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July 19, 2009

CHANGING ME, CHANGES WE: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR PARTNER IS REACTIVE AND/OR INTENSE

I often talk about women setting limits on men, however in this post I want to discuss men setting limits on women.  In particular, I am referring to conflict-avoidant men with high intensity, reactive women.

A common couple combination I see in my office is quiet, conflict-avoidant men, with angry, controlling and reactive women.  The women are often furious at the men for not talking, being passive-aggressive and making agreements that they seldom keep.  Upon closer inspection, it’s clear that the men are, indeed, all those things. 

What’s often missing, however, from this picture is the other side of the equation—the women. 

Many of the women in these types of couples become intense, critical and furious when they don’t like something the man did or didn’t do.  They yell, scream, make threats and become demeaning.  In response, the men cower, turn passive-aggressive and go underground. 

These men seldom set limits on their partner’s rage.  Instead, they try to placate the women by making empty promises, shutting down or making a frantic effort to do what she says. 

What the men need to do is stop taking such outrageous behaviors. 

These men need to set limits.  In fact, anyone who is living with a partner who is intense, reactive and controlling needs to set limits.  When you jump to attention every time your partner becomes reactive and intense, you teach your partner that their intensity works.  Your silence reinforces your partner’s intensity and fury.  The only way to stop that reinforcing is to set limits on it—regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.  You need to stop taking it.

Many men refuse to stop taking this kind of behavior.  In fact the very thought of setting a limit on their partner causes them to break out in a sweat.  The truth is that the men are scared of their partners…and often with good reason.  Many highly intense women feel that their rage is justified and they can be quite scary and retaliatory.  However, just as it’s not smart for women to cower in the face of their partner’s temper, it’s not smart for men to cower either. 

Men are not doing us women any favors by allowing us to get away with being emotionally abusive.  In fact, you are doing us—and yourselves—a disservice.  When you don’t stand up to us, we then think less of you.  We also will continue doing what works.  If yelling gets you to step up then by all means STEP UP, DAMN IT!

Moreover, you are doing your children a disservice when you don’t stand up to their raging mother.  If you’re afraid of her, imagine what your children feel.  It’s your job to keep your children safe—even if that means safe from their mother’s wrath.  If you don’t, your children will struggle with the same issues in their marriage as their parents are struggling with in theirs.  The only question is whether your child will choose to become the hammer (their mother) in their relationship or the nail (you).  You need to teach them they don’t need to be either.  You can only do that by standing up to the rage.

CHALLENGE:  If you are a quiet, conflict-avoidant male, living with an intense, reactive female, then stop ducking and stand up to the reactivity.  Set a limit and stand behind it.  It’s not okay for your partner to be emotionally abusive and you need state that (respectfully, clearly and firmly).  When you stand up to her rage it is the best gift you can give to her, your relationship and your family.

NOTE:  All the information in this post also goes for women setting limits.  I chose to focus on the men because too many men are letting too many women off the hook and it is not helping women.

Comments

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How?
The question is how to set limits?
I see the need of doing that everyday in my daughter's eyes but havent figured out a way to rein in the rage. I have tried walking away, shouting back, warning of repercussion, not talking for a week! no sex etc. but nothing seems to work, if anything it becomes worse.
I know its an old article but hopefully you will respond.

DEAR RAY: When setting a limit you need to think about what it is you are willing to follow through with. It has to be something you have control of and you need to act on it not just threaten it. There are a few posts on limit setting in this blog. Look under the category setting limits and read some of those posts to help. Again, though the most important thing is fewer words and more action. You MUST follow through with your limits.
Take care-Lisa

Hi, thanks for the information.

Would you explain further what emotional abuse is? It might seem self explanatory but I would love to get a clearer picture of this term.

Thx for writting for us guys too.

