Women, Anger & Relationships, Part I

This blog continues a dialog between a male and female couples therapist: this time on the topic of women, anger and relationships.

Hi folks:  Today's blog begins with a reference to last week's dialog between Deborah Leeds and me but we move today to a new topic:  women, anger & relationships.

Dear Deborah:

I think you ask a very important question at the , when you write about "something builds on itself effortlessly, and energetically, expanding and allowing us to expand. (I wonder what THAT is!)"  I think "that" something is the creativity, where something new is created out of the combination of two separate beings.  Cloned animals cannot reproduce.  It is only through difference and the connection between difference that something new can emerge.  This is why I think this discussion, on the importance of both separation and connection, is so integral to what it means to be alive.

But enough on that.  I have other fish to fry today.  I want to talk about women and hostility, another thing I see in my office, another thing I want to try to flesh out with you.  What I mean by this are the times I see in my office where a woman verbally slices and dices the man sitting across from her, and then doesn't understand why he clams up and won't speak anymore.  "See, I told you he doesn't know how to communicate," she says to me.  "Did you ever think it might be the way you're speaking to him?"  I ask.

What I see is that at some basic, deep level many women really don't internalize that their words hurt their partners as much as their partner's words hurt them.  It's like a child who can't believe that things they say to their parents or teachers in anger can penetrate. I tell myself it comes from a place of victimhood:  the belief many women have that they have no power or less power.  A supervisor I had once said it also comes from a woman's fear of being killed.  What she meant by this is that at some deep level a woman is always afraid physically, and a man can move with greater certainty in the world simply by virtue of being male.

Is there any way around all of this?

Dear Josh,

This is an enormous question, with so many angles to consider!

Although it is tempting to go back into the familiar dynamic describing the frustration overload and subsequent attack on the part of the woman, and the ensuing withdrawal by the man, etc., I would prefer to try to explore your question. I think you are trying to understand what you see as a woman's capacity to attack and NOT be conscious of her impact upon her partner. And you are asking, what can be done differently, given the gender programming that must be at play within us.

As a woman, I can say that if someone has the experience repeatedly of not being heard, of not getting through to their partner, frustration becomes anger, dislike, and criticism. Loss of respect for our partner, which I think is a universal response and defense, makes it easier to be harsh. When, out of frustration, we separate from our partners in our feeling, we become desensitized to our impact. 

What can be done differently? 

I can't speak for all women on this, and this is only one of many possible responses. But this strikes a chord for me, so perhaps it will do so for others. I have learned that my message to my partner is more likely to get across when I:

-Come to a sense of acceptance and self-validation of my own feelings, rather than needing the validation from my partner. This takes the pressure off me to "convince" or prove my point. Then I can communicate in a way that is more likely to be heard.

-Give up the burden of how things will "work out". I cannot control my partner's response. I can only show up and be honest about my own experience. I have to be able to be okay with myself whether my partner gets me or not. I have seen pretty remarkable things shift, inside me and within my relationship, when I can show up, let go and allow what will be.

-My sense is that, with a tremendous amount of self-validation, we avoid the really icky sludge that is the burden of our entire history of frustration about not being heard.  That layer of blame and rage, when added to the mix, fuels a pretty hot fire.  Getting clear on why we are SO angry, granting ourselves the truth of our experience, and then communicating about it rather than from within it, gets us better results.

I think this is true for women and men. But I think that women work so hard to be "gotten," and the stakes can be so high in our emotional worlds, that it is especially important to bring self-validation into the picture first. This is, paradoxically, an example of leaning into the "separateness" in order to be more effective in the connection.


Next week: Josh and Deborah continue on women's anger in relationship.

Do you have a question about your marriage or relationship? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog?  Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at josh@joshgressel.com.

Deborah Leeds, MFT, is a couples and individual therapist with offices in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, CA.  Visit her website at deborahleeds.com

Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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