I know that you have gotten a raw deal in life when it comes to the expression of emotions. I know that from as early as your toddler days you started to hear “man up!” And if you expressed vulnerable emotions such as hurt feelings, fear of rejection, feeling unloved or inferior, you were looked at as weak or pathetic. Of course when you saw women express these feelings people were understanding so you began to suspect that these sorts of feelings were feminine and certainly not masculine. You saw men who expressed these feelings become a target of ridicule so this reinforced what you already suspected. I know that you learned very early in life that you had to be tough. Male role models were tough and tough got respect. Then in high school you learned that tough also got the girl. The nice guys got rejected. I also know the heavy price you have had to pay for always having to hide or suppress vulnerability but by adulthood you pretty much have it figured out. You can express these feelings as long as it looks like anger to the outside world. Deep down, you know it’s hurt. Or fear. Then you tie the knot and you learn that marriage is an emotional minefield. And worse, your wife expects (or demands) that you stop being so angry and start sharing your feelings with her. Of course, you are sharing your feelings but not in the way she wants. She sees anger as a weakness, not a strength. She thinks it’s simple and cannot understand that for you, it’s not. You tell yourself that she is overreacting. That she is too sensitive. That you really didn’t mean those angry things you said. That she needs to stop taking things so personally and just calm down. You even say you are sorry. Your frustration with her leads to more anger and then to shutting down. This becomes a pattern. For years.
Slowly, your wife becomes less affectionate and less interested in sex, which makes you angrier and pushes her further away. You retreat inside of yourself and the angry thoughts and feelings spiral inside of your head. Your anger feels completely justified but you’re stuck. Attempts to communicate with your wife only seem to make things worse. Maybe your wife has been throwing the phrase “anger management” at you, which just makes you angrier. Maybe she wants you to get some counseling or go with her to marriage therapy but this idea seems useless.
If you do agree to come into my office, and I hope you do, this is what I will tell you. Anger is destructive to a marriage, but I wonder if you know just how destructive? People describe anger as being poisonous, toxic or corrosive and warn us about the harmful effects it can have on your health. What I want you to know is how toxic it is to your marriage – especially if you are married to someone who is passive or hates confrontation. I frequently explain to men that when you are very angry, your wife’s brain registers you as a threat. You are bigger, louder and stronger. When her fight or flight instinct kicks in, it becomes almost impossible for her to think clearly or to hear the message behind your anger. You are no longer her husband but are now a predator. She will either fight back or run away. But she won’t hear the hurt or fear behind the mask of your anger. Years of exposure to your anger will lead to her becoming numb and detached. This is her mind’s way of protecting her. But this is the important part so please listen clearly. When she becomes numb to your anger, she becomes numb to positive feelings as well. She can no longer feel love. Or respect. Or affection. Without these, marriage feels meaningless. She becomes increasingly lonely until one day she finds someone who makes her feel safe. Or she leaves. And you are left alone with your anger.