One of my characteristics I’m most proud of is how even-keeled I am. It served me well in disaster response, it’s served me well in interpersonal dynamics, it’s served me well at work. But it wasn’t always the case – I was a very angry child, and I’ve had to actively learn to be calm through self-discipline, meditation, and empathy.
I had good examples in this – I have never heard either of my parents so much as raise their voices. The only slammed doors in the house were from my brother or me being angry, and then getting grounded for it. We are good Midwestern quiet people.
However, now, when I get angry, I immediately shift into must-win-at-all-costs-including-being-mean mode. I may be quiet, but I can be a cutting jerk.
I don’t trust a relationship until I’ve been in a disagreement with the person. How people navigate a misunderstanding or difficulty, and whether or not they can fight fair with each other, is vital to me knowing if a relationship is sustainable or not. So when Reed and I had our first disagreement, it was interesting. He is a big dude, and he emotes a LOT. (This is one of the many reasons why I love him – he cannot hide how he is actually doing, so I have no anxiety about anticipating what’s going on with him.) This didn’t scare me, as I can handle myself physically (he would never actually hurt anyone, but it can still be scary to have a big human waving their arms with a raised voice). And when I got mean, he responded with “do you really mean that?” which I didn’t. So we enable the other person to fight fair with us. It works out well.
But as our relationship continued on, I started to judge Reed more for his expression of anger. He would slam doors, yell (not at me or anyone else), and stomp. It seemed like a loss of control to me. Initially, I thought it was just the price of admission and I could deal with it. But when we had a kid, I didn’t want the behavior modeled. In talking about it, Reed also didn’t want the holding in of anger (and just getting mean instead) to be modeled for Locke. So we had to figure something out.
In talking to my therapist, friends, and Reed more, the consensus has been that expressing anger, so long as it isn’t directed at someone, is actually healthy. My Midwestern sensibilities are shook.
So for Reed, we have a ranked list of things that are always ok to do, things that are on me to try to work on being ok with, things that should really be avoided, and things that are never ok. He’s done a good job of adhering to the list, and now instead of responding to him expressing anger with “please stop doing that,” I say something like “thank you for picking from the top of the list.” For me, I’m working on muttering angry things when no one can hear, and writing angry emails but not sending them. We’re both making progress at meeting each other.
It still feels like a loss of control, but also just being quiet jerk when I’m angry isn’t a reasonable reaction, either. Eager to hear more thoughts on this topic if anyone has them.