To say it’s been a tough year is a huge understatement. Have you and your sweetie been sailing through this past year, or has the COVID-era dealt some tough blows to your relationship?
As we are all slowly coming out the other end of the pandemic, it’s clear that some relationships have held up better than others. New research by Dr. Lisa Neff and colleagues of The University of Texas at Austin shows that couples who blame the stress of the past year on the pandemic, not their partner, came out feeling much happier about their relationship. Click HERE to read a summary of this interesting research in “Scientific American.”
Valentine’s Day is a great time to focus on making your relationship stronger. On this episode of The Stress Nanny podcast with Lindsay Miller, I share the mindset that lowers stress and helps you reconnect deeply with your partner. Enjoy!
We’ve all heard the advice. “Never go to bed angry.” Supposedly, you’re supposed to work everything out and start fresh the next day.
But what if you can’t? What if you’re still steaming and he’s clueless about why you’re mad?
Or, maybe you know it’s going to take a while to discuss what happened and you really need to get to bed?
Or you simply don’t want to…
It’s fine to wait. In fact, sometimes it’s a really good idea to do so. Discussing sensitive topics when you’re fuming will get you nowhere. Same thing applies if you’re tired, not feeling it, or simply don’t have the time right then.
Now, just because you’re not going to resolve things before bed, doesn’t mean there aren’t some other things you should do! Consider some of these tips to make sure waiting to resolve the conflict doesn’t cause damage to your relationship:
Even if you table the conversation, reassure your spouse about your commitment to the relationship and desire to work through the problem. Set up a time when the two of you can talk.
No matter when you have the discussion, it’s important that you’ve settled yourself down. Once you can think more clearly and engage without harshness, check in with your spouse and see if he is also calm enough to talk. You may not have the ability to work through conflict until you’ve had time to shift your body. Rest can certainly help with that!
Let go of small disagreements that are coming up mostly because of stress. I’m not saying you should tolerate mistreatment. I’m just saying that if you see that what you’re arguing about is actually minor, it’s okay not to process it. Just get a good night’s sleep and move on the next day.
Although it is fine to go to bed angry, be careful not to sweep things under the rug. Just get yourself into a more calm, constructive mindset and tackle the problem when the two of you are ready.
What messages did you get about anger when you were growing up?
I bet you heard statements like these:
Girls shouldn’t get so mad.
Don’t curse. It isn’t very ladylike.
Guys don’t like angry, bitter women.
Calm down. You’re being so dramatic.
The people who instilled this kind of thinking in us weren’t doing us any favours. Misconceptions about anger and a lack of healthy strategies for dealing with anger can damage your relationship. So, let’s get a fresh perspective on this intense emotion that you might fear and avoid.
When Anger Goes Wrong
Far too many women think anger is telling them something negative about themselves. Thanks to what they learned from their families of origin and our culture, they fear deep down that anger means they’re a bad, aggressive person. They believe that if they could just be better somehow, they wouldn’t get angry.
These beliefs lead to:
>> Tolerating behaviour that makes you feel disrespected. For example, your husband habitually runs late. Or even behaviour that harms your family, like overspending.
>> Avoiding anger at all costs. Never having an argument doesn’t improve your marriage. In fact, the opposite can happen if you are sweeping issues under the rug.
>> Seething silently in resentment. In many marriages, women build up resentment around housework and emotional labor.
>> Withdrawing and becoming depressed. This happens when you lose any hope of getting your needs met.
>> Complaints that do give voice to your anger, but in a way that’s unlikely to get your husband to change what’s making you angry.
>> Mean-spirited venting with friends. Again, this might feel like you’re doing something with your anger. But you’re actually just cultivating contempt for your husband while avoiding the real issues.
>> We all have a breaking point. If you suppress anger long enough, you’re likely to lash out. When that happens, your words will be a lot more hurtful than the ones you would have chosen if you’d addressed your anger earlier.
How Anger Can Help You
You may not realize that anger doesn’t have to result in screaming and wounded feelings. It can actually help you improve your relationship. Anger also isn’t some indication of your character, or lack thereof.
The very wise psychologist and author, Harriet Lerner, recommends viewing anger as a warning signal. It reliably tells you when something is wrong and you need to take action to protect yourself.
To use anger in a positive way, first notice how you react when you notice angry feelings surfacing. If you tend to judge yourself and say, “Ugh, I shouldn’t be such a bitch,” or push your anger down with “No time to feel that now!” see if you can just let yourself feel the emotion without trying to judge it or squash it.
Instead of recoiling from your own anger, tune in and ask yourself what your anger is trying to communicate to you. Some common messages behind anger include:
Your needs aren’t being met.
You are being disrespected.
You are doing too much.
Someone has crossed a line with you.
When you have a handle on what’s causing your anger, you can act on it in a more effective way and use your anger as catalyst for positive change. For example, you can establish or affirm healthy boundaries around what you will do, how much you will give, and what you will tolerate. You can lovingly but firmly stand up for what you need and what you expect.
Read More About Women and Anger
I won’t lie to you: while embracing your anger is liberating, it can also be an uncomfortable journey. All of those early messages are deeply ingrained in our minds, and our society still has some deeply messed up attitudes about women and anger. To aid you in this work, I recommend Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger, as well as my own book, Strong Women, Strong Love: The Missing Manual for the Modern Marriage.