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
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.