Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anger in Relationships

Before Ed, I hadn't been in a relationship with anyone for...8 years? Something like that. Having a boyfriend again is lovely, but also strange in some ways. One of the problems I keep having is dealing with anger - both my own and his.

On my side, it's like this. I'm an irritable person, and I tend to snap at lovers. I've gotten way better about this over the years (and this was something I could work on with Mosch as well), such that I really no longer say things like, "Can't you eat like a human being?!?" but I'm still a bit over the top. Ed tends to take my irritation very seriously, which hurts him and is not the best response to it.

But when it comes to actual anger, I have a really hard time expressing it. Instead, I let it build up until I either go passive aggressive, or come out with the anger is an overly harsh way. (I was talking to Sally the other day and realized I have never, ever gotten outwardly mad at her. I really don't think I have. And, you know, I've known her for 15 years, so it's not like she's never pissed me off in all that time.)

When I do act angry, I usually end up feeling later that I was in the wrong. I can't really tolerate being wrong or unfair. So I usually either just try to get over what is bugging me, or else I express it and then feel wretched later.

On the other side of the coin, Ed is also irritable, and gets irritable with or angry at me more often than any boyfriend I've had. His anger is really clean - he's not scary and he doesn't say intentionally hurtful things. I sometimes think of it as a "clean, protective anger." It is usually about a demand for fairness or to be taken seriously. (Belittlement is intolerable to him.)

But it crushes me. I think partly because I grew up as the only child of a single parent, when my partner is angry at me, it feels like the end of all relationship. (Think about it. In my family of origin there was exactly one relationship.) It feels like he hates me. I don't usually get angry or defensive back - I just crumble inside, and want to do anything to appease him.

It's bad. I wish I wouldn't respond this way. I am still able to respond somewhat rationally to whatever he's saying - weigh his arguments, decide (generally) that he's right, apologize, and whatever is required. Sometimes I will make a case for myself when I think there's one to be made. He listens too. We often handle it well in the moment. But afterwards, or maybe later when he jokes about something unrelated, I'll cry. It builds up.

I want to learn more healthy ways of dealing with this on both sides. I'm less concerned about my own anger, because Ed can handle it, and I do eventually get my points across somehow. But I'm afraid my response to his, if I don't get over becoming a basketcase whenever he gets mad, may destroy things.


Sally said...

My immediate question is whether there is some way that Ed can preface/contextualize his expression of his anger in a way that is reassuring (a reminder) to you that he is irritable/angry but does not devalue or hate you? But of course, that would require him being able to manage his own feelings of anger, and that is hard (though not impossible) to do. Is there a way you can imagine him being angry at you that does not automatically result in you feeling crumbly? Putting aside the issue of whether Ed could do it with any reliability or want to do it etc., can you imagine how you would want him to be angry at you?

The closest you have ever come to being outwardly angry at me was the infamous "talking in your sleep" Thanksgiving weekend when you were abandoned at the apartment by yourself, and even in that really egregiously bad situation (from what you thought to be the case), you were not directly angry but quietly fuming. God knows everyone else gets angry at me often enough.

Tam said...

Oh yeah. I would say that counts as being angry. I also remember flipping out one morning when you and Robin were kissing and turning up some Pearl Jam really loud. So I guess there were actually incidents. Oops :)

One thing we did talk about was that a lot of his anger comes from fear or pain, and I handle fear or pain much, much better than anger. I told him, "I am not at all asking you to do this, but if you are able to express fear or pain instead of anger, it might get better results." He was open to that idea.