Many of my clients who come in with relationship problems don’t know how to express their anger, and that’s why they never get what they want. In fact they get very uncomfortable when I tell them this. They think that relationships should be magical – that if their mate loved them they would be able to read their mind and know what they want. They don’t realize that relationships involve resolving conflicts, and that means that you have to express your negative feelings to your mate and tell them what you want to have changed.
Though clients don’t know it, it’s why most of them are having relationship difficulties. When they come to see me, they say, “I just can’t get over him,” or “I’m not in love with her anymore.” They don’t know that their inability to express their anger has created the situation that they are now in.
My client Cynthia had been divorced for two years when she came in, but still couldn’t get over her husband Sam, who had long left her behind and taken a new wife. Cynthia had given too much in the relationship providing the money, raising the kids, and taking care of all the chores. Why would he leave her when she did so much? I told her that he took her for granted because she made it too easy for him. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t angry. She said she was hurt instead.
Many people have trouble moving from the hurt stage to the angry stage in their situations. It’s normal to feel hurt, but if you stay in this stage, you play victim and never move on. It’s necessary to process that hurt, which allows it to naturally turn into anger as you start to feel pride and a need to protect yourself.
But Cynthia had been taught by her mom that anger was not okay. That’s what got her into this mess. She never told her husband that she was angry that the entire responsibility of the relationship was on her. She needed to tell him that he needed to contribute more to the family and that it is not okay that he put the burden on her. By not expressing her anger, she enabled him to become more and more selfish. She created a monster who felt entitled. He was able to use her up and move on with no guilt, leaving her feeling victimized and hurt, longing for the life she thought she had.
My client George, on the other hand, was the one who had been taken advantage of in his relationship. His wife was controlling and demanding and he just took it and did what she wanted and built a little more resentment toward her very day. Several times he thought about just leaving. He told me about all the angry things he wanted to say to her, but he would seldom go back and say them. He told me that one day he would probably just wake up and leave her, never to be seen again. Actually that’s what he did with his first wife. George doesn’t understand that by not expressing his anger, his wife thinks she’s doing the right things. He, of course, is also enabling her to feel more and more self-righteous. George thinks she should know that her controlling ways are wrong. But she doesn’t have a clue and will be shocked when he leaves.
What We Do Instead of Expressing Our Anger:
- We learn to edit our feelings, believing we “shouldn’t” feel that way.
- We think that it won’t do any good to tell someone how we feel because it won’t change anyway.
- We fear hurting our mate, but end up hurting them more in the end by not speaking up.
- We use indirect anger by criticizing and becoming sarcastic.
- We whine to others about how we feel instead of telling our mate.
- We talk ourselves out of our feelings telling ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel that way.
- We fear being hurt, that if we speak up, he/she will go away.
- We think our mate should read our mind.
We behave in passive/aggressive ways, indirectly hurting our mate to get even.
How to Express Your Anger:
Step 1: I feel ______when you_____.
Step 2: I want ________.
Step 3: Will you ________(be specific).
Step 4: If not, I will __________(give an ultimatum).
(For more information on communication skills, click here to order my book The 7 Dumbest Relationship Mistakes Smart People Make.)
- Admit that you are angry at someone about something they did.
- Allow yourself to feel the emotion fully, then ask yourself if they or someone else has done this to you before. Get in touch with all of the anger, both past and present.
- Decide what you want to have happen. Do you want to end it or is there something he/she could do to fix the problem?
- Visualize yourself handling the problem with your mate.
- Use the 4 Steps of Healthy Communication to handle your anger.
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