people know it -- whether we want to or not. Often we aren't even aware of the signals we give off to clue others in to our anger, but they are there. And anyone who knows us recognizes them.

I prefer my friend's being "hopping mad" to some of my other friends' "sitting" on their anger. I can handle anger that is upfront and honest. I don't particularly like it, but at least we can talk it out and get things settled. That seems better to me than letting such anger poison our relationship for hours, days or even weeks.

A good many marriages, especially, are in serious trouble because of such suppressed anger. It is rather like rust on the inside of a car. We can't see it until suddenly it has rusted through and made a total disaster of our car door.

Similarly, things will seem to be going along calmly in a marriage until suddenly there is a huge explosion of years of pent-up anger. When the dust settles, the marriage too often is over.

You know, most of us are probably afraid to allow ourselves to be openly angry. We're fearful that other people won't like us, accept us and understand us. And some won't. But since most people who really know us will recognize our anger whether we express it or not, we may be doing everyone a favor by just dealing with it. A 15-minute confrontation now is preferable to three days of guerrilla warfare later.

Of course, there are some good ways and bad ways to express anger. Let me suggest just a few: don't use physical violence to express anger; don't use anger to embarrass someone in front of others; don't express anger when we are not willing to take time to talk about it; don't decide beforehand that there is only one way to settle things.

The good ways to express anger include talking about it by using phrases such as "I'm really angry " or "I'm ticked off ;" allowing our partner to express his or her thoughts and feelings; being open to considering our contribution to the problem -- we often have helped create the situation we are angry about; and working toward a solution to whatever we are angry about rather than letting that problem arise again and again.

These are just some basic pointers. If we have a real problem dealing with anger or we are in a relationship where there is a lot of built-up anger ready to explode, then we probably need to get help. We may want to see a professional counselor who can help us safely defuse that angry bomb before it destroys something.

So, stand up and get "hopping." Or at least get talking. It helps.

• The Rev. Ken Potts' book "Mix, Don't Blend: A Guide to Dating, Engagement, and Remarriage with Children" is available through retailers.

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