Listening to Feelings

Gwen Randall-Young

I spoke with a client recently who had left his marriage and claimed that in part it was because his wife was always directing her anger at him. He said he did not like her anger, and felt she used it inappropriately.

When I inquired as to the types of things she got angry about, it seemed that it always happened when she would be trying to communicate a feeling to him. She did not get angry about things like taking out the garbage or leaving the cap off the toothpaste. She did not get angry if he forgot a special occasion card or gift. It seemed that the anger came when she wanted to talk about communication, or spending time together, or to tell him that she was not feeling heard. 

From what he told me, it appeared that she would approach him with some caution, and would attempt to bring up the subject gently, but even as he spoke, I could see his defensiveness and feelings of being criticized. It was clear that he did not have the ability to separate his own feelings from those of his wife.

He interpreted any expression of her needs as a real or implied criticism of himself. He would then become defensive and challenge her statements about her feelings. He did not realize that he was negating her in the process, consequently the wife, no doubt, felt that her concerns were not important to her husband. She may have felt emotionally abandoned, which triggers her vulnerable inner child. She becomes angry and emotional, and so he moves into his authoritative adult mode, and treats her like a child. This makes her even more angry, because she started out in her adult mode, and he would not meet her at that level. Now the situation seems out of control, and he’s blaming her for the problem.

What is needed is to listen to her feelings and concerns and ask her what she needs. Think of a red light flashing on your dashboard. If you do not know how to give her what she is asking for, seek the advice of a professional. Conversely, she will have a better result if she asks for what she needs, rather than chastising him. Anger on either side does not help.

If the couple cannot both recognize the dysfunctional pattern, and meet at the adult level, then the negative pattern repeats itself endlessly. As for the man who co-creates this scenario, and then leaves the marriage still blaming his wife, there is no growth. Unless he meets up with someone who will be totally subservient, making no demands on behalf of her own needs, he is destined to repeat the pattern. The other option he has is to avoid deep emotional intimacy in relationships. Either way, he plays it safe, and misses out on the deep joy that comes from truly connecting with another human being. 

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration