Love the Life You Live: Harnessing Your Wild Side
- Monday, October 04, 2004
The Secret to Managing All This Power
Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot. – D.H. Lawrence
To put it bluntly, if your anger and sexual impulses control you, your life will become a living hell. In their natural state, these feelings are totally undisciplined, frighteningly unpredictable, and arrogantly demanding. They can make you a miserable, selfish, impossible person.
But if you tame them, bring them under strict discipline, they can transport you to your fondest goals with the speed of a rocket.
If you tame them!
To do so, you must stay in control, channel all that potent energy, and remain confident about the end results you’re pursuing. Psychologically, you must stay in command with your cognitive or thinking powers. When these urges build up steam, you need to think rationally, remaining aware that how you handle the situation will be crucial to your happiness or your sense of failure.
Here’s a word picture to help you envision this process. Imagine yourself on a stagecoach moving across the dusty plains from Kansas City to Los Angeles. You have a team of eight horses in front of you, and you hold the reins. These young and spirited horses are rearing to run, and their strength seems unlimited. The trail stretches before you – hilly, narrow, and treacherous – but the prize of reaching Los Angeles will be well worth the journey.
If you let go of the reins, these mighty horses will run way too fast. They will inevitably choose the wrong fork in the road, run too close to the edge of the hill, and ultimately wreck the wagon, destroy the mission, and jeopardize your life. But if you steadily and wisely guide these energized animals, they’ll power you right to Los Angeles – and fast!
The Potential for Triumph or Tragedy
Only as you do know yourself can your brain serve you as a sharp and efficient tool. Know your own failings, passions, and prejudices so you can separate them from what you see. – Bernard M. Baruch
This point is so critical for your own health and for your journey to unswerving authenticity and balanced relationships that we’ll say it again: Intense anger or sexual feelings can propel you like a missile toward success or failure, victory or defeat. When you experience these strong emotions, you will inevitably act either brilliantly or destructively. Therefore, how you manage your anger and sexual urges will largely determine your quality of life.
Consider your sexual feelings for a moment. Let’s assume that you’re a man who’s been married for fifteen years to a woman you met in college. The two of you love each other and are committed to spending the rest of your lives together. Periodically, though, your sexual needs are stronger than you are able to express and satisfy in your marriage. Sex is constantly on your mind, and your fantasies are unrelenting. Sometimes you feel like you can hardly control your urges.
If this is you, you’d better pay attention! You may try to stay naïve and innocent, but you need desperately to grab hold of those reins. You must know precisely how you want to direct those raring horses. This is especially true when a work colleague – a bright, pretty, divorced woman – suddenly begins showing up at your desk “just to chat.” Before long, you notice how she stands closer to you then she needs to and happens to arrive at the coffee machine at the same time you do. Then when she suggests you meet over dinner to discuss an upcoming presentation, her intentions are unmistakable.
Now is not the time for your horses to run free! They need clear, authoritative guidance. Staying strong and alert in the driver’s seat, carefully supervising the expression of your desires, and ending up precisely where you want to be are the primary goals of a healthy life. The rewards can be astonishing.
How can you handle your sexual longings and your coworker’s advances in a positive way? It wouldn’t do any good to deny your needs. They are real and legitimate. We were created with an innate longing for connection. But the facts are in: You have a much better chance of getting those sexual longings satisfied to the fullest when you stay aware of them and when you contain them within a committed lifelong relationship.
Lynn Harris, a Glamour magazine writer, recently interviewed numerous women, single and married, in her report on how women felt about their sexual experiences. To her surprise, she discovered that the woman who was the happiest said that her sexual experiences had been with one man. This attractive blonde, a thirty-year-old lawyer who has been married twelve years, had practiced abstinence as a single and now reported happily, “I’ve had more sex than most of my single friends, and I’ve been with only one person.” The truth is, all the sexual conquests outside of marriage – however tempting at times – can never measure up to the commitment of a marriage relationship.
There is no such thing as casual sex, no matter how casual people are about it. After intercourse, a couple’s relationship is somehow now what it was before. – Lewis Smedes
So the last thing you want to do is to let your impulses control you. They will press you to seek immediate gratification, and they will try to convince you to forget about any repercussions. If you let go of the reins, you will inevitably endanger your marriage – or any potential dating relationship, if you are single – undermine your values, and trade away long-term happiness for short-term satisfaction.
But what a boom to your marriage if you turn the power of your sexual needs into a masterful plan for fostering intimacy with your wife. She is the woman you’ve chosen to be with for the rest of your days. So why not become a genius in solving this dilemma?
Try the following:
Talk about your needs. Ask your spouse about hers.
