The “Tell-Tale” Feminine Heart:
Women and Anger in Relationships
The modern woman is in shackles when it comes to love and romance.
According to research, it is the female who is the emotional kingpin in heterosexual relationships. Compared to their male counterpart, the woman is more likely to initiate a conflict or tough discussion and more likely to detect a looming threat or area of discord.
In short, it is the woman who hears the beating of the “tell-tale heart.”
Nature has hard-wired her this way. Women come to the table with an innate ability to adapt emotionally and shift between conflict and conciliation.
Men & Women In Conflict: A Polarity of Emotion & Distress
Research conducted by John Gottman, creator of the Gottman Method, shows that men and women respond in vastly different ways to conflict. While seemingly calm on the surface, men respond with more active sweat glands, faster blood flow and quickened heart rates that stay elevated much longer than a woman’s.
This natural vulnerability puts men into a fight or flight scenario during a conflict. Some withdraw or deny their connection, while others lash out.
Either way, it is often the woman who responds in a direct manner. We talk. We cry. We shout. We are often the first to initiate a discussion around the issue at hand and, oh boy, do we ever discuss it at length. We fight against the proverbial “wall” we’re faced with, between ourselves and our partner, until we simply cannot fight any longer.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
At this point, we find themselves at an emotional impasse. We think to ourselves, “If I leave, will he even come after me?” But, “If I stay, I will no doubt be rejected or stonewalled again.”
It’s an emotional stalemate – a double bind.
Perhaps it is this innate emotional capacity of women that has helped us overcome centuries of societal hurdles. Women today are more empowered economically, socially and politically than ever before. Meanwhile, we initiate 69% of all divorces in heterosexual marriages. This begs the question, “If we have such a strong ability to navigate the emotional minefields of marriage, how can we transfer that strength to our partners? Is it even possible?”
I would strongly argue that the answer is “Yes.” In fact, evidence shows that your marriage may even hinge on your ability to support your partner through the conflict cycle. Research shows that 81% of relationships fail simply because a man will not share power with his wife.
A Gottman study also reveals that anger expressed by women during conflict results in greater long-term marital happiness, despite causing short-term marital unease. Therefore, a “grin and bear it” mentality is not a predictor of marital success. While women equate agreeability with compliance, men equate it with power–power they do not have to share.
Success in a heterosexual marriage depends on the woman’s willingness to express anger effectively and encourage their spouse to respond in a productive way.
A Matter of Initiation
You might assume based on the information above that any feminine expression of anger results in marital happiness. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The demeanor of the initiator (that would be you ladies) is just as important as the topic that is discussed. Anger cannot be expressed in a destructive manner. A “harsh start-up,” as Gottman calls it, will result in a negative end 96% of the time. Also, the couple is likely to divorce if the man does not respond and work to de-escalate the situation.
So, what is a girl to do?
Playing nice is not an option, and neither is uncontrolled feminine rage. It seems we must play both take-charge part of Catwoman and the meek role of Cinderella. Is the cliche true? Must women really do it all?
I’m here to tell you now that not only is that untrue; it’s simply not possible.
Rather than attempting to walk the delicate line between meekness and confrontation, I’m asking you to do one thing: nothing.
That’s right. I’m proposing you hit the pause button on your emotional impulses and direct all that anger, sadness, desperation and fear inward. Let it settle within the deepest parts of yourself until you reach the point of epiphany. Allow yourself to experience all the emotions and disappointment of your relationship so that you can feel true compassion and empathy.
Developing and demonstrating compassion towards your partner is the missing link of relationship reconciliation.
However, let me be clear. I am not suggesting you excuse your partner of any hurtful patterns. I am simply saying that the key to getting off the dangerous roller coaster ride of contempt is to strip yourself down to your most naked self and reach a point of vulnerability. Prepare yourself to love your partner from a non-judgmental state.
Prepare your heart and mind to realize his humanity and how his actions demonstrate the deep wounds he has incurred since childhood. If the wounds of our hearts are social, then true healing will have social roots as well. That society is you. Your empathy and compassion might just be the key to healing.
However, compassion and empathy are had to come by when you are in a state of emotional and relational distress.
Your anger will not miraculously disappear on a whim, especially when you and your partner are in a state of dysregulation. At this point, after you have chosen not to act on your fury (not to unleash your rage) it is time to reach out to an expert. It is time to call a couples therapist.
However, remember, not all couples therapists are trained to enter into your emotional gridlock. Seek out a therapist trained in state-dependent therapy-one who is not afraid to enter into those dark places of contempt and provide you and your partner with the skills you need to heal together.
Is your relationship in gridlock? Are you having trouble reigning in your anger or finding a reason not to walk away?
First, do nothing. Let your emotions sink in. Seek out compassion and empathy. Then, reach out to a therapist specialized in helping couples navigate their way out of such entanglements.