How I Learned to Stop Fearing Anger and Love My Wife

Jeff Billig and Wife

 Jeff Billig looks at anger from a variety of ways and comes to the conclusion, “it’s not so bad.”

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Poor anger. People just don’t know what to do with it. Some think the problem is men can’t control it. My experience is that men try to control it too tightly.

Maybe because anger is not very pretty. Or because it’s scary powerful. Or because when mom and dad got angry, bad things happened.

But today, I see the whole issue as a case of mistaken identity. I think most people have a problem with anger because they confuse it with its “evil” cousin, violence.

Anger and Violence

Anger is an emotion. It tells you you’ve been offended and you should probably do something about it. It’s original equipment for us pre-grace humans. As people in an unfair world, we experience it all the time at levels from mildly vexed to apoplectic.

The truth is, anger is one of the world’s great motivators, driving positive social movements and great music.

Violence, on the other hand, is an action that hurts. Not good, unless you’re engaged in certain athletic or governmental activities. Violence sits at the extreme end of possible ways to deal with anger.

But men have a truckload of ways to deal with our anger before we get to violence. From “fuck it” all the way to “fuck you” (verbally or digitally) with a full range of actual actions that deal with said offense including forgiveness, conversation, mobilizing and “getting mad” in between.

Anger’s posse

Seems to me that anger, fear and resentment are the Three Stooges of the “negative” emotions.

Their act often goes something like this: Man shows anger. Woman feels fear. Man gets resentful. Woman get’s angry. And it goes on, Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

While they can certainly screw up a relationship, nobody actually gets hurts except the people who insist on holding onto them.

The first law of Anger

Anger is energy. You can’t put it in a box and think it’s been eliminated. It’s going to come out somewhere. (Either internally as matter –like a tumor– or externally). The longer you wait, the more you cache and the more powerful its release is going to be.

So venting anger, blowing off steam, cleaning out the pipes is an essential skill for any man. There are lots of ways to do that without violence. Ideally, you express it verbally at each event in a way that resolves the offense. But how many of us do that?

Until I was into my 30s, I just swallowed my anger. I thought it was a virtue. I feared that expressing it would have negative repercussions.

Instead, not expressing it did:  I was divorced, resentful, repressed and a bit passive… but was considered just the nicest guy.

And that’s how it would have continued, until I met her.

The gift of anger

One sunny day, as I was driving my girlfriend back from work, it happened. I forget the subject, but she started picking at one of my emotional scabs. I asked her to stop. She continued. I tried to change the subject. She continued. I got serious. She continued. I warned her. She continued……

Finally, I exploded. Red faced, dizzy and shaking, I screamed at her with an anger kept locked up since childhood. It felt like horses bolting from the barn, out of control, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get them back in. But there they went….

I didn’t get the response I expected.

She sat there quietly with a little smile on her face as I continued to spew. Finally, as my rage died down, her smile grew and she looked at me with love and amusement in her eyes. “Very good. You got mad!”

She wasn’t afraid. She didn’t cry. No one got hurt. I felt great.

My life was instantly changed by the love of a strong woman who was more interested to helping me than controlling me. She gave me my anger.

I gave her a ring.

Anger’s not so bad

The thing that people who don’t spend time with their anger don’t understand is that it’s very manageable. It’s not nuclear. It’s not dangerous. It even has a certain childlike charm.

And you can play with it. Start by just getting pissed and you see how people pay attention.  Or you can get mad and watch people back off. If someone responds to your anger by escalating, you can just watch it. It’s just them and their anger.

Nothing to fear. Unless they’re someone who’s already shown a tendency to take anger to violence. (Something beyond my area of expertise.) But in that case, I suggest you get your ass out of there.

Dealing with the big anger

I’m talking about the anger we all have, if we’re still human. The anger at injustices in your community and around the world. The anger at Obama or the GOP or Al Qaeda or God or whoever is responsible for all the suffering. Most of it isn’t personal. A lot of it comes from watching the news.

But every day, we pack all that into our anger cache along with our gripes from work and bad drivers. So when we do express anger it’s probably totally disproportionate to the event that prompted it.

And this is why we need to find some way to let it out, regularly. Some offer it up to a higher power.  Some work out. Some go to the gun range. Some can actually do it through sex. Others cry, historically considered more acceptable for women. My favorite is to go to a beach, find an area far from other humans, and scream my ass off into the surf.  When the tank is empty, I rejoin humanity.

The gift that keeps giving

So my wife and I have now been mostly happily married for 22 years. And certainly there are times she regrets the day she gave me my anger. But we have great fights. With voice-raising, door-slamming, and even name-calling. (Much more fun now that our son is grown and away at college). And we let it all hang out.

If there’s an issue to be dealt with, we try to deal with it. But we understand that it’s usually more about letting off steam than any particular offense one of us may have committed. And we give each other license to do that. After all, who else is going to let us do it?

Seems to me, allowing each other to express anger is one of the best ways to express love.

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About Jeff Billig

Jeff Billig is a fairly well known bicoastal advertising writer and creative director who’s always tried to communicate on an authentic human level. Here he does some writing for his latest pro-bono client, anger.

Comments

  1. Jeff, thank you very much for this. I have not expressed true and honest anger since I was a child, and I have only recently been working on that. This article was a huge help! I’m bookmarking it

  2. A fun, easy read, Jeff. Loved it.

    I’ll agree with most of it, but I seriously doubt you give each other license to verbally assault, attack, or belittle each other. (name calling, really?) I don’t know any healthy relationship where those freedoms live without consequence.

    I agree anger can be healthy and helpful. I read a study that showed women MUCH prefer a man who has angry emotions toward disagreements than NO emotion. They don’t prefer feeling threatened, but they appreciate a man engaged enough to stand his ground and share his feelings or opinions.

    While I feel the same about my partner, I personally would not accept a minute of anger from a woman who thought it was okay to verbally disrespect, attack or abuse me in any way. She can have her hissy fit all by herself.

    However, I’m happy to let her vent all over me about her boss, her politics, her drive home, or cleaning up dog puke for the 3rd time. Water off a duck’s back and I’m happy to be her sounding board.

    In all relationships, thoughts can precede anger. While we should welcome anger and let her fly, we can also *think* before inflicting verbal or emotional attacks on innocent bystanders.

    If she/he chooses not to think, I say let ‘em stew in their own pile of negativity until the storm passes.

  3. Steve Billig says:

    Beautifully and courageously done!

  4. As a woman, I am in awe of your wife who was brave enough–grounded enough–in that one moment to see that it wasn’t about her, it was about you & how you deal with anger. For a woman (from my generation? In my own family?) anger is taboo. We are not supposed to get angry, but placate to any situation to keep the peace, just smile & grit your teeth. I haven’t manage to ever do this, as I am my father’s daughter, a hot bed of temper, but also easily wounded by any anger from others, especially men. I imagine a healthy relationship would be one where you can “let it rip” because, I am guessing, you have created a safe place to express that anger, both of you, as if there were a safe word, an emergency “time out” that will not be overlooked. After 22 years, you must understand that very well in each other, but HOW do you get there? How do we safely navigate the mind field of anger, honestly, & safely?

  5. Sorry, but I think you’re describing very immature behaviour. Do you shout at your kids? Why not? They must make you angry sometimes. Do you shout at your neighbours? No?

    Mature people control their emotions. They feel them, listen to them, decide how best to express them. Shouting at people is a form of abuse. If it wasn’t we’d shout at the boss, wouldn’t we? And the police.

    The key issue is that we need to know when we’re angry and act on it. The nature of the action can be mature or immature. A big problem in the world is that too few men and women control it. Your problem is that you controlled it too much in that you never acted on it, and some men have that problem. But your “solution” is an immature response and, frankly, what your wife did on that drive was abusive and manipulative.

    • jeffabillig says:

      That’s OK Martin. It probably is immature. I wish I didn’t get that angry, but evidently I do sometimes. And when I was a boy, being “immature” would have bothered me. But at my age, that’s no longer a factor. In fact, I have to admit that a lot of the things that bring me joy might be considered immature by some. I prefer to call it young at heart.
      As for shouting at my kid, guilty. I have. A few times over the course of his 20 years — and a couple of those time, he’s shouted back. And I have to admit, I far prefer that to him being afraid. Because the world will do that to him and I want him to have that in his quiver.
      And the fact that what I see as a bold act of love from my wife that opened up my life, you see as abusive and manipulative, seems very strange. But you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

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