Fu­ri­ous with your other half? Psy­chi­a­trist gives ad­vice

Play­ing peace­maker in a mar­riage can be more harm­ful in the long run Pas­sive ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour can be the re­sult of hold­ing your tongue Dr Jenn Mann ad­vises cou­ples to have a good old-fash­ioned ar­gu­ment

Swazi Observer - - FEATURES & OPINION -

TIME and again I speak to women who tell me: ‘I don’t like the per­son my hus­band turns me into.’

They claim that the aw­ful things he says and does brings out the worst in them, push­ing them into be­hav­ing in ways they can hardly un­der­stand.

They are quick to tell me that they never openly fight back, never have blaz­ing rows. But then come the con­fes­sions, all too of­ten a litany of acts of pas­sive ag­gres­sion: snide com­ments, spend­ing money they can’t af­ford from joint funds, or de­lib­er­ately turn­ing up late to events that are im­por­tant to him out of spite.

Th­ese women hon­estly be­lieve that, be­cause they never scream and shout, their role in the mar­riage is that of peace­keeper. In re­al­ity, their ac­tions demon­strate that they are any­thing but.


That’s not to say their hus­bands are fault­less. Al­most al­ways, this un­rea­son­able­ness is play­ing out in a re­la­tion­ship where the hus­band re­peat­edly says and does things that deeply up­set his wife. While she sees her si­lence as a way of keep­ing the peace, it is ac­tu­ally mak­ing mat­ters worse.

Just be­cause the feel­ings his words or ac­tions pro­voke haven’t been voiced doesn’t mean they sim­ply dis­ap­pear. In­stead they snow­ball un­der­ground, resur­fac­ing in the form of bit­ter­ness and re­sent­ment that spills out in other ways. So the re­la­tion­ship ends up in a far worse place than if she’d ex­pressed her feel­ings at the time.

Which is why I be­lieve in cou­ples hav­ing a good old-fash­ioned row once in a while. Of course, I’m not sug­gest­ing they scream and shout at each other un­til one per­son’s righteous in­dig­na­tion drowns out the other.

Nor would I con­done end­less rows that are more about fight­ing for con­trol and petty point scor­ing than tack­ling jus­ti­fied griev­ances and search­ing for so­lu­tions.

And there is no place for con­fronta­tions that are phys­i­cal, nasty or per­sonal, with one party bul­lied by the other.

Those are the kind of con­flicts that will have you head­ing in the di­rec­tion of the di­vorce courts.

But when one or both of you is no longer pre­pared to ar­gue a point, stand up for what you be­lieve in or in­sist that your part­ner treats you bet­ter, then that, too, is a recipe for dis­as­ter. Cou­ples in healthy re­la­tion­ships keep dis­agree­ments out in the open — they feel safe enough to be able to air griev­ances de­spite the row it might cause.

Nei­ther sees their role as peace­keeper, too in­se­cure to risk get­ting in­volved in a dis­agree­ment.

They un­der­stand that a row can be cathar­tic — it re­leases ten­sion and halts brew­ing re­sent­ment. It demon­strates that you value your­self and your re­la­tion­ship, and teaches you what mat­ters to the per­son you are with.

Point scor­ing and tit-for-tat pas­sive ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour, on the other hand, is cor­ro­sive. But it’s an easy pat­tern for cou­ples to fall into with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing it to each other, or them­selves.


What starts out with one de­cid­ing to take the path of least re­sis­tance, keep­ing quiet even though you’re gen­uinely hurt by some­thing the other has said or done be­cause you can’t face a row, eas­ily be­comes a de­struc­tive pat­tern of be­hav­iour.

I had one client who ad­mit­ted de­lib­er­ately burning her hus­band’s favourite shirt with the iron, telling him it was an ac­ci­dent. Some­how, it was eas­ier to vent her frus­tra­tion at him choos­ing a work event over din­ner with her par­ents, than tell him how hurt she felt face to face.

And, of course, men are just as guilty — I’ve had male clients tell me they’ve stopped help­ing around the house and de­lib­er­ately dou­ble­book them­selves so they’ll be un­avail­able to child­mind or at­tend so­cial events their wife has ar­ranged. All this in­evitably im­pacts on the chil­dren. In­stead of watch­ing and learn­ing as par­ents con­front re­la­tion­ship prob­lems and work to­gether to find res­o­lu­tion, they see dif­fer­ences be­ing cov­ered up with fake smiles and snide com­ments. And end up think­ing that is nor­mal.

I have coun­selled thou­sands of cou­ples with plenty of oc­ca­sions where I’ve wit­nessed dread­ful vit­riol be­tween peo­ple who, deep down, are very much in love and want to save their re­la­tion­ship. But they have fallen into de­struc­tive pat­terns of be­hav­iour to pun­ish their part­ner or gain con­trol.

Take Jenny and Steven, who ran a suc­cess­ful pub­lish­ing busi­ness to­gether. Jenny was with­hold­ing sex to pun­ish Steven for show­ing more in­ter­est in his golf hand­i­cap than her; Steven would per­pet­u­ally tease and make jokes at Jenny’s ex­pense with­out her ever telling him that she found them hurt­ful, not funny. Daily Mail “When we least ex­pect it, life sets us a chal­lenge to test our courage and will­ing­ness to change; at such a mo­ment, there is no point in pre­tend­ing that noth­ing has hap­pened or in say­ing that we are not yet ready. The chal­lenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to de­cide whether or not to ac­cept our des­tiny.” “Once upon a time, an an­gel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

“Go on with what your heart tells you, or you will lose all.”

“Cry­ing is for plain women. Pretty women go shop­ping.”

“The rea­son it hurts so much to sep­a­rate is be­cause our souls are con­nected. Maybe they al­ways have been and will be. Maybe we've lived a thou­sand lives be­fore this one and in each of them we've found each other. And maybe each time, we've been forced apart for the same rea­sons. That means that this good­bye is both a good­bye for the past ten thou­sand years and a pre­lude to what will come.”

“Any­one can hide. Fac­ing up to things, work­ing through them, that's what makes you strong.”

“What do you want?" "Just cof­fee. Black - like my soul.”

“You're a painter. You're a baker. You like to sleep with the win­dows open. You never take sugar in your tea. And you al­ways dou­ble­knot your shoelaces.”

SHOUT: Dr Jenn Mann ex­plains that women feel they are the peace­keep­ers in their re­la­tion­ships, but by bot­tling up frus­tra­tion it can lead to the op­po­site.

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