Ellen seemed almost hysterical. Her voice was shrill, piercing and bitter as she screamed, “All you care about is yourself, your mother, your child, your siblings and even your ex-wife. I’m lucky to be sixth or seventh on the list!”
With clenched jaws and spittle oozing between his lips, Robert shouted, “There you go again. Finding fault is your expertise. Why don’t you get the f*** away from me? You’ve been driving me crazy ever since day one of our honeymoon. All you do is complain, criticize and blame others. Who the f*** died and made you god? I want a divorce.”
“How would you like for your mother to see you this way,” she asked. “I know you can’t wait to get on the phone and report everything to her. You should have married her. Then, she would have seen her little boy for who he really is: a miserable immature person, who is constantly angry, needs to control and put others down. Your ex told me how f***ed up you and your family are. I should’ve listened to her. It’s no wonder she divorced you and if I leave, it will be No. 2 mommy drove away and she can have you all back to herself.”
“It’s always my mother,” he ranted. You can say anything you want about my family but where was your family when we needed them? Who came to our aid, your family or mine? You’re just an unappreciative b****.”
“My parents said you were a spoiled overindulged child before we married. I should’ve listened to them.”
Whereupon she started sobbing uncontrollably; tears rolled down her cheeks and she lowered her head into her lap.
“Oh great,” Robert said. “Go show the doctor your poor pitiful act. Only this time it won’t work. I know you for who you are: a manipulative ungrateful b****, who always winds up playing the pitiful misunderstood, mistreated woman married to the abusive husband. If I really ever abused you, you’d be dead, all 99 pounds of you. I never hit you; I always held back.”
“You never hit me! You pushed me, you shoved me, you scared and intimidated me countless times and you think you’re a big tough guy. Do you think your mommy would think that if she heard you now? Do you want a medal for just intimidating, pushing, shoving and holding back?”
“You f***ing …”
“Enough,” I finally said. “Your interaction is painful for me to hear, let alone be a part of. Stop right now! Cool down and listen to what you’ve said and ask yourself, ‘Is this the person I want to be?’ I know both your answers will be ‘No,’ but I’m equally sure you will amend your ‘No’ by adding ‘he/she caused it. If he or she didn’t say or act that way I wouldn’t …’ The fact is, however, that you can’t rationalize, justify or blame your own unacceptable behavior on someone else. You need to take responsibility for it, not hide or excuse it. No one is perfect. You’re allowed to make mistakes but you can’t learn from them unless you own them.”
I doubt that any of you reading this, can’t help but be very disturbed by the viciousness of the words exchanged between Ellen and Robert. The printed words alone are that upsetting. I know, for me, that experiencing them in person was extremely upsetting. Some of you will attribute their noxious behavior to the fact that they’re probably individuals who are low class, uncultured individuals who grew up very different from yourselves. Others might explain their behavior on the fact that they’re in therapy and undoubtedly have deep-seated emotional problems. But, let me assure you, that’s not the case. These individuals could very likely be you, your children, your friends or your neighbors.
Actually, they’re in their 30s. Both are college-educated professionals who are employed in different, but equally valued, vocations and, in social situations, they’re delightful to interact with. Although you may doubt it on the basis of their hostile exchange, they’re basically good people who are emotionally fragile and insecure. Their anger is their way of protecting and defending themselves. The degree to which their hostility is expressed is really a measure of the degree to which they feel inadequate, insecure and rejected. Without any doubt, their behavior is totally unacceptable, but it’s nevertheless understandable, which doesn’t excuse it but does explain it. Their defense mechanisms are non-constructive. They resolve nothing and only serve to further demonstrate their emotional insecurities. Unfortunately, what they create are wounds that are slow to heal and often contribute to the demise of a relationship.
Sadly, the argument I shared with you isn’t a single event. Altercations of a similar nature have occurred over and over again throughout their marriage. What is worse, however, is that they aren’t unique to them alone. Granted they don’t always manifest themselves with the raw anger Ellen and Robert directed toward each other, but the end result is always the same. You wind up seeing good people behaving badly. They dissect each other with very short tongues, live together alone, resort to verbal or physical abuse and often divorce.
As far-fetched as this may sound, I believe the open sharing of emotions, no matter how brutal and hurtful, can provide couples with a greater opportunity to deal with and resolve their problems than those that don’t communicate at all. Why? Because, one, it brings them to the surface. Two, they’re actively interacting, which indicates that they both still care and are emotionally involved. Three, it contributed to their coming to therapy. These results are far more positive than those of couples who live together with deadly silence, interact passive aggressively but deal with each other in a far more socially acceptable manner. In effect, those couples tolerate and deny their dysfunctional relationship. All the while, they build up resentments that are never dealt with and result in people living out their lives “like ships passing in the night,” feeling desperate, despaired and depressed.
In my next article, I’ll discuss where Ellen and Robert’s anger began, how it affects their children, their families and themselves and what they must do to resolve their conflicts.