dance of anger
Don't let the dance of anger ruin your relationship.

For years, when faced with conflict or anger in our relationship, Doug and I would perform a “dance of anger.”  I’ve come to learn that this “dance” is toxic to a relationship.

When I found out about Doug’s emotional affair I did not become angry – even after he continued his affair and said and did some horrible things.  At the time I am not sure I understood what anger felt like.  I know I was very emotional and I took responsibility for the way Doug felt and repressed most of what he was doing to me. I now understand that this was my way of expressing anger.

Consider the following passage from the book “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner:

“Anger is a signal, one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right.  Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self – our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions – is being compromised in a relationship.  Our anger may be a signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortably do or give.  Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth.  Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self.  Our anger can motivate us to say “no” to the ways in which we are defined by others and “yes” to the dictates of our inner self.”

The “dance” is the pattern that all relationships seem to follow with respect to anger and getting angry where one individual acts a certain way and the other responds in their own particular way.  The pattern is repeated over and over with the same results.  Nothing gets resolved.  Yet it’s comfortable.  It takes at least one of the individuals to change the “dance” in order to achieve a different result.

The Dance of Anger discusses how as women we need to be aware of our anger and the ways we deal with it.   We have to look at anger as a signal that something is going wrong. Lerner explains that only when we address the “something wrong” in a useful way will the anger go away.(I can only presume that  men need to address their anger in much the same way.)

Most women are taught at a very young age that it is not attractive to show our anger.  It is our job to please, protect and placate the world.  We also learned from experience that women who openly express their anger may be labeled as “bitches,” “nags” or “man-haters.”  And when a woman shows her anger she is likely to be dismissed as irrational or it must be the wrong time of the month.

Lerner states that we learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but because it signals the necessity for change.  Anger is something we feel.  It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention.

Lerner mentions two styles of managing anger that both serve equally well to protect others, to blur our clarity of self, and to ensure that change does not occur.  The first is the “Nice Lady” syndrome.  In situations that may evoke anger we stay silent or become tearful, self-critical or hurt. If we do feel angry we keep it to ourselves in order to avoid the possibility of open conflict.  Not only do we keep our anger to ourselves, we also avoid making clear statements about what we think or feel.

When we behave in this way, our primary energy is directed toward protecting the other person and preserving the harmony of the relationship, at the expense of defining a clear self.  The “Nice Lady” often represses their anger and feels guilty instead.  As a result, the guilt will blot out the awareness of the anger.  I think that for many women, they believe  it is nobler to feel guilty rather than angry.

The second style of managing anger is the “Bitchy” woman.  “Bitchy” women are not shy about getting angry and stating their differences.  However the words like “bitchy” and “complaining” are words of helplessness and powerlessness, which do not imply even the possibility of changes.  When we vent our anger ineffectively, we illicit other people’s disapproval instead of sympathy.

“The Dance of Anger” provides a tool for change in relationships by focusing on four areas:

  1. Learning to tune into the true sources of our anger and clarify where we stand.
  2. Learn communications skills that will maximize the chances we will be heard and that conflict and differences will be negotiated.
  3. Learn to observe and interrupt nonproductive patterns of interaction.
  4. Learn to anticipate and deal with counter moves or reactions from others.

I found this book very insightful and helpful.  For one, I was able to identify how I deal with my anger.  I am definitely the “Nice Lady” and am now aware of the patterns that I use to dismiss my anger and how unproductive they are to promoting change.  I also learned much about the dynamics of our relationship and how we do the same “dance” when confronted with conflict.  We have been doing this dance for years – always with the same results.  I have realized how important it is to change my behavior so I can clearly state my ideals without doing the same old “dance” with Doug.

