Are you angry?
Or is your partner angry with you?
If so, then you have to address that before you can work on any other part of your relationship.
If it has gotten to the point where one or both of you are always angry, then you’ve got serious issues. Are you committed to working them out? If so, consider a marriage counselor. If you’re not willing to see a marriage counselor, are you willing to work on your issues? And is your spouse? Honestly, can you actually sit down and work things out? If not, then your relationship may be done.
What if you’ve got occasional things that lead to anger? In such cases, then there is an emotional trigger being tripped. Can you talk about it?
Why are we getting into this?
Because it’s hard to feel and be intimate with another person when we’re angry.
When we’re angry, we feel wronged. Misunderstood. Uncared for. Betrayed.
How can you feel close to a person who treats you that way?
You have to work those things out before anything else.
And these conversations are hard, often with a lot of related and unrelated things feeding into them.
A typical example of relationship conflict, anger and communication problems
Jane has to stay late at work to get a presentation done for the Board the next day. Joe left work on time, and was able to get the kids from after care, get them fed, homework done, and clean up the kitchen and get some laundry put away, then gets the kids bathed and in bed. He was supposed to go over to a friend’s house to watch a big playoff game, but can’t since Jane’s still at work. Some time after ten he finally grabs a beer and plops down to watch the second half of the game. Jane doesn’t get home until nearly eleven o’clock, and when she does, she’s tired, irritable and hungry. Joe is upstairs and has left a few lights on for her.
She notices the kids shoes piled up by the door, and that the counter hasn’t been wiped, and there’s nothing on the stove for her.
Joe had figured she’d have eaten, so had cleaned up the leftovers.
She grabs something out of the fridge, and stomps up the stairs, noticing dirty socks on the landing and a Nerf gun on the fourth step from the top. When she enters the bedroom, she sees Joe, in his underwear, feet up, drinking a beer.
A half-filled laundry basket is sitting by her bureau, filled with her laundry waiting for her to put away.
Joe looks up as she enters. “Hey! Welcome home!”
She draws a deep breath… and lets him have it.
Her Point of View
She is exhausted, has worked fourteen hours, and left a clean house. When she gets home, he doesn’t even have the courtesy to come meet her, or to leave her something to eat. He left a huge mess, and just expects her to put her laundry away when she’d have preferred if he had left it where she didn’t have to look at it. And after her day, he’s sitting there on his ass, drinking a beer??!
His Point of View
He busted his ass tonight. He had other plans that he had to cancel, but he didn’t complain, not one word. He got the kids totally squared away, and even did some extra stuff, putting away all the laundry except her stuff, which he could never figure out where it went anyway. He’s feeling pretty good and virtuous, if disappointed, and when Jane walks in the room, he greets her cheerfully… only to get blasted. Now his feelings are hurt and he feels betrayed, when he feels he not just stepped up but went above and beyond.
Different points of view, different expectations, and then load on that stress and exhaustion.
Joe didn’t think about what Jane might be feeling when she came home… nor that she might be hungry or want him to meet her. But neither did Jane ask for those things.
Jane didn’t think about what Joe might be feeling… how, from his point of view, he had been a good husband. She only looked at the negatives, and in her exhaustion didn’t –and probably couldn’t—take the step back she needed to to realize how Joe might feel.
Joe has a couple options here. He can counter Jane’s emotional assertions with his own heated responses. Or, he can disengage and stew silently. Or, he can listen to Jane, hear her, and try to respond in a way that acknowledges her feelings without escalating. This takes some emotional maturity –inside, he may be screaming that he’s been wronged—but it’s the best course. And then, later, he can explain his point of view, after she knows he cares enough to listen to her and her feelings. Ultimately, Jane wants to be heard.
Jane needs to then listen to Joe after he has listened to her, and let her own stress and anger go.
If, instead, Joe and Jane fight, with neither listening to the other, managing emotions and seeing the point of view of the other, the likely result is anger, stony silences, hurt feelings, and more fights. Let it go long enough, and it can actually kill the relationship entirely.
Read the next post in the Keeping the Spark Alive Series: Marriage, Part 4: Fix Relationship Anger with Communication and Compromise