The cause of your anger in an intimate relationship is rarely what you think it is — initially. Quite often, lurking beneath the anger that occurs between spouses is an unacknowledged feeling that is unconscious to the one who's expressing her anger. This is why it is necessary to look past anger to find the unseen feeling you or your partner (if he is the angry one) needs to resolve. Anger is more often fear or sadness, insecurity, or despair in disguise. Expressing anger for most men is socially safe because our culture views anger as strong, while sadness is seen as weak. For men and women, getting in touch with your anger is far more important than expressing it. Once you understand why you are angry, you can handle the real issue and not strike out at the nearest target.
Your Feelings, Your Responsibility
The problem most people have with an internal disturbance is that they blame someone else for their agitated feelings. No one but you can be responsible for the feelings you are having. It is seductive to blame others, because then you do not have to take responsibility in the matter. However once you hold others accountable for your feelings, you can only quiet those internal feelings if the other person changes. It is much smarter to recognize that all your feelings are your own responsibility, and then work to create inner peace from that context.
When you find yourself in a relationship feeling fear and anger, you need to find the causes of those feelings, and the pathway out of these self-defeating attitudes. Otherwise they will destroy you and the relationship you are hoping to build. Fear has many causes, but usually it is the result of attempting to control life so you will not re-experience a past event that produced the fear you fear to feel again.
Women “flood.” Men “stonewall.” Based on his laboratory research with married couples, psychologist John Gottman, PhD, reports that 70 percent of the time a marital conflict begins with a woman raising a complaint to the attention of the man. When the woman overloads the man with complaints, Gottman calls this “flooding.” He says that 80 percent of the time, the man in this situation is not talking, or he's in some other way resisting or sabotaging discussion of his partner's complaint.
THE PAST HAUNTS THE PRESENT
Perhaps you have experienced a horrific event in the past and are bringing the feelings of that occurrence into the present. By carrying the unhealthy experience within, you are probably hoping to stop feeling what you felt when that experience occurred before. Thus you are unconsciously holding onto emotional junk as a defense against feeling it again. Better to let it go and trust that if it shows up again you shall know how to handle this one differently. Then you can really face your fears with a new power and with new vitality.
Carrying old hurts and pain around inside is disastrous for you, your partner, and everyone who is close to you. An appropriate path away from fear is to surrender to what you cannot change, and accept the mystery of life and the gift that is beyond human understanding. But before most find this secret pathway out of fear, they get bogged down in the futile attempt to control life, other people, their lover, and even their own unchangeable nature, which will lead to frustration and more fear.
FINDING STRENGTH IN LOVE
Your greatest strengths and those of your partner are also your greatest weaknesses. You first fall in love with what you experience as the strengths in your partner, and then you experience the shadow side of these same qualities. For example, strong-willed people are first viewed as clear-minded and determined, but eventually this strength reveals its dark side as your awareness grows. The strength is then seen as stubbornness and inflexibility. Every coin has two sides. In truth you need both sides, for only with contrast can anything exist. Good is good because bad is bad. Beauty is beauty because ugly is ugly. Paradox demands tension between opposites. Handling the paradox is the key to contentment. How well you manage the tension determines the health of your relationship.
If you have to choose between friendship or the love relationship you have with a married partner, always put your friendship first. Platonic love, the kind shared by friends, requires that you think about the other person's needs, not just about your own or what you think you want from the marriage.