LINESPACE

    18 replies to "Stop the Dance of Anger in Your Relationship"

    • Greg

      I like that title, Dance with Anger. This is what my wife and I did for most of our marriage as well. She would lash out and be the ‘Bitch” while I would shut down and bury my anger inside until it couldn’t be held any more and would blow up. Both of our anger fueled the other’s fire and we would just make each other more and more angry. This is completely counter-productive be we just couldn’t stop it. Fast forward to today and we have done a lot of work on ourselves adn our anger. She tries to be calmer and flare up less while I have stopped using my anger as a shield to avoid feeling any other emotions. Now we have finally begun being able to actually talk to each other and listen to what the other person is saying. It is an eye opening experience when you can do so because you start to actually ‘hear’ what your partner is saying, not what you think they are saying. This doesn’t mean we agree about everything but it does mean that we can see each others point of view. Yesterday was a great turning point for us as we had a normal day, we sleep in after a late night talking, she did a little cleaning up around the house and I got some of my project list done, played with the kids, had lunch, viewed some old videos from when the girls were babies and a trip to Hawaii that we forgot all the good parts of, had some dinner,and ended the day taking the kids out rollerblading at the park in the evening. All in all nothing special or even exciting, it was a old normal day, something we hadn’t had for so long that my wife was brought to tears when we talked about it. Getting rid of the anger between us has let us finally have that again after 5+ years of living with the anger.

    • Battleborn

      This is interesting because my counselor always tells me I need to get angry. I have yet to express my anger and it has been well over a year now. I am one of those people who does not want anyone see me cry or get angry as it is a sign of weakness. I feel as though I let myself down if I am not strong in the face of a crisis… I am the strong one. Not Army strong – USMC strong. :}

      I am a military wife therefore I have always been the one who was left behind to take care of things… the one who had to shore up the kids; the one who had to fix the appliances or car; the one who didn’t let my husband know how I sad or miserable I was when he was off on a tour of duty. My mother was the same way so I learned from her… sad thing is that now I see the same trait in my daughter. It’s a vicious cycle.

      I wish sometimes I could just pick a fight with him. Maybe if I did I would eventually get to the point where I could tell him how angry I really am. I doubt it, but it sure would be nice.

      • rollercoasterrider

        Battleborn, I completely identify with what you said about how expressing emotion seems like weakness. For years, I never expressed much anger to my H because anything remotely resembling that would lead to him stonewalling me with his own angry silence. My default emotion has always been fear, but I think I often just stuffed whatever emotion I felt in order to be strong and not vulnerable.

        Seems to me that anger is a very appropriate emotion when it comes to having marital trust broken and something so precious as the loving relationship we wanted literally ripped away by the choices of our spouse. I know if it wasn’t for the rage I felt on D-Day 2, I never would have had the courage to do what I did…which was to follow through on what I told him would be the result of breaking my trust again.

        Now in the new relationship being built with my ex, I see the value of expressing all emotions and the anger has literally evaporated in the warmth of the gratitude we both feel to have been given another chance. I know, too, that despite the discomfort we feel when we have something to share that is emotional, doing so brings us closer and we have an intimacy we never experienced before. Anger is certainly a powerful and potentially destructive feeling, but if you can be lied to and disrespected without becoming angry, how much do you really value yourself or your marriage? Of course, we want to protect our kids from seeing angry outbursts…but I so wish I could have seen my parents resolve their conflict and anger in healthy, positive ways. You don’t actually have to pick a fight to express anger, and I’m not sure you even have to feel it a lot. Maybe you could start out by writing about it. That might feel safer. You can break this cycle, and you are right, it would be very beneficial for your daughter. I believe my own inner healing has much to do with being emotionally real and authentic.

    • tsd

      Linda its like you read my mind. This is something that grips hard when in recovery, and it’s a wall of protection. It can’t be chipped away unless the bs allows the change to occur. In my case, anger was my way of control and power since my cs took mine away with his ea. it was an easy way to make him feel my pain because I felt I was in the right. But after looking at myself, no good was coming out of it. No changes were being made. I have corrected my behavior and I’m trying my best to breathe the anger outta my system. It’s working. So I initiated the change in our marriage. Not really for him, but for me…because its not my character. I told him I realized I was my happy go lucky positive confident self around others but was the bitchy woman around him. Sound fair? In beginning…sure but now, no way. Rise to the occasion and become a Better person…great article, great post, many thanks….

      • Jamie

        tsd…you took the words right out of my mouth.

        I’m still angry. I’m not expressing it in the “powerful” and “control” way that you mentioned, this past week. I feel better too.

