Chronic Anger is Common
Judy Watson-Remy candidly admits what many other women won't say out loud: She's angry at her husband a lot of the time. "We both work, but I'm still the one responsible for all of the housework and the kids' stuff," says the mother of two from Brooklyn. "My husband does nothing around the house, and that really annoys me."
She has plenty of company: "Chronic anger is common in a lot of marriages -- especially when a couple has young children," says Helene G. Brenner, Ph.D., author of I Know I'm in There Somewhere: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice. The demands of raising kids can take a toll on even the best of relationships, and when couples don't have the time and energy to work through their issues, anger and resentment can build. The result? Consider the words of one angry wife: "I used to be madly in love," she says. "Now I'm just mad."
The Roots of Rage
One of the most common complaints marriage counselors say they hear from angry young moms is that their husbands don't shoulder a fair share of domestic chores. And it's not just the physical labor that gets to them. Women also feel burdened by mental overload -- having to keep track of every shoe size, doctor's appointment, birthday party, and more.
"When my kids were little, I owned the family to-do list," says Lisa Earle McLeod, a mother of two from Atlanta and author of Forget Perfect, a humorous self-help book for women. "I'd say to my husband, 'Do you know when their Girl Scouts meeting is? Do you even know they're in Girl Scouts?'"
Other common gripes for women are that their spouses don't pay enough attention to them or are insensitive to their concerns and needs. "My husband works all day and then comes home and hangs out with the kids," says an at-home mother of three kids under age 5. "After they're in bed, he'll plop himself on the couch and watch ESPN. He doesn't even want to have a conversation with me, and that really makes me crazy. I'm with the kids all day, taking care of them. Don't I deserve to have someone take care of me once in a while?"
Still, she's reluctant to tell her husband how she feels. "I don't want to be the nagging wife," she says. "I know he works hard, and he's tired, and he deserves some time to himself." Every so often, though, her simmering anger will explode into rage. "Some little thing will set me off, and I'll go crazy on him," she confesses.
Explosions like that are typical. "Anger is a scary feeling for women, and they often don't feel comfortable expressing it," says Fiona Travis, Ph.D., a psychologist in Columbus, Ohio. "But they tend to hold on to their resentment, and those feelings build. Then, when things reach the breaking point, all the pain, hurt, and frustration come flooding out."
The Fallout of Anger
Psychologists say that women tend to experience temporary relief after an angry outburst. It feels good to release pent-up emotions, and it helps alleviate the stress that rage can cause. Ultimately, though, it's counterproductive to allow things to reach the boiling point. "What happens then is that a husband will dismiss his wife's feelings because in his eyes she's screaming like a maniac and not making sense," Dr. Brenner says. "As a result, he doesn't take her seriously."
What's worse, repeated meltdowns can cause a man to withdraw even further. "Female rage can be frightening to men," says Daphne Stevens, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Macon, Georgia. Males react to confrontation with physical symptoms of stress: Their blood pressure goes up, and their heart rate increases. So to avoid the discomfort, a man may simply tread carefully around his wife and her issues or avoid her completely.
As couples grow distant, the first casualty is usually their sex life. "Women have little interest in sex with someone they don't feel emotionally connected to," says psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., coauthor of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. And husbands, despite their reputation for boundless lust, tend to avoid intimacy with wives who are mad at them. Over time, lack of sex in a marriage will deepen the estrangement and further erode the relationship. Simmering anger is also hurtful to children, experts say. When women feel resentful, they're more prone to lose their patience with their kids.
Even if they do manage to keep their feelings inside, constant resentment -- and snippy comments or cold, distant glances between partners -- give children a bad example of what marriage should be like.