psychotherapy for anger problems in marriage

anger pokes at a marriage like a thorny fern

photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

 

I do what you want, but you never let me do what I want!

Justin had his heart set on the new BMW sports car, but Bernice wondered whether it was the best way of spending money at this point. There were other more important priorities like her business start up, the kids school fees and house repairs to consider.

Justin blew up. “ You never let me have what I want! When you wanted to go to Costa Rica I agreed because I knew what that meant to you. I let you choose the living room furniture even though I hated it. Yet when something is important to me you pour cold water all over it, and make me feel selfish.”

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You just want to stack up points to use against me!

“ I’m sick of your whining. You have the money. You can buy whatever you want. I don’t know why you bother asking for my approval. You’re going to do what you want anyway. If I don’t agree I’m a spoiler, and boy do you punish me for it afterward! You make me pay for all the times you did things my way. You just do it to stack up points that you can beat me with when I don’t agree with you.” Bernice retaliated with fury to being manipulated.

Justin wanted his wife’s permission, so he didn’t feel guilty

Justin was independently wealthy. The BMW wouldn’t hurt his financial portfolio, and he could take it as a business expense. But buying the car just because it was possible wasn’t satisfying to him. He was hungry for something much more valuable- permission to want things just for himself. That was the real prize. He was fed up with always having to justify it as worthwhile.

Justin was torn between feeling selfish and being a burden

Justin had been angry a long time. As far back as he could remember his mentally challenged younger brother Trevor got all the free passes at home. His father gave into Trevor’s tantrums to keep him quiet and manageable. His mother was torn between trying to anticipate Trevor’s moods and erratic behavior and keeping her marriage together. Justin was expected to be the good son who never needed nor wanted anything other than the basics.

Why was he always second best?

There was little room for him to have his childhood wishes without shame, guilt and a belief that his needs were illegitimate. That’s when the anger started. Why were his needs less important than Trevor’s.? Why was it wrong for him to want his mother’s approval and his father’s attention for being a normal healthy son? Why couldn’t he be spoiled just once?

 

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Justin became furious when his carefully thought out plan failed

The injustice of his childhood kept the anger smoldering on a bed of hot coals that was constantly stoked up. Each time Bernice didn’t gush with enthusiasm and give him the green light to get what he wanted he relived the torment of his childhood. He got more and more furious that even when he didn’t have to compete with a needy brother, he still didn’t get his wishes accepted and nurtured. Justin made a deal with himself. If he let his wife have what she wanted even if he didn’t like it himself, then he would be entitled to expect the same from her.

Justin’s plan didn’t work. Bernice didn’t buy into his scheme. Justin’s rage grew fiercer and the relationship became a battle ground. Justin refused to give himself permission to enjoy things he could get for himself, and Bernice refused to be put in the role of the bad guy who spoiled his life.

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How can Justin and his wife stop getting mad at each other?

How can Justin and Bernice stop the cycle of anger that interferes with their intimacy?

1.Justin needs to get clear on what his anger is really about. His anger is not about the car. It is about not knowing where he stands with Bernice and trying to figure it out.

2. Justin should share with Bernice his feelings of guilt, unworthiness and rage at never feeling secure enough to be able to legitimize his own wants and needs.

3. Bernice should try and hear it as part of Justin’s issue rather than take it personally and strike back. She can then share her hurt when he puts her in the role of judge and jury.

When Justin and Bernice feel and hear each others hurt, anger and frustration, they have begun to take a new journey together towards satisfying the hunger they both have to be seen as good, worthy and lovable people.