        Our relationship is better because of it. And I finally feel as if I’ve turned a corner in healing the empty hole of betrayal that my CS created; by focusing on my own corrected behavior.

        But…I am still angry.

    • Teresa

      Another great book to add to my library…I’m reading “How We Love” at the moment…this will be my next book!!
      I was the “bitchy” wife right after the EA….now, I’m probably a little bit of both. Things are so much better between us…so I don’t want to “mess” that up, so I’ll bury my anger, but it just simmers below the surface…and that’s not good either..cuz a few weeks of that and its “Watch out…thar she blows!!!! LOL!
      WHY do these EA’s have to be so hard to recover from??? UGH!!! :/

    • Helena

      Appeals to women’s collective victimhood, or some kind of inherent solidarity among women, are very off-putting to me in this context. After all, it is WITH WOMEN that the vast majority of male cheaters are cheating on women. The OW never gave a shit about me.

      • Carol

        You are so right! In my case the OW egged my husband on in his complaints that I had never ‘committed’ to the marriage — so much for female ‘solidarity’ — and he wrote that he thought she was such a ‘wonderful’ person. On D-day, I informed him that ‘wonderful’ people, by definition, do not mess around on their husbands with other married men. I also told him that his complaint about MY being the one who never committed to the marriage was a bit ironic, since he voiced it in the middle of an EA, and I had been 100% faithful! I wish there were more respect out there for marriage in general. I actually wrote to the OW to chew her out for messing about with another woman’s husband. She apologized, half-assedly, and said she ‘never meant any harm’ and ‘always wished my family well’. Guess she was not doing any ‘harm’ and was wishing my family ‘well’ when she was making out with my husband and encouraging him to leave his family? She also lied to him about leaving her husband — she’s still with him and scared to death he’ll find out what she’s been up to. Stupid bitch. She may win awards for her singing (she’s a beautiful, young professional opera singer, arghughretch) but she’ll never win any for her integrity or IQ.

    • knb

      I was my inability to express anger that ultimately led to my EA. I knew he was angry with me over something, and I was angry with him too but I never learned to express anger in a constructive way. So I spent more time talking to someone who was very positive and feel-good and just the opposite of angry with me. Even a year after D-Day and after all the damage I have done to our marriage, I still can’t express anger. I feel like my EA cost me all rights to be angry about anything at all anymore…

    • Jim

      We all may feel anger but how we handle it is up to us. I know I tend to avoid it. It is part of being brought up in a family with a parent that was an alcoholic. The funny part is my wife is the emotional one but she can get angry with many people but not me. She is the one having the EA. Yes it is still going on. Yet I am the one dealing with my emotions. Trying not to bury them.

    • SamIam

      Here is the really scary part for me; in 28 years (at the time of the EA) my H had never shown anger. 6 months after d-day, he was acting really stupid and I pushed him to the edge. He came at me in anger, so much so that I nearly called the police. He did back off, cool down, and returned to apologize for getting so angry. Meantime I am secretly singing “Halleluiah~ he finally got angry!” Geeesch, he was about to lose his marriage because of some other woman who moved on so quick (as he was no longer her ‘protector” at work) and he couldn’t even show anger. Who the heck told he couldn’t get angry.It is a very valid emotion. He does get angry now, with himself. Work still needs to be done there. I got good and angry. As he said, he had never seen me so angry, he should have taken notice. (fool)

    • Better

      I’ve been really angry latley! But I dont show it to my H. I know I havent got the entire truth about the EA because his version is different from hers.

      Im the opposite of some of you. Our previous relationship was filled with anger. We did have some good times, but during his EA the anger was unbearable. He seemed like a different person, he was angry with me all of the time. If I had a difference of opinion, he would get angry with me and tell me “you dont listen to me”. We did the “dance of anger” A LOT!

      Now, he seems more like the man I married. Without the OW in our lives, stealing all of his attention, love, adoration, time, he’s focused on US!

      I feel that anger is good in controlled moderation. Im angry and have been for the last 2months. Ive just been trying to figure out how to show him that Im angry without damaging words coming out of my mouth. Ill agree….anger is a dance…you just have to navigate it without triping over your feet!

