Romancing Our Anger
edited: Tuesday, July 31, 2001
By Nik C Colyer
Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2001
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What does telling the truth have to do with intimacy. How are resentments related to unspoken grievances? When is it romantic to say no? Keep reading. . .
Romancing our anger
There are a plethora of books on how to be more romantic with your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend. I’ll leave those authors to describe the candlelit dinners, long-stem roses, walking along the beach, stolen kisses in the dark and a windswept ride on a Harley(what, Harley riding wasn’t on your list?). I’m here to tell you about a little-known investment in your love life. In fact, I would argue, that without this as the foundation of your relational toolbox, eventually, there will never be enough roses, diamonds or weekend getaways to satisfy that insatiable romantic appetite.
When my wife and I met each other 10 years ago, we were both reeling from past involvement. As we ventured into what we wanted in our relationship, a recurring theme surfaced. One night, at the beginning of one of our famous extended discussions, she said, “I know I didn’t always tell my first husband how I really felt, and as a result, resentment undermined the marriage.” I replied, “I know that my ex never said what she really wanted until the end when the resentments finally exploded, too big for either of us to resolve.” From these acknowledgements, our desire to tell each other every truth emerged. Hell, at 45, I was ready to try anything. Dating was way too weird for this aging hippy.
We call this truth-telling, ‘ruthless-honesty’, and it signifies a willingness to reveal our most politically incorrect feelings to one another, and trust me, we both have a cornucopia of judgmental feelings especially when it comes to the other gender. The truth is though, that it isn’t even about what we’re saying most of the time, it’s simply about being honest. My wife and I can be equally petty in our likes and dislikes about one another, but our experience is that if we simply continue to reveal all of our pet peeves, we discover copious layers of unresolved fears below our judgements.
When we began to move beyond the safe topics of toothpaste and toilet seats, we found that witnessing my anger was just too frightening for my wife. Part of our agreement, then, was that I would do as much anger work as I needed with men, and my wife would work with her fear of anger with women so that she would not only be more comfortable being angry herself, but also in witnessing my anger. It took a few intense workshops, months of our separate men and women circles, and eventually we were ready to step into the fire. We agreed to never hit or even touch each other while angry. One day as my frothing anger surfaced, for the first time, my wife was able to stand strong and observe my rage without either taking it personally or becoming afraid. In that moment, our relationship shifted forever. For the first time in my life, a woman watched me appropriately express my fury without shaming me or running away.
Telling the truth isn’t always consistent, no matter what our intent, and compassion for our ‘forgetting’ is as crucial as our commitment to ruthless honesty. I think what is important, is simply showing up and attempting to tell the truth, especially when it’s not convenient. My wife and I are both going through menopause, and our tempers are just a bit on edge these days. The other morning, we were both in the kitchen, which is very small, and I wanted to have the space to myself without any interruption. “Can you stay out of the kitchen until I’m finished here,” I asked in the friendliest voice I could muster. There was a momentary pause, and then she replied, “No, I don’t want to.” Later, as we both sat at the table, me grumbling to myself, she very satisfied with her ‘No’. She said, “I realize that I’ve been pulling myself back from you. I’ve been passively doing what you want, when I really want to scream, No!” With tears welling up in her eyes, she continued, “Without realizing it until now, my emotional eight year old has been hanging back not wanting to feel your anger. And of course, it’s not even you. It’s the dad from my childhood. I do want to tell the truth about how I feel with you. In saying this no, I feel happier than I have been in weeks. I’m not sure what shifted, or why I started holding back, but this is going to be one long, hot, glorious summer”, she declared as she led me upstairs to the bedroom. Like I said in the beginning, telling the truth, you can’t beat it for romance. . .
Nik C. Colyer