Are you on the roller-coaster of anger?
At the heart of a stressful relationship you will often find a mountain of anger that has not been resolved.
In a relationship with codependent tendencies, one or both partners gets angry when they shouldn’t and doesn’t get angry when they should. That’s the people-pleaser. The other person, the one who is more overtly controlling, feels free to be angry all the time.
Let’s talk about the people-pleaser, because in general that is the partner who seeks help for what is wrong and is willing to work for change.
When you are coping with someone else’s volatile anger, you’re on a roller coaster ride. There are sudden peaks and valleys and wild turns that you feel unable to deal with because they are not always predictable. You get into a pattern of watching the other person constantly – this is called being hypervigilant – and trying to head off the next anger attack.
Unfortunately, trying to control someone else’s moods and behaviors leaves you exhausted. A side effect is that your own feelings get mishandled. Since you are afraid that expressing your true thoughts about the other person’s explosions will lead to an even more overwhelming attack by them, you bury those reactions and stuff them down when they try to pop up. But since you do have all these feelings of anger yourself – fury that they talk to you that way, rage at yourself for putting up with it, anger at your seemingly hopeless situation when you do so much to try to keep the peace and make everybody happy – the anger bubbles up at inappropriate times.
This is when “getting angry when you shouldn’t” happens. Let’s say you’re furious at your husband because he is verbally abusive, but you have become too intimidated by his tirades to speak up in your own defense. So you do your best to calm him down each time and you try not to rock the boat.
Tonight, you’ve prepared his favorite meal as a peace offering, hoping he’ll behave himself because company is coming. Well, company arrives and he’s a perfect angel! He is charming, polite, the other couple think he’s just great! You watch him warily throughout the evening as he performs the role of the Perfect Husband.
As the hours go on and he doesn’t show one single evidence of being an angry and controlling husband behind closed doors, you feel unsure of yourself. Have you been wrong all along? This part of the roller coaster ride results in tremendous mental confusion. As your guests leave, the wife takes you aside and confides that she feels you’re so very lucky to have such a wonderful guy and she hopes you appreciate him. Smiling bravely, you agree and mumble something in reply.
When you’re alone with your husband, it’s as if a mask drops off his face. He might look at the closed door and smirk, then comment that those people were idiots. Then he wanders in to snap on the TV and watch a late night show, leaving you to clean up the dinner mess.
As you resentfully go into the dining room to start clearing the table, you see a spill of red wine on your favorite tablecloth. It’s right in front of your husband’s place and you know he’s the guilty party. Suddenly you erupt. In a rage, you carry the dishes into the kitchen and slam them on the counter. You scrape the plates and load the dishwasher, all the while your fury building. You mutter under your breath and clatter the dishes. Your hands shake. Your mind is flooded with memories of all the episodes of his anger that you suppressed.
Finally you can’t stand it another moment. You stride back to the dining room, sweep the cloth off the table and march into the other room where you stand blocking the TV and confront him with the tablecloth stain, demanding to know why he couldn’t be more careful with your favorite things.
Startled, trying to see the TV screen past you, he accuses you of being “in a mood,” and tells you that he can’t even talk to you when you get this way. He calmly – in direct opposite to your overwrought state – points out that you are incoherent and can’t control your anger.
You sputter some outraged reply about his anger being the problem, but he smiles expansively, still in his mild-mannered mode and gives you the punch line: “Me? Everybody likes me – you heard what they said. Better look at yourself. You can’t even speak, you’re so angry. Why don’t you go to bed, honey, and sleep it off.”
What’s happened here? All the rage you’ve been stuffing has tried to come up all at once, but at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.
Tomorrow I’ll give you some pointers on how to address your anger in a healthier way.
your happiness guru,