      • ataloss

        I had the same experience. During H’s EA he was angry all the time. Nothing I said or did was right. That had actually been going on for a long time, but more intensely during the EA. I just thought it was more stress at work, etc. Now I realize it was overwhelming guilt.
        Four months since D-Day. I feel things are so much better between us, and we are talking and connecting again. But sometimes I feel SOOOO angry at what he did! Yet I try not to express my anger because I do not want to undo the progress we are making. We still have a long way to go in the communication department.
        The “Dance of Anger” has been a problem for us our entire marriage. This will be my next book.

        • rollercoasterrider

          Better and At A Loss, I have a very close friend whose H had an affair and always tried to pick a fight with her in order to justify his actions to himself. Now she knows not to fall for it, and if nothing else insists on knowing what’s really going on whenever there’s a fight. Their marriage is one hundred percent better now than it was back then.

          • aida

            rollercoasterrider,

            it is so true! these CS are just so really weird.

            I mean – first of all, they have affairs which was going to hurt the BS anyways. then they couldn’t even have the guts to stand up and admit it was their choice either – they had to go into this huge whirlpool of lying and cheating and clumsy ‘dance of anger’, BEFORE finally being found out.

            and on top of all that they STILL GOT FOUND OUT, and even at that —– they still insist on lying and cheating. and then the best part of it all – like your friend’s H – they pick fights with you. and you think to yourself, “HUH? Where’d that come from”.

            and the poor defenceless BS fall for it every time. and we say, Oh, did I do something wrong? Maybe I’m too fat, or too thin, or too tired to entertain him, etc.

            and not only do we have a dance of anger with him, the worst part is THERE IS A DANCE OF ANGER WITH OURSELVES as well.

            we blame ourselves, we launch into these massive self-autopsy of our faults when half the time it wasn’t even our fault to begin with.

            and to be honest, that’s one of the most DIRTIEST, LOWLIEST things a CS can do to his partner. I mean you already have an affair, you have a replacement for your partner without your partner knowing about it, and then you realise that hey, I can’t cover it up …my conscience is eating me up on this, and then he picks fights to prove that he’s wrong.

            what kind of wackos are we dealing with?

    • Dave

      The dance of anger. Hmmm, at this point, I’m starting to feel that we’ve danced this dance for so long, we’ve worn a rut into the floor. Perhaps the only way to break the cycle is to not be together.

      • rollercoasterrider

        If you do decide to separate, you may be able to clarify for yourselves what you really want moving forward. You’ll be able see whether or not you can choose to forgive, which you should really do for your own well-being regardless. I wish you well, and hope the dance of anger stops. It’s no fun.

      • aida

        Dave, i’m sorry to hear that you are still in the dance of anger, and that you are considering of not being together.

        i must admit that anger is one of the most difficult emotions that had to come out of this. there’s of coz other stuff like betrayal, frustration, disappointment and even depression. but the BS’ anger is justified and there can never be a good-enough reason for infidelity / betrayal.

        getting angry however is exhausting and it is the most destructive of emotions. well, apart from depression which is the one to watch out for because you end up killing yourself.

        wanna hear a way in which we can Act As If we aren’t angry?

        Do your own thing. and by this i don’t mean a revenge affair which sounds good. the most important thing is to keep yourself focused on something else you enjoy.

        Pray. I know i’m not the most religious person – but really ~ give it to GOD. like the Amish. hah! one of the things i went into was the Amish-oriented videos and websites. I learnt about their complete faith in God. (i’m Muslim and I also went to Islamic websites that talked about the Prophet Muhammad pbuh’s forgiving nature). I like what Mr. Chaffey said about the killing of his family by his own daughter and her boyfriend(s) : I may not understand why God allowed this, but I know that God is sovereign. I can use this to get bitter or i can use this to get better. and I knew in my heart, I wasn’t gonna let the devil win this one. I knew that GOD can turn this into something good”.

        Talk to us. We’re not trained psychologists or marriage counselors but we care about each other i guess – to listen and to just toss a few ideas around.

        sooner or later, the pain may eventually lessen and one day, you may even go thro’ one whole day without even thinking about anger.

        how about that?

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