Seek to understand each other better through active listening (rather than listening with your own agenda in mind).
Be vulnerable. Share with your spouse what a struggle it is to have unfulfilled desires. Tell her you are committed to your relationship and your wedding vows, and you want to find a path that’s mutually satisfying.
Ask how you could be a better lover – and be ready to listen without judging or criticizing your spouse’s responses.
Seek out a marriage-support group, or go to counseling together.
Find ways to improve the quality of your sexual relationship.
The highest level of sexual excitement is in a monogamous relationship. – Warren Beatty
As you seek healthy solutions to your sexual urges, each of you stands to benefit for as long as you both shall live. And such honesty will help you feel not only profoundly significant to each other but will also allow you to be unswervingly authentic, with nothing hidden from your spouse.
The stronger your sexual drives, the more opportunity there will be for the destructiveness of your behavior – or the enhancement of your life. That’s why emotionally healthy persons are never out of control for long when it comes to their wild side. The consequences are too enormous.
Anger Has the Same Potential to Be Helpful or Harmful
The sexual embrace, worthily understood, can only be compared with music and with prayer. – James Hilton
If you are angry, it’s a sure sign that something needs attention in your life. Something is askew, and it must be set right. Anger is like a red light flashing on the dashboard of your car. Overlook it at your own peril!
Let’s say you discovered that four of your closest friends got together for lunch and nine holes of golf last Saturday. You like all four of them, and you assumed you were equally well liked by them. Moreover, you love to play golf every chance you get. But you weren’t invited, and you are shocked. Worse, you feel hurt and rejected. The more you let yourself brood, the more enraged you become.
As your anger swells, you have five alternatives. Four will likely bring destruction; one might bring relational growth.
You can explode. You can call each of your friends and shout, “I heard what you did, you jerk! You purposely left me out. We’re through.” Chances are, this response will not foster the resolution and reconciliation you crave.
You can handle your anger underhandedly – avoid your friends, say almost nothing when you do see them, and generally pout and sulk your way to interpersonal destruction. Of course, your friends will probably have no idea why you’re acting so sullen and remorse.
You can blame yourself and assume you were the cause of the rejection. You might think, They would’ve included me if I were funnier, outgoing, more interesting, or a better golfer. The only result here is damage to your self-worth.
You can obsess over your disappointment, do nothing about it, and continue to replay the hurtful event in your mind. If you keep these toxic emotions churning, keep pouring acid into your stomach, and keep your muscles clenched, you’ll inflict physical and psychological harm on yourself.
You can do something positive, something that will likely lead to progress. You can privately incite one or two of your friends to lunch. Go with the two that you trust most, the two most likely to help you resolve this issue. Sitting at lunch with them, you can pick the appropriate time to share your disappointment and hurt. You can pad your statements with understanding: “I know how these things happen, and I shouldn’t be so sensitive.” Or, “I realize I may be misinterpreting this.”
But then ask your friends if they can help you think it through. Tell them that if you are the problem, you sincerely want to change. You simply want to face the truth and get this matter behind you. This kind of “anger management” almost always leads to stronger relationships and clearer understanding about yourself.
Perhaps you’re thinking that being excluded from lunch and a golf game is trivial. What if it were a huge problem, one that caused your anger to bubble up like volcanic lava? All right, let’s assume you just found out your spouse or longtime dating partner has recently been involved emotionally and sexually with someone else. Your hurt is enormous, your frustration is beyond words, and your sense of threat is off the charts. What should you do?
Keep the reins firmly in your hands! Don’t let the horses run wild. Take much more time to act on your feelings than you instinctively want to. When your energy is bursting within you, that’s not the time to act impulsively. Strive hard to be patient.
When your anger or sexual energy is running high, you have a gigantic power reservoir available. You are capable of doing something terribly destructive, but you can elect to do something with lasting positive consequences. There are few times in life when you are in such a pivotal position to influence the quality of your future existence. If you stay solidly in the driver’s seat and think clearly and wisely, you can make a brilliant decision that will bring tremendous growth to your life.
It is easy to fly into a passion – anybody can do that – but to be angry with the right person and to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way – that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it. – Aristotle
Les Parrott, Ph.D., is founder and codirector (with his wife, Dr. Leslie Parrott) of the Center for Relationship Development, a groundbreaking program dedicated to teaching the basics of good relationships, on the campus of Seattle Pacific University (SPU). He is the author of numerous best-selling books, including "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts." For more information, visit www.realrelationships.com.
Neil Clark Warren, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the founder of eHarmony.com, a relationship Web site. He is the former dean of the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology and the author of seven books, including the best-seller "Finding the Love of Your Life."
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