This is a brief selection from my book The Resurrection of Romance. Enjoy!
It is a common belief among psychotherapists of all sorts, that anger is a normal ingredient in all healthy couples’ relationships, including romantic love. Couple’s therapists think this way especially and spend great effort teaching partners how to fight fairly. However, the real truth about anger in a couple’s relationship is that it is almost never truly healthy and is almost always a result of immaturity and/or dysfunction.
It is a fact, of course, that most couples get angry and fight but this does not necessarily imply that anger is either healthy or desirable. It may be true that the popular attitude about the necessity of anger in relationship is actually a contributing factor to the high rate (approximately 50%) of divorce. Anger hurts and anger damages and anger distances. None of these rather predictable affects is helpful to the creation of a close and respectful connection between two lovers. Anger is almost always anathema to intimacy because it usually produces fear and either attack, withdrawal or a form of freezing. Intimacy, especially the radical sort that belongs with romantic love, requires significant and sustainable safety. Safety must infuse the very context of a couple’s relationship in order for emotional intimacy to grow and blossom. Anger and safety are almost always experienced as opposites.
Romantic love has the power to create an experience of safety that is stronger and more intense than anything either lover has ever encountered. If that safety is then grown, deepened and nurtured by the various practices and attitudes of radical intimacy, a couple can enter and sustain a loving relationship that is transforming at every level. In order to do this each partner must surrender all weapons of destruction and anger should, must, be the first to go.
Anger is destructive, especially in a couple’s relationship, because it usually arises out of immaturity and/or dysfunction. The childish, immature part of us is the part that reacts with anger when misunderstood or mistreated. It is the child that needs to be right or needs to have his or her way. It is the child that throws various forms of tantrums in an attempt to control and manipulate others. It is the dysfunctional or wounded part of us that misinterprets and overreacts to perceived harm and hurt. It is the wounded one that attacks and asks questions later. And on occasion, it is the individual who is both immature and wounded who uses anger as regular currency in communication because it is the emotion they feel most at ease with.
When a weapon of destruction such as anger appears in a love relationship both partners normally search for protection, and defenses are quickly constructed. If anger persists, walls get stronger and taller and eventually vulnerability is a tragic casualty of interpersonal war. Once vulnerability disappears, romantic love loses its hold and the couple begins the sad slide into co-existence. Co-existence, a state of living alongside but not deeply connected to one’s partner, is the breeding ground for boredom, dissatisfaction, disappointment and greater and greater distance. As distance increases and each partner mourns the loss of the wonder that used to be, anger burns hotter and hurt intensifies and love gives way to resentment and even hate.
Anger then, is no friend to romantic love. If the ecstasy of romantic love is to live and prosper, each partner must learn to relate as a mature and healthy adult who can respond to difficulties without weapons or attack. Otherwise, even the most sacred and heart filled love will dissipate and die in the darkness that unmanaged anger creates.