I used to have a temper that could be set off really really easily.
I had a boyfriend right out of college that said that I didn’t get angry “right”. He had a PhD and I was a mere done with undergraduate person, so what did I know? I went into counseling for a year.
Finally I said to him, “The counselor and I have tried presenting anger to you in every possible form and none of it is acceptable. So now she says you need to come to counseling too.”
His response: “What I want is for you to never get angry at me again.”
Mine: “You are dreaming.”
And so he broke up with me. Immediately. And said I was an ogre when I was angry.
I went back to counseling and was depressed for a year. Then I cheered up, met a boyfriend and went to medical school. I worked on my temper, remembering the ogre comment. I did not want to be an ogre. My boyfriend became my husband and he really liked my dark side and my silly side.
My sister was the person who could set me off angry the most easily. She and I fought like pitbulls, like honey badgers. Once we were in Colorado with my husband, her first husband and my parents. The two husbands had an imitation pretend fight acting as me and my sister. They were vicious. It was horribly embarassing and also funny, because they nailed us both.
In residency in Portland, I had a breakthrough. My sister was divorced from the first husband by then, and with the no meat, no dairy, really pain in the butt boyfriend. We were having a big party, lots of people, grilling salmon and cooking in a group. My sister walked in.
“Oh.” I said, “You didn’t RSVP.”
She fired up instantly. “What? Why does that matter? Do you want me to leave?”
I did not fire up. I held my breath and then said, “No. But if you are here with No Meat No Milk, I didn’t make any food for him, because I did not know you were coming. There is lots of food. You are both welcome to stay, but he will have to figure out his own food.” Then I held my breath again.
There was a long pause. My sister had her breath drawn in and held. She looked like she was going to explode. But I had answered quietly. She really had nothing to explode at.
“We will stay then,” she said, grudgingly. And there was No Meat No Milk. I was pretty happy when she ditched him. But I was also happy that I had not exploded back at her.
That was when I really got control of my temper. Not that I never lost it again, but I was no longer an ogre. I could hold it with my sister. My husband could set me off, but when I stepped back and started recording what he said and my responses, I could hold it there too.
After we divorced, I had one boyfriend who moved in. I had joked to a friend that my family had a lot of enablers and enablees, but that the latter lived longer. I said if I had to be one or the other, the latter seemed better for longevity.
And that boyfriend showed up immediately. I had just been “strongly encouraged” by my employer local hospital to open my own private practice. That is, I was not seeing patients. I was writing a business plan. I met him in a bar, salsa dancing. He said I was cute and I said, “No, I’m prickly.” I swear, it was that sentence and my dancing that attracted him. I always grin like a fool when I’m dancing. I love it. It lights me up.
Anyhow, I got mad at him exactly twice before he moved in. Boy did he come down on me for getting mad and punished me very thoroughly. By now you are wondering why I let him move in and frankly I was too. But my intuition was running the show and I just let it.
Well, he had kissed me like crazy at the start of the relationship. He stopped kissing me, almost as he moved in. He had insomnia. He’d fixed up one of the two upstairs bedrooms. He started sleeping with me less and less and sleeping in the other room, on cushions.
I would wake, worry. I started moving too. I moved to the guest room. I moved to the couch. Once I was out of the theoretically shared bed, I could go back to sleep. He protested that I shouldn’t move. Why not? I was getting insomnia from worrying about him leaving more and more.
He said we’d need couples counseling eventually. I said, ok, and scheduled it. He said, “I didn’t mean now!” I said, “Well, seemed like we might as well get it out of the way.”
He told the counselor I needed to either cut my sister off or do what she said, but instead, I was present and disobeidient. My sister had metastatic breast cancer and we came from an alcohol addiction family. Can you say complicated relationship?
I explained to the counselor that I thought many patients with cancer end up in a “cancer bubble”. Everyone tries to do what they say because they have cancer. This isolates them and does damage to the relationship. I was trying to stay present and real. That is, I did not obey. I was getting pressure from other people to obey, because my sister would complain about me. Whatever.
The counselor thought I was reasonable. I brought up the sleep issues. The boyfriend cancelled the counseling, saying that he needed a break.
At six months living together, he was saying that he might need to go back to the city to work. Two hours away. And I still was not doing what he wanted re my sister.
Counseling again. Again my behavior to my sister was examined. Same story. I turned to him. “I hear you saying you may need to return to the city for work. I hear you saying you may need to move there. What I don’t hear you saying is darling, we will get through a long distance relationship. Are you breaking up with me and not telling me?”
The counselor said, “You need to answer her.”
He finally said, “I wasn’t going to tell you until after I moved.”
I cried. We left. I kept crying.
He said, “You are angry and you are going to throw me out on the street.”
“No!” I said, “I am sad! You move out when you are ready! We will remain friends!”
So then I cried buckets. I cried on him, buckets. I cried every time I saw him, I cried daily, I cried about him, about my sister, about alcoholism, about the hospital getting rid of me. I cried about everything. I cried on him daily.
For six months. He kept saying “You are angry. You are throwing me out.” But I didn’t. I just cried more.
He moved out on the weekend I returned from seeing my sister in hospice for the last time. Her birthday was March 23. I saw her last on March 22. My birthday was March 28. She died March 29. He moved out on the 26th and 27th. I was not mad, I just cried and cried and cried.
I think that he was looking for an angry girlfriend. He thought he’d found her when I said I was prickly. He would have been the enabler and I would have been the angry dysfunctional enablee. It turns out that I was not really interested in being an enablee. Now I want a healthy relationship.
So that is my recommendation. If you have to cry, do it on the boyfriend who wants you to be angry instead of sad.