Communicating When You Are Hurt, Angry, or Upset

Dear Neil: Would you clarify where the appropriate place is for anger?  My husband thinks my anger is inappropriate when he has periodic communication with a woman whom he has been having an “emotional affair” with for the past two and a half years.   Unfortunately, the only way I’ve actually succeeded in stopping their communication, if only for a few months, is by threatening to reveal their relationship to her long-term boyfriend—and by getting angry.  They don’t want to hurt him, but somehow it’s OK for me to be hurt.  Is this one of those times when it’s appropriate for me to be angry?  Any suggestions that might work without my getting angry?

Upset in Boulder, Colorado

Dear Upset:  The question you’re really posing is “How important am I to my husband?  How important are my feelings, my requests, my needs, my emotions?”

If it takes anger in order for you to be heard by your husband, then by all means use it. But it’s not a good sign if you need to use anger in order to be heard—and for your wishes to be honored—and it ensures an angry, volatile, unfriendly relationship between the two of you.  So try this communication exercise first:

Sit face to face with eye contact, and make sure there are no distractions such as TV, phone interruptions or children.  Take turns answering the following questions thoroughly, inspired by author Nathaniel Branden in his book If You Could Hear What I Cannot Say (Bantam Books).  No alcohol, no defensive reactions, no false answers and no false promises.  There are likely to be multiple answers to each question.

  • I am angry about…
  • It hurt me when…
  • I am still hurt about…
  • I have been protecting myself by…
  • I am afraid that…
  • What hurts so much about this is…
  • I have contributed to the problems in our relationship by…
  • It would help me if you would…
  • I would like to apologize for…
  • What I would like for you to appreciate and acknowledge me for is…
  • I would like to acknowledge you for…
  • I forgive you for…
  • If I were to give a little more to our relationship (and to you), I would…
  • The things I love about you…

See if you can communicate the emotions underneath your anger.  For instance, you feel threatened by your husband having this other emotional relationship—or you feel unimportant to him—or that your feelings, needs and desires don’t seem be valued by him.   Or maybe you fear this other woman will destroy the love and trust and threaten the foundation of your marriage.  Whatever it is, see if you can’t verbalize what the pain, hurt and fear is underneath your anger.

There is indeed a place for anger in an intimate relationship, but most people overuse anger as a substitute for doing the hard work of communicating their true feelings to the one person who counts the most.

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