She’s my favorite relative. I love her as my own breath. And I respect her. Admire her. I trust her. There is nothing I wouldn’t tell her. She’s got my back like few people have or ever will.
So, perhaps it will surprise you to hear that, on a recent Sunday morning standing on my back porch, I was involved with her in an 11- to 12-minute shouting match via cell phone. Epithets, expletives and outrage. Each calling into question the other’s lineage. Oh, we were rockin’.
I was hot! Boiled over furious. Trembling angry. Breathless angry. DEFCON 1. And, with all apologies to The Grammar Police, “she were none too happy with me, neither.”
Lordy I hate getting angry. And my history will show that I resist it at every turn. And, if I can’t resist it, I intellectualize it. Philosophize about it. If that doesn’t work, I deny it, and then complain that I’m having trouble sleeping. I feel vaguely anxious. I wonder why I want to drink more. Start to notice that I’m getting more feedback that I’m passive aggressive. That my humor is starting to take on that “edge.”
I bite my nails and cuticles more.
Why? Because anger is so doggone painful, that’s why. I hate being angry, especially at someone I love. Hate it. It kills me. Turns me inside out. Takes so much energy. Leaves me exhausted.
Really scares the crap out of me, too. Because to truly and authentically embrace significant anger means giving up some emotional control. Anger has this in common with significant grief, profound love and great sex. Can’t sojourn in any of these lands and remain entirely in control.
I have some particular struggles with anger, from my own childhood. Where I grew up, the “family rules” were clear: only my father was allowed to be angry. If anybody else got angry, they were being disrespectful, irrational or losing control. When my father got angry, everybody else began making adjustments to accommodate and placate him. Family Rule No. 1: Our anger is our problem. Family Rule No. 2: Dad’s anger is our problem.
Truth is, when my dad got angry, children and family pets did well to make themselves scarce.
So, you can see why I’m a little twitchy about that part of the authentic human experience called anger. And yet …
Is there a place for yelling angry things in a great relationship?
It has taken me a long time to wield, to own, to believe the answer to this question. Is there a place for yelling angry things in a great relationship? Good Reader, a great relationship is not possible without access to authentic anger, and some yelling angry things along the way.
I could never trust someone who “never got angry.” And I know this because, back before I found the courage to know my anger, I was not a man to be trusted. I was emotionally dishonest. Not a “liar,” mind you; a man can only tell the truths that he is willing to know, and I wasn’t willing to know the truth of my anger. Not for a long, long time.
Anger is a crucial part of human passion. It’s nearly axiomatic in therapeutic circles: People who can’t get angry often can’t find their way to great sex. People who can’t get angry often find they can’t find their way to other important aspects of their vitality. Show me someone who is suicidal and I’ll show you someone who is angry. My favorite way of thinking about most depression is as “stuck anger.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I could never abide a marriage — or any important relationship — where the median mood was conflict and bickering, let alone fighting. If you are always yelling, then your yelling doesn’t mean anything.
But, in truly great marriages, about one to three times a year, you just “gotta get it on.” Rock ‘n’ roll. Say loud things. Sometimes that’s the only thing powerful enough to “crack” the Great Wall of ego, fear, insecurity and blithe oblivion. Sometimes that’s the only way your beloved can hear what is really at stake.
My beloved and I yell until suddenly she begins to cry. And then she says it. She says the thing I missed. The thing I hadn’t heard. She shares a profound vulnerability. And all I wanted to do then was apologize and hold her.
Without the anger, I never would have heard her. And maybe she mobilized the anger, too, so that she could hear herself. And, suddenly we were fine. Said, “I love you.” We were closer.
I trust her even more.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.