There are many definitions of a hypocrite, but the one that I wish to discuss in this blog is a person who professes one thing but does another. The hypocrite imposes standards on others to which his or her own behavior does not comply.
The Anger Hypocrite
One specific type of hypocrite that I often see in my couples work is what I call the anger hypocrite.
Simply explained, the anger hypocrite expects their partner not to lose anger control while they themselves rage uncontrollably and rarely control their own anger, frustration or displeasure. The anger hypocrite justifies their behavior by convincing themselves that their anger is a normal reaction to the horrible behavior displayed by their partner.
But, when you stop and think about it, is it fair to expect more of your partner than you deliver? Put in another realm, if you and your partner are both alcoholics and both agree to stop drinking, would you expect him/her to stop drinking while you continued (and then become upset when they drink)? Or, is it fair to demand financial responsibility from your partner if you are a spendthrift or don’t stick to an agreed upon budget? Preaching one thing but doing another spells hypocrisy, doesn’t it?
Think about your anger and your partner’s anger. Do you do yourself what you are asking your partner to do? If not, I encourage you to look in the mirror as a first step toward managing couples anger.
The average anger hypocrite liberally spews it out, but can’t tolerate it when directed toward them, even if they invite open and honest communication from their partner. Sometimes their goal is to actually get a rise out of their partner by purposely provoking them. They repeatedly poke the rattle snake with a stick and then play victim when the rattle snake strikes back in defense.
The point is NOT that your partner is justified in the poor way he or she handles their anger.
Rather, the point IS that both of you may need to work on handling couples anger better rather than having the attitude of “what I do is OK – he is the one who needs to change.” Instead of repeatedly escalating each other with anger triggers, why not change the “dance,” break the gridlock, and start communicating as a couple in healthier ways?
Let me share a typical case. Forty six year old Jim, a married (8 years) small business owner, is arrested over the weekend following a marital conflict at home during which he yelled, screamed, put his fist though a wall, and generally terrified his family (but there was no physical hitting and he did not yell at the children). The police were called. He went to jail, got out later on a $50,000 bond and now has a restraining order against him. He is currently sleeping on a friend’s couch.
I saw Jim the following day. Nice guy. Very pleasant, but feeling very sheepish and guilty over what had happened at home. He had no history of violence and is beloved by his co-workers and peers in the business community. Even at home, most of the time he is very passive and quiet. He is considered a decent and loving father, although he is not as involved with this family as his wife would like.
Asked to explain what had happened to get him in so much trouble, Jim related that he indeed did do all the things his wife accused him of. He did indeed yell, shout, throw things and verbally abuse her. But, he added, this followed a solid three hours of her yelling at himfor a variety of minor social offenses. He tried to escape first by just sitting there quietly, then by escaping to the bathroom. But she followed him continuing the tirade until he exploded. He sees his anger as defensive anger (to protect himself from the attack), rather than being angry at his wife before she started yelling and criticizing.
A Final Perspective
There are times of course when you are with a hostile, angry partner and his or her anger has little to do with how you are. But, many times this is not the case and the couples anger has developed as a result of how you are with each other.
Now, we teach in our anger management classes and programs that each of us is responsible for handling our emotions (including anger) no matter what the provocation.
Yet, shouldn’t both partners be held to the same standard?
Isn’t it hypocritical of Jim’s wife to demand anger control from her husband if she doesn’t show it herself?
If you are indeed an anger hypocrite, or in relationship with one, both of you may need to develop skills to reverse the process of constantly triggering anger in each other which neither is able to diffuse.