We’ve all been here, right? The results of a woman storing up anger can range from unleashing an emotional tsunami on your unsuspecting spouse to making headlines on the evening news.
It starts innocently enough. Someone does something to tick us off, but we let it slide and stay quiet. And then they do it again . . . and again . . . and again. We never say a word. We hope that at some point the person will miraculously gain the power to read our mind, interpret our glares, and analyze our facial expressions. But they do not, and our arsenal of anger grows bigger and stronger. Until finally—we snap!
By this point our anger has nothing whatsoever to do with what ticked us off in the first place. Everything about this person irritates us. Now they have no idea what they did wrong, and on top of that they think we are holding them responsible for all the ills of the world.
This happened to me after an especially stressful Saturday of working from home while juggling a million other responsibilities. I was up to my eyeballs in work, and my stress level quickly reached its boiling point. All day, it felt to me as if I were having everything dumped onto my plate and my husband was not doing anything. Every time I asked him to do something, I would get a curt, “Fine,” or, “Whatever.” Whether that was the reality of the situation or not, that was what I was feeling. Not so ironically, Christopher’s perception of his day was not much different.
We were on each other’s nerves from the moment we woke up that morning. Married couples have a way of doing this to each other sometimes, merely from being around each other more than we are around anyone else. It is human nature to get on one another’s nerves. And then, all of a sudden you see a big bull’s eye on your partner’s forehead and decide it is an ideal place to dump all your everyday pressures and stresses, just because he happens to be standing there. This may be a survival mechanism and ultimately your partner may understand and forgive you because he feels the same way. But in the meantime, it can get pretty messy and, in our case, become sheer entertainment for everyone around.
By that evening, when Christopher and I were out to dinner with our friends, the situation was beyond boiling. Most of our friends, especially our close ones, are used to watching Christopher and me “cross-examine” each other during harmless little public tiffs. This is one of our trademarks as a married couple, and sometimes I think we might make great subjects for a reality show. Our bickering escalated quickly to the point where our friends were laughing. They could clearly relate, and the more we argued, the harder they laughed. By the time Christopher decided to turn his request for a drink refill into a federal case with the maître d’, our friends were just about rolling on the floor. This was comedy to them because, as a fellow married couple who had obviously gone a few rounds using each other for “shooting practice,” they understood.
You would think the drink refills would have helped both of us, but they barely took the edge off. That night I was exhibiting a typical female downfall by discarding reason and logic in favor of stubbornly hanging in there until I was somehow proven to be right. He was being typical, stubborn, macho-man, “Nuyorican” Christopher and refusing to give an inch. We bickered all the way home. When we got home, I told Christopher to sleep in the guest room and leave me alone. I couldn’t figure out how this started, but at the same time I was too frustrated to figure out how to deal with him and I just wanted to go to bed alone.
Now, I have often heard the age-old marital advice “Don’t go to bed angry.” I have always tried to abide by that rule as much as possible. But that night, when I could not even think straight because I was so mad, I found a caveat to that old marriage rule. I learned that once in a while you should go to bed angry, and here’s why: When you go to bed mad there is no way you will sleep well that night—no possible way. Because you obviously love your husband, no matter how much he has angered you. There is that guilt along with the constant reel of the events of the day playing back in your mind, over and over. You are tossing and turning while asking yourself, What was worth this tortured night of not sleeping?
The situational payoff comes when you wake up the next day from an awful night of sleep. You still have residual feelings from the night before—guilt, anger, upset, etc.—and it may take a moment to remember why you are feeling this way. And then you remember. Except now, with the night separating then from now, you have gained some perspective. You see that what you thought was an all-consuming, overwhelming situation the night before is really no big deal now in the light of day.
When I woke up after that night, I felt like whatever happened was now over and behind us. I could barely remember what I was upset about. How important could it have been, that a little nighttime amnesia wiped my memory clean?
I was over it, but my husband did not yet know it. He was still in a foxhole fighting the war after the peace treaty had been signed. As I walked into the kitchen, he was huffing and puffing and stomping around, clearly without having experienced the benefits of overnight amnesia. I cheerfully offered to make him coffee. This “sudden” turn of events (in his mind) completely stumped him. He was ready for a battle and instead all he got was a cup o’ joe. He was left wondering where his sparring partner had disappeared to overnight. Finally, Christopher realized that the battle was over, crawled out of his foxhole, and gave himself permission to move on.
The moral of this story is that there are many things that should be bottled up, and anger is definitely not one of them. We may think that we are being wise and tolerant, and avoiding confrontation, but somewhere inside, there is a piece of ourselves that is not ready to let go of the issue. We need to let people know if they have done something to offend or anger us. Believe me, they would rather know about it when it happens than wait for the big bang. Storing up anger does more to worsen the problem than to solve it. When we bottle up our anger now, someone always pays later.