Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them

Men who struggle with anger often have underlying, suppressed anxiety

Posted Apr 20, 2018

Tracy's detached manner as she sat down next to Dan in their recent counseling session with me was a clear indication that the next fifty minutes would be quite challenging.  "He is always moody and snaps at me, then later he wants to have sex!,  I'm so done with this!" 

In response to Tracy's opening comment, I said, "Dan, how do you see things right now?" 

Dan responded, "She just doesn't get it!"

Tracy jumped in, "Are you kidding me? Get what, Dan?"

After a long awkward silence, Dan faintly said, "There's nothing I can say that seems to be what you want to hear." 

Tracy, shaking her head, looked up at the ceiling, seemingly desperate for answers, or at least hoping for a modicum of emotional relief.

Next, an agonizing silence, laden with frustrated sighs from Dan.

I said, "Dan, you and Tracy have a lot going on. Two teen girls from you first marriage, and now a one-year-old between you and Tracy. You both have demanding careers and Dan, your side business that you started five years ago has you working almost as much as you are breathing. Tracy, I also realize that it has been really difficult going for you with the demands of family life, your job, and your mom having stage-four cancer."

"Thanks for saying that, Dr. Jeff. But at least I talk about what is going on," Tracy said. "He just gets super tense and shuts down!" she added with frustration, giving way to sadness.

Dan replied, "I have payroll coming up for the business next week and still have a lot out in receivables. And, if I say anything about how terrified I am you will think I am just being whiny."

Suffice it to say, Tracy was shocked to hear that Dan was terrified in response to the financial pressures he was facing. Feeling unsafe to share how vulnerable he really felt, Dan, like many stressed out men, got himself on the "bottle it up and explode (or implode) later plan."  This usually does not turn out well.

From Tracy's revelation about Dan's vulnerability, she could now clearly see something that she did not suspect: Dan had anxiety lurking below the surface of his anger. The positive outcome to the Tracy and Dan story, is that once Tracy knew and understood more clearly how Dan's anger was driven by his anxiety, Tracy and Dan were able to discuss the underlying financial stresses.

Clearly, women in relationships, like men, can certainly harbor anger with underlying fears as well. That said, based on several books (e.g., Terry Real's book, I Don't Want To Talk About It) and my 30 years of counseling couples, the socialization of men continues to disproportionately drive them to shut down and resist sharing their emotional struggles. 

My next post will address strategies on how couples can work to navigate the dynamics of male partner's with suppressed anger related to anxiety. I recently developed the Letting Go of Anger Card Deck for teens, which, in part, encompasses what I have learned from men who have gained control over their anger and other emotions. Stay tuned in for my next post where I will share some of these strategies.