I know what I instinctively do when I get angry. I sit on it.
I want to think about it. I want to think about what to do with it. If the person who just said or did something that got my anger started, especially if it’s my husband or my daughter, I most especially stuff it down until I can figure out what to say. Often the moment gets lost entirely. I find myself grumpy or tense ten minutes later, ruminating on my anger like a cow chewing cud, and my opportunity to express myself feels lost forever.
Not so. What I’m describing here, it seems, is me beating myself up because I didn’t know what to do with the anger I was feeling. What’s sometimes worse is when my husband is angry. At me.
I can handle his anger if it’s towards others. I get behind him, confirm his righteous indignation, his enemy is my enemy. I’m a great team player. So where am I when he’s angry at me? What team am I on?
The first split second I feel his coolness, I’m on team Rori. I get my back up, I protect my back, I face off. I’m the star goalie, defender of Rori, no angry words could possibly hurt me, I never, ever, ever did anything wrong. Or I did everything wrong. I bounce from anger at him for being angry with me to anger at myself for causing such unbearable conflict. I blame myself for severing love, even for this moment. It doesn’t occur to me until sometimes hours later that acting as if I’m on team Our Relationship would not only be better for the relationship, but for me, too. All I need to do is share my anger.
We all know from reading every book on communication ever written that we’re supposed to communicate in “I feel” messages, not “You did” messages. And yet — How do you do that? Most of us don’t even know what that looks like, much less how to get the words out. Not one woman (including me) that I’ve met has even seen it in our lifetime, except maybe in the movies. Not only do we not know what it feels like to really talk in “I feel” messages, we hardly ever even know what it is we even feel!
Those of you who have been to my workshops know that a big part of my work is helping women access their feelings and then express those feelings in words a man can hear.
One of the emotions we women have the most trouble with is anger, and anger is also the emotion we often seem to have the most of! We are all angry a good part of the time. Perhaps it’s disappointment, or irritation, or pure rage. Some of us have gotten seriously sick trying to hold in so much anger. Some of us can only attract men who offend us, who make us angry, because we are so angry.
Putting a smiley face on our anger just makes it all worse, because on top of the authentic angry inferno anyone who stands next to us can sense (no matter how dense we think they are) we’re adding the disrespect of trying to hide it from them. We’re pretending it’s not even there — though it’s like a great big elephant sticking out of our chests. That angry elephant trumpets through our words no matter how hard we try to disguise it. When we pretend, we appear at best like automatons, at worst like liars. We can seem completely out of touch with ourselves and at the same time complain about how men can’t get in touch with their feelings!
So, what to do?
1. Agree that anger, even murderous rage, is just a feeling. It’s just energy. And it’s most likely covering pain. Because anger truly does feel better than pain, it’s a very worthwhile and helpful emotion.
2. Admit to ourselves that what we’re feeling is anger, and that it belongs to us, not to the man across the dinner table. Admit that it most likely has absolutely nothing to do with that man across the table. It may be anger from the last relationship, the last two dozen relationships, or our relationships with our parents. And then admit that if it is about the man across the table, and he’s said or done something clearly hurtful, you not only don’t have to tolerate it — you can handle the next step!. Which is:
3. Share it. This is not about venting, getting it out, or “communicating.” It’s about sharing your feeling state in order to both keep yourself healthy and deepen your relationship with another human being. Say “I’m feeling angry”. Period. If he asks you why –- say “I feel really angry. And hurt. And now I’m feeling confused. And now I feel a little silly even telling you”. Or “Ouch — that really hurt — it feels terrible”. (Notice I didn’t say “You made me feel terrible” or “That makes me feel terrible”, I just said “I feel terrible”.) It may seem like a little thing, and yet my work is based on the idea that these little things add up to big things, and then pretty soon your life has changed for the better and you’ve already lived through all those big changes that right now seem so terrifying.
Learn how to go a few rounds with him, responding in the moment — even if it gets to you screaming “Now I’m so angry I feel like hitting you! I don’t want to be here anymore!” and leaving the space.
If you have to do this a lot, you may want to look at why you’ve chosen to stick around with this man at all — which brings us right back to the question of why we hide the stuff in the first place. Is it because we’re afraid to look at what’s really going on in the relationship, what’s really going on in our hearts?
I know it seems too simplistic to just share your feeling state. We want to explain, to help him understand. Actually, we just want to slap him around. We want to punish him. And that gets us, and the relationship, nowhere.
So where does all this sharing of feelings get us? Every single woman I’ve taught to do this (including myself) has told me that it shifts the conversation. It shifts the entire relationship. Where there was once tension and a feeling of detachment, there’s now a feeling of play and connection. Sharing our feeling state is an outrageous act of bravery. Any man in the room can see that.
And any man can feel the utter authenticity and vulnerability of it. Any man can feel how much you must trust and respect him to be able to open up like that, without attacking him. Without so much as mentioning his name. And any woman who does this, even a little, experiences a freeing up inside.
All of a sudden all the pretense goes away, and the fear of dropping the pretense goes away. All of a sudden the need to defend, the need to be guarded goes away, and the fear of dropping our guard goes away. There’s suddenly nothing between you and your man. He can feel it. You can feel it.
Where it goes from there is out of your hands. And that, once you get used to it, is liberating. It opens the door and parts the curtain and gives you the chance to really let love walk in. And then it does.
In her packed Los Angeles workshops, relationship coach, author, speaker and seminar leader Rori Gwynne teaches women the completely original, controversial, simple-to-do techniques for communication, confidence, and connecting with men that she used to turn her own now-glorious eighteen-year marriage around.
Visit Rori at http://www.CoachRori.com to get free Tip Sheets, to sign up for the free, powerful CoachRori Newsletter, and to see how Rori can help you Turn the Relationship You Have Into the Relationship you Want.