“Last month a man came home from work with my husband’s face but he did not act at all like the man I married,” says Marie, a 42 year-old wife and mother of three. “I’ve known this man for 30 years, married 22 of them and have never met this guy before. Angry, nasty, and cruel are just a few words to describe him. He used to be the most upbeat, happy person I knew. Now it’s like being married to an angry brick. In spite of how he treats me I still love my husband and want to save our marriage. Please, can you help me?”
This is typical of the thousands of letters and e-mails I have received from women all over the world since The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression was first published by Rodale in 2004. More and more women are feeling the pain of living with angry men and want help for themselves, their children, and for the man they all love.
Although anger has a negative impact on men, I learned that it is often the women and children who suffer the most. “Recently, he has begun venting, to anyone who will listen, about how horrible we all are,” 53 year-old Jennifer wrote me. “If our adult-children aren’t living up to his standards, it is my fault. If he can’t find his socks, he accuses me of misplacing them, just to piss him off. I’m not kidding—that’s what he tells me. What hurts the most is that he has withdrawn all affection. It’s like someone transformed him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. I want my husband back!”
Anger is an increasingly serious problem in our society today according to Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and former President of the American Psychological Association. “Out-of-hand anger ruins many lives,” he says. “More, I believe, than schizophrenia, more than alcohol, more than AIDS. Maybe even more than depression.” Seligman’s research also shows that when couples fight, it can damage their children, often in lasting ways.
Anger Comes in Different Forms
Paul Ekman, Ph.D., one of the world’s experts on emotions and author of Emotions Revealed, says that anger is expressed in many ways. “There is a range of angry feelings, from slight annoyance to rage. There are not just differences in the strength of angry feelings, but also differences in the kind of anger felt. Indignation is self-righteous anger, sulking is passive anger; exasperation refers to having one’s patience tried excessively. Revenge is a type of angry action usually committed after a period of reflection about the offense.”
We often perceive anger as a negative emotion that can damage people and their relationships, yet anger can also lead to emotional and spiritual growth. The practices readers will learn in the book can deepen and enrich their ability to be more loving to their partner and to others. In his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn says, “In the past, we were allied in making each other suffer more, allied in the escalation of anger. “Now we want to be allied in taking good care of our sorrow, our anger, and our frustration. We want to negotiate a strategy for peace.”
Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Planet
Most of us are tired of war and would like human beings to get along with each other. But it seems that wars go on and on. The truth is that we can’t stop wars until we learn to stop fighting with our mates. If we can’t learn to get along with the one we love, how can we expect to get along with people we don’t know and don’t understand? The good news is that we are learning how to become more peaceful partners. We are learning the skills of non-violent communication. We are learning how to listen with a more open heart, to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person.
Here’s a little exercise I describe in my recent book, MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools. It was developed by the folks at the Institute of HeartMath and it’s guaranteed to reduce stress in your life and help you feel more loving:
- Put your attention on the area around your heart. Place your hand there to feel the life pulsing through you.
- Imagine that with each breath you breathe in you are taking in healing energy through your heart and with each breath you breathe out you send that loving energy out to someone you’d like to feel more loving towards.
- Think of a time when you felt deep gratitude. It could be a memory of one of your children, or when you first fell in love, or the time you were overwhelmed by the beauty of a sunset.
- Continue to breathe while you hold this memory of gratitude.
Think what it would mean if everyone in the world did this exercise three or four times a day. Are you willing to start? It’s easy and you have nothing to lose but your anger.