direct, rational, factual approach to make her point is often considered "pushy" while
a male taking a similar approach is often seen as competently assertive. Fortunately,
this is changing as we get into the 2000s. See the no-lose method #10 in chapter
13 and see later in this chapter for more about arguments in marriage. I'm working
on the assumption that you will be less likely to fall into the psychological pitfalls of
using manipulation, if you know the pitfalls exist.
Anger is nothing more than an attempt to make someone feel guilty.
Finding better ways to resolve anger
Lerner (1985) points out that anger is often a signal that something is wrong in a
relationship. Often it is true, we may be angry because we are feeling put down,
neglected, and dealt with unfairly, infantilized, insulted, or cheated in some way by
our partner. But sometimes past experiences or outside irritants and frustrations in
life, having nothing to do with our partner, set off our angry response. Therefore, the
real problem may or may not be within the relationship. The first step is to find out
where and what is the problem. Then solve the problem. Lerner's main theme is that
the usual ways of handling irritating circumstances in a relationship--either being
"nice" or being hateful--do not ordinarily change the situation or solve the problem.
For example, the suppression of negative feelings (being "nice") usually means being
weak, passive, uncommunicative, and compliant, which builds up more and more
anger and eventually results in an ineffective hateful "explosion" or in "emotional
distancing." On the other hand, the 1960's notion of "letting it all hang out" (and
fully venting your anger), whenever you feel like it, is not only ineffective but has its
hazards too, such as increasing the animosity, lowering self-esteem, feeling guilty
and unable to relate. Thus, neither the nasty attacks nor the hateful bitching of
unfair fights, as we've seen, nor the uncommunicative empty shell marriages are
capable of solving the underlying marital problems. They only make things worse.
OK, what will help?
Lerner lists four useful approaches: (a) finding out what is really bugging you
(your needs, frustrations, regretted choices, blocked dreams, etc.), (b) learning to
use new, better communication skills (such as "I" statements in chapter 13), (c)
gaining insight into your "dance of anger" and adopting new "dance steps" out of the
old routine, and (d) recognizing both parties' efforts to maintain the status quo of
destructive fighting or passive withdrawal, rather than maturely resolving the
Resistance is a common barrier to changing the anger "dance." When desirable
changes are initiated by one person in a relationship, Murray Bowen, a family
therapist, says the partner frequently opposes the changes. For example, if the wife
decides to develop her own social life, rather than beg and badger her reluctant
husband to go out more, the husband's opposition to change often takes these
"What you are doing (or about to do) is wrong."
"Stop being this way and it will be okay."