In her song, I Just Wanna Be Mad, Terri Clark has this chorus:
I’ll never leave I’ll never stray
My love for you will never change
But I ain’t ready to make up
We’ll get around to that
I think I’m right I think you’re wrong
I’ll probably give in before long
Please don’t make me smile
I just wanna be mad for a while
That’s what it often feels like when a couple comes to see me with conflict in their relationship. They want to hold on to the relationship AND they each want to hold on to their anger. Their anger, when it holds on to them is the Relationship Dragon!
Those goals are at cross purposes with each other. But when the memories of each selectively recall the negative words and actions of their partner, each expects the therapist to play referee and call out the fouls and assign the penalty points. That’s a trap. It’s not far from the childhood cry, “Mommy/Daddy, he/she touched me!”
Anger is always a secondary emotion; another feeling or feelings lurk below the surface. “I’m angry BECAUSE I felt…” (choose one or more) overlooked, unappreciated, disregarded, disrespected, left out, forgotten, etc.
The therapist’s task is to help each person discover what deeper emotion got triggered by their partner’s words or actions, and to help the offending partner recognize and empathize with their partner’s hurt, even if they don’t agree with the thinking that arrived at the emotional response.
Additionally, the therapist will explore the family background of both so that they and their partner can better understand that in some families, for instance, using a loud voice is just part of their cultural background while in another it is a signal that someone is angry. Or, that one person’s family system never permitted people to ask directly for what they wanted and taught them that others should know without being told, but their partner never got taught the “mind reading lessons” necessary to pull that off! In all cases, new patterns of relating/communicating must be established.
And that requires a willingness not only to change, but to permit and trust one’s partner to change as well. But to permit such change in self and others requires both to let go of the expectation that “He/She isn’t going to change,” and the anger that accompanies it.
Feel your anger.
Get at what feeling/s simmer below the surface.
Desire to change old patterns.
Let your partner have room to change too.
Love the possibility of a renewed relationship more than you love being mad.