I got married on June 28, 2003. My husband and I separated on April 30, 2004. My divorce was final on February 22, 2006. In less than three years, I went from newlywed to divorcée. Mine wasn't the shortest marriage ever, but I was devastated and embarrassed.
I blamed my ex-husband for the failure of our marriage. He wouldn't talk to me about what was bothering him; he wouldn't forgive me when I apologized.
He was the one who punished me when he had been hurt, and he was the one who decided to leave. He used a long-awaited visit with my therapist to break the news that he was leaving at the end of the month.
I was dumbfounded. Things were bad between us, had been from our wedding day. We fought all the time, and love was nowhere to be found in our home. But we were Christians. We met in church and were married at church by our deacon in front of our family and friends. I couldn't believe he was doing this TO ME.
During that visit with my therapist, my ex said one thing that reverberated in my mind for weeks: I was an angry person. I didn't see it. I was an elementary school teacher. I loved kids and enjoyed people. I served as an usher at our church, warmly greeting people with my great big smile. I wasn't always happy, but I wasn't angry.
After he left, my therapist and I continued to talk about my marital problems. She encouraged me to participate in an anger management class run by her practice at U-Penn. Although I was broke, somehow I found the couple hundred dollars I needed to register for that 10-week course and purchase our text. It was called Angry All The Time. I attended my first meeting, got to know my classmates and instructors, and started reading. Gotcha!
I was forced to face the fact that I had an anger management problem. Beneath my sweet exterior was an angry, bitter, and resentful woman. Strangers and acquaintances were spared this woman. She was reserved for close friends and family. The people I was supposed to love were the ones hurt most frequently by my anger. I raised my voice, lashed out at people, threatened them, and battled fits of rage. Or I would give them the silent treatment, showing them with my actions how displeased I was.
During my anger management class, I learned about the “anger ladder.” Often minor things irritate us--bad weather, missing a light, sitting in traffic. That's at the bottom of the ladder. Then we might yell or scream at the person or thing that caused the irritation. We've climbed a step up the anger ladder. Maybe we threaten that person; we tell them we will withhold our emotional or financial, leave the relationship, or start a physical altercation. We've gone higher. The highest rung on the ladder is when you act on the anger and hit someone. The climb from irritation to violence can take years, months, weeks, or a matter of seconds--depending on how much time you spend on the ladder.
The goal of the course was very simple: learn the skills necessary to successfully climb down the anger ladder and remain at its lowest rungs. Perhaps with lots of work over many months or years, one can remain off the ladder completely. A good student by nature, I listened carefully to my instructors, read the book, completed all the activities, and practiced dealing with my anger in a more productive manner. It was hard. Once I stopped being in denial, I became aware of just how angry I was all the time. I started off trying not to get angry for an hour. I struggled. I progressed to a day, and it was tough. Eventually I could go days and then weeks without becoming angry. After some time, I felt like I had conquered my anger problem, and it moved to the back of my mind.
A few months ago, I had a shock. My boyfriend let me know that my anger was back, and it was causing major problems in our relationship. He had become withdrawn and silent, fearful of my angry response. He started to pull back and was less affectionate, kind, and generous than he had been previously. A gentle and mild-mannered person, he was increasingly becoming angry himself. That's another thing about anger; it's contagious.
I apologized, and told him I would do better. I pulled put my anger book and read it all over again. Shucks! I was being angry all the time again. I started working on moving down the anger ladder, but it was too late for that relationship. After months of being withdrawn, he finally let me know my anger was an impediment to the future of our relationship. We broke up.
I've thought a lot about my ex husband since the breakup with my boyfriend. The two men have many things in common. Neither was a great communicator as far I am concerned. Both became silent and withdrawn over the course of the relationship. When hurt or bothered, they shut down. I realize that I have a serious problem: Either I'm attracting men who emotionally are unprepared to be in a serious relationship, or being with me makes them shut down and withdraw. Or maybe, it’s a little bit of both. No matter what, it’s problematic.
I have some more work to do. I must accept my fair share of the blame for the end of both relationships. My anger and inability to control it caused me to lose out on being with both of them over time. I have to keep working to let go of the anger, bitterness and resentment that have set up shop in my heart for too long. I'm so grateful for the lessons I have learned on my yoga mat:
Meditation and pranayama are my daily tools for managing my emotions (including the anger). They enable me to find peace and calm in any situation, and then turn everything over to God. I'm back to deciding not to get angry one day at a time. TODAY I will not become angry. Tomorrow will have to handle itself.
Here are some more anger management titles by Ronald T. Potter-Efron, MSW, PhD: https://www.newharbinger.com/author/ronald-potter-efron.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.