Marriage Minute # 8 Let Me Ask You…
Anger is not the best way of asking for more. That’s the thought I came away with when I read Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Anger. Asking for more is not illegitimate. It is something we should do at times, yet a poor and all too common method of doing so is arguing; picking a fight. Let me take a Minute to explain. One spouse becomes aware of feelings of need in their life. This need may be from many sources, but usually the other spouse is seen as the cause of the unmet condition. Whether or not that is an accurate assessment, is another question. Let’s suppose that it is. Asking for more time together, asking for feedback about ideas, asking for involvement in a project, or asking for other good things, are all good requests, but many people start asking with anger and accusations. I read an article recently in which a teenager said that her mother seemed to start her conversations in the middle of an argument. This is the problem I am trying to address.
If asking is good, it should be done in a good way. Ever hear something like, “You never ——- any more!” Wouldn’t they get further with a statement like, “I want you to —— again.”
I suspect that in many marriages this angry beginning has become a habit, and it likely started because of an unresponsive spouse. To quote Daniel B. Wile, After the Fight, “People generate symptoms when they think they are not getting their leading edge thoughts and feelings across.” It may seem quite natural to step up the volume when you think you are being ignored. In fact, volume can be used correctly. But, it is not the only way, and abusive volume is never correct. Abusive volume depends on shock, fear, anxiety, name-calling and other such things. It is often called things like “being forthright,” but it is simply impulsive and abusive.
Why don’t we ask? Why do we hesitate? It may be because we have come to believe that we should not be wanting anything. Someone told us that we would sound selfish. It’s time to get over that. Someone might have told us that no one would listen to us unless we sounded mean. Again, it’s time to get over that. Many women have believed the myths that culture tells, such as the myth that they have to play dumb, or that they have to appear unselfish at all costs. A friend of mine, who has small children, recently joked with me that she was in trouble in her neighborhood because she commented to someone that she was tired. The culture on her street says that Mothers aren’t supposed to get tired. Many men believe the myths that are told them; myths like the one that says men are brutes that will always be wrong when it comes to relationships and responding to a wife’s needs. These self-defeating attitudes can doom a relationship. Another myth is that in silence there is power. Too often, in silence there is loneliness.
Harriet Lerner refers to this process in relationship as “underfunctioning.” She says that “it is the underfunctioning of one individual that allows for the overfunctioning of the other.” Further she describes the fighting approach to expressing wants as “Ineffective Blaming versus Assertive Claiming.” She rightly says that this fighting blocks change rather than facilitating change.
Let’s speak up, but speak up assertively.