Every couple dealing with an affair has issues with the manner in which anger is expressed. If we do conflict well we most likely won't be in the crisis of infidelity. Let's take a look at the two primary styles of expressing anger: conflict avoiders and intimacy avoiders (I first read these categories by Emily Brown).
Conflict avoiders are nice people. This is Mr Rogers on Red Bull or that doesn't fit, maybe more like Mr Rogers on teflon. Do they still make teflon? The niceness is a way to not really deal with all that isn't sweet, fun and positive.
Conflict avoiders are usually stuffers. It's not that each one doesn't feel the troubling emotions, the anger or disappointment it's just that it isn't polite to talk about. Bringing anger up is dangerous and probably considered unspiritual. Conflict avoiders stuff until their souls puff up like down coats, but that anger eventually comes out some way some how.
Underneath this stuffing is often a fear of abandonment or a fear of losing control. Expressing anger isn't safe for someone who lives in fear of being dumped. People pleasing is usually more the order of the day. It's important to take a look at where this fear originated to find healing and courage to enter conflict. Fear of losing control is also an issue for conflict avoiders. Dealing with anger hasn't happened so it is scary. Things we haven't practiced much usually are. There is a sense that if anger is entered and expressed it may go anywhere like a balloon that came untied. And nothing brings fear to a 'nice' person like being seen as out of control and unnice.
So conflict avoiders don't do conflict much and when they do it doesn't go very well. Since there is a lack of skill with regards to conflict, differences aren't resolved and the marriage gradually erodes. If conflict can't be done, heart level conversations can't take place.
This was Ann and me. Ann talked about it in a previous post. She said, "And I had caused Ben much pain. Given our history of not addressing conflict, I never imagined he would be so hurt and show it in such volatile ways. I thought it would be one more thing that would create some silence for a few days and then we'd sweep it under the rug along with so many years of trash. As we began to shake out the rug and see what was really under there, as we began to remove the masks and see what was really under there, we began to grieve. And with the grief came the ability to forgive."
Expressing anger well sets in motion a powerful pathway to grace. It seems counterintuitive but that is our experience. Which leads us to expressing anger, just not well for intimacy avoiders.
Intimacy avoiders fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. And then for fun they fight again. Their emotional connection with each other is through frequent and intense conflict. Escalation is an artistic expression in this home.
The loudness and meanness of this home keeps the barriers between the two a ginourmous rock mountain. They are always engaged but never really engaged. They fear getting close to one another, emotionally intimate with one another, like Joel Osteen fears coffee stains on his teeth.
Even though their dance looks different they fear getting too close to one another sometimes for the same reasons as the conflict avoiders. There is a fear of being abandoned (you're going to abandon me so I won't let you get too close) and a fear of losing control if someone gets too close.
These couples don’t do conflict well either, even though they do it a lot. Offense is always being practiced instead of any constructive expression of anger. 'I'll get you better than you just got me' could be a motto here.
Since they also don’t know how to do conflict, they are rarely able to resolve differences and the marriage is a constant stream of explosions.
Where do you see your relationship in these categories? Where do you see your part in your marital dance with anger?