Sunday, July 13, 2008

Anger or Intimacy in Marriage


Sally had gone through the same scenario many times. Bill would say he was going to play golf or go hunting on Saturday, and Sally would feel hurt that he did not want to spend time with her. But her response would be to simply say, "Fine," then go off in a huff of anger.

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. recently wrote a piece that I enjoyed on anger (http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/200807/if-anger-helps-you-feel-in-control-no-wonder-you-cant-control-your-an#new). Here is my reaction to this blog in which he describes why we get angry instead of being vulnerable with our feelings.

Dr. Seltzer writes, "Yet feeling too detached from our partner can also revivify old attachment wounds and fears, so at times the dance changes and the distancer becomes the pursuer. The main point here is that anger, however unconsciously, can be employed in a variety of ways to regulate vulnerability in committed relationships." This is accurate, but I would say that the partner may be controlling tension in both situations - being angry or pursuing afterwards.

If you are angry you don't have to be vulnerable. You also don't necessarily have to be vulnerable when pursuing your partner. You can pursue through flowers, sex, a night on the town, etc. In working with couples, I teach partners to communicate their vulnerable feelings instead of "covering" them up with anger.

Intimacy requires the ability to be vulnerable in the context of your pain. You must be able to tell your partner that you are hurting. Many find it much easier to express anger or frustration than to admit pain. Simply expressing vulnerable feelings is extremely uncomfortable for many folks. They feel more powerful expressing anger. I teach that they are better able to get what they want if they can learn to express their feelings in a vulnerable tone.

The problem with anger is that it inhibits intimacy in relationships and makes negotiating the relationship colder. Intimacy builds when you can let your partner know what you need and your partner recognizes your feelings and needs. If you have a caring partner, he or she will warm to your needs and become less selfish in negotiating the relationship.

Sally decided to take a different approach, she said, "I understand that you enjoy golf and hunting, but I need to know that you also enjoy spending time with me. I don't want to keep you from those things you enjoy, but I need to know that you want to spend time with me." Bill responded, "You always bitch about my taking time for myself. I deserve some time with my friends; I'm not doing anything wrong." Instead of taking the "bait", Sally simply repeated her message in a soft tone of voice. Bill walked away.

The next weekend, Bill made it a point to spend time with Sally and she made it a point to show delight in their time spent together. She also noticed that on subsequent weekends Bill would talk to her about his plans and let her know that he was trying to balance his desires for sports and her.

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