DEAR RAUL: You're very welcome for writing to guys as well.
Regarding what is emotional abuse, that is a great question. Emotional abuse includes: yelling, screaming, name-calling, shaming, patronizing or belittling a person. Inherent in emotional abuse is contempt and seeing the other person as less than in some way. Calling someone stupid or even insinuating they are stupid without directly calling them so, is shaming. Emotional abuse leads the other person to feel small and not worthy while the abuser feels justified and powerful. Sarcasm can also take the form of emotional abuse.

Hope this helps.
Lisa

Hi Lisa,

I really liked your article. As a woman it is good to hear what men could be feeling when faced with a situation like you described. It helps me to take a look at my own behavior and how it must affect my husband.

DEAR CASSANDRA: Good for you for looking at it. Sometimes we don't want to look at where we might be a bit off. Unfortunately, by not looking at our own issues we hurt ourselves and our relationships.
Thanks for checking in-Lisa

I had book marked this site a while ago and it has enlightened several aspects of our relationship THANK YOU. This article hit home for me today, since this posting, my situation has escalated beyond our control. My wife was just recently admitted 5150 two more days to go, hers and my decision for severe depression and anger issues, so this is not just me. I have tried to bring this issue up to her several times in the past but it eventually turns into a heated argument then fight. I am not a weak or cowering person, if I get into a fight or argument it means discussion has ended and its put up or shut up time, no retreat, no surrender. My goal has always been to prevent my monster from getting out of the box. I have never hit or abused my wife, but I truly fear a dark inner potential. I would always just walk away before a situation angered me. If I got poor service I would not return to that establishment, situation resolved I can continue my day stress free. I had to walk out of a department store because she got into a fight with a store manager over a miss priced lamp that should have been sold for its listed price instead of what it rang up as. I don’t remember the outcome, but it followed us home something I had to deal with for the next several days. There are many of these things, she could justify each and every occurrence, if I disagree it starts all over. I am not trying to place blame or seek a scapegoat, we are getting help and I am sure this is an issue that will follow us till death do us part. This is a great eye opening article, where can I get more help on this specific issue?

OMG! I just saw myself and my ex-wife. This was our marriage for 21 years until I said no more. It was very hard breaking away from that kind of relationship because we had children, but you're so right when you say it isn't healthy for anywone.

AMEN!!!! Thanks for this wonderful post, Lisa. It took me a long time to discover that the "Ghandi approach" wasn't working, and that I needed to step up respectfully and firmly. Some women seem ready to receive that from men, and others seem just too filled with rage.

I normally like reading your posts, but this one was slanted a bit too much for my taste....

"I chose to focus on the men because too many men are letting too many women off the hook and it is not helping women."

Imagine how that strikes a man reading your article. So the woman is raging, the man is avoiding the rage, and not only is it his fault for avoiding the rage, but he's guilty of "not helping" the raging woman. Further, his mission in the relationship must be "to help the woman." Please.

This would have been a better article if it had been balanced, with challenges for the raging woman as well, such as respecting the partner, recognizing when he shuts down and why, and correcting her behavior before he avoids the rage by leaving her entirely. It's a two way street, as the saying goes.

I hope your next article returns to your usually more balanced approach.

Wow. I guess I just took your challenge, and stood up to your slamming of men as responsible for raging women. :-) How'd I do?

DEAR I'LL TAKE THAT CHALLENGE: You did well:-). It's funny to hear your slant. I was worried I was going to get a ton of backlash from the women!

Regarding your point about the men being responsible for helping the women, that is not at all my belief. I stated it doesn't help the women or families because many men believe it's helpful to keep things calm. The women are 100% responsible for their rage and it is killing their relationships. The men, however, are also responsible for not addressing it or setting limits on it. This is the same for women who are in relationships with men who rage--they are not responsible for the rage, however, they are responsible for not setting limits and just accepting it.

In my experience, women eventually take the raging men on; men seldom take raging women on. This has to shift if the men hope to have any peace in their home.
Thank you for your interpretation, I don't want others to think I was telling men to do this to help the women. I want them to do this to help themselves.
Take care-Lisa

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