EPISODE 3: Anger Management
:00:09 – LAURA STASSI
I’m Laura Stassi, and forget the grumpy “get off my lawn” stereotype. Studies have shown that as people get older, they get happier. But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally or easily … especially if we go through a later-in-life romantic split. That’s a permanent course change, and it can lead to emotions that can be very destructive.
“Anger Management.” That’s the topic of this episode of “Dating While Gray: The Grown-Up’s Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships.”
I first met Bill when we were in high school. We’ve kept in touch over the years, mainly through social media. He knows I love music and that I’ve been through some stuff. Bill loves music and he’s been through some stuff, too. One day, he sent me a song that to me sounds angry. But Bill finds it motivational.
0:01:09 – BILL
I think heavy metal music is rage in itself. But I think that I find some of the heavy that I listen to — you know, you’re just enjoying the workout, you’re not even paying attention to the lyrics. And I was listening to Pandora, I don’t know, iHeart radio, something, and this song came on and I was like, I’m going to go home and search those lyrics. So “Take Back Your Life,” by Disturbed, just became like an anthem. And I actually printed the lyrics so that I could read them on more occasions.
The lyrics are just: Take back your life. You got to let them know you won’t be denied. Take back your life. Time to take it back again. Make it worth reminding yourself. Don’t let this moment pass you by. You know it’s just like — don’t sit there and watch it fall apart. There is no one coming to save you. You’ve got to make your stand now. Stop bleeding from a broken heart and take time to let go of what used to be now.
I mean, is that not separation, anxiety, divorce, rage, with beautiful lyrics?
0:02:22 – LAURA STASSI
Reading the lyrics separate from the song, it’s like, okay, I get it.
0:02:26 – BILL
I think every person that goes through a separation goes through the highs and lows. I’ve hit every mountain and I’ve hit every valley. And some of those valleys have been really, really, really, really low; and some of the peaks have been really, really high with some of the changes I made to be a better person and be a better self.
0:02:46 – LAURA STASSI
Even though we are at an age where people think we can’t make changes in our lives, it sounds like you’ve made changes in your life.
0:02:53 – BILL
I have. I really have. I’ve joined a men’s group through church. I’ve attempted to control some really alcoholic, depression issues by seeking counseling. That has helped tremendously. God bless my dog for getting me up every day to go for a walk. My pity mix is my best friend, and I have tried really hard to be friends with my estranged wife, which at times is really easy and other times is very, very difficult because of almost 15 years of marriage.
0:03:32 – LAURA STASSI
Let’s talk a little bit about anger management. What’s your relationship, history with expressing anger, and has it served you well?
0:03:41 – BILL
My history with it. All right. So when I got divorced the first time, I did triathlons, and my triathlon workouts for my rage-against-the-machine type of situation and trying to get rid of the anger that I had, to have to walk away from two beautiful children. But I remained in their lives and did extraordinary things to keep that contact with them. But I find that workouts, music just really helped me.
I used to be a really big reader. Lately, based on the health issues I’m going through right now, I can’t do a lot of reading. So I do sporadic, daily devotional type readings or I see things on Instagram. Either they have a religious tone or don’t, about making yourself better. So I seek ways to get rid of the rage. And some of the music me and you have shared — it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but sometimes the lyrics will just make you smile where, as you go through a separation, you’ll hear a song and say, oh, wow, that’s the song that me and my ex had. Or you hear a song that’s brand new out, and it makes you cry because you miss your relationship. Or maybe you only miss the good parts of the relationship, I don’t know.
0:05:01 – LAURA STASSI
So it sounds to me like you have always sort of naturally channeled anger in a healthy way. Has that always been the case, though?
0:05:12 – BILL
No. That goes back to like, using anger to drink in excess. I am a man. I will admit that I run to a closet. I don’t communicate, I don’t share when everything you read about life and trying to have a perfect partnership is about communications and sometimes, I fail at that.
I think I’ve worked really hard through my entire life to be the best possible person that I can be in the oldest son, and trying to take care of my brother and a sister and things after Mom and Dad passed; and take care of my kids and just be the best I can. But sometimes it’s okay. We’re human, we fail. We’re not perfect.
My rage is like, if I come out of my male closet it’s to go work out, get rid of the rage, and then come in and try to be a communicator, try to talk things out, no matter how difficult they are, and sometimes they’re too difficult to talk about. So now — I can’t say that I’m good at that. I run to a closet, I hide my emotions in there, and I find a way to come out on the better end. But sometimes I’m good and sometimes, I completely suck.
0:06:27 – LAURA STASSI
Do you think that played a role in either one of your relationships?
0:06:30 – BILL
Well, I think relationships are two roads. I saw something that says to this couple that was married for 60-something years. And the guy said marriage is not 50-50, it’s 100-100. And I bought into that because I truly believe it is. So if you’re giving 100 and your partner is only giving 20, there’s something wrong. And I don’t know how to correct my partner. I’m not supposed to, I’m just supposed to be my best self, and sometimes I’m not my best self. So that’s all I can really comment about that right now.
My parents fought like cats and dogs. Then the other side of them was like, two people loved each other more than life itself. So was it life pressures? Was it alcoholism? Was it my dad serving in the military and dealing with all the stress that he dealt with? I spent 30 years working for the federal government, seeing some really horrific things, and 911 included. I know that I have a little PTSD that’s related to digging fire scenes and seeing the worst, as well as being a federal agent and dealing with people who sometimes are the worst of society. So I think when we talk about rage, I think some of my rage can come from the profession that I chose and the people that helped me grow up. My dad was a full colonel in the United States Air Force. He was a badass, but, yes, he had his relationship problems too. So I think family does form you, but I don’t think it has to make you.
0:08:08 – LAURA STASSI
I wonder if there was ever a time in your life that you tried to tamp down the anger, like you weren’t even allowed to express it or even feel it.
0:08:17 – BILL
Oh, absolutely, through both marriages. I’d get so angry about something and then I would just shut down and kind of run away from it because I didn’t want to be like my dad. I didn’t want to scream at the top of my lungs. I’m not that guy. I just wasn’t going to fight about something that silly, when there’s so much more importance in life than an argument about finances, an argument about children. I would shut down because I wasn’t going to be like my dad.
0:08:46 – LAURA STASSI
Yeah, but then shutting down sometimes leads to, like you said, maybe excessive drinking or just depression sometimes.
0:08:54 – BILL
I did counseling the first marriage, attempted some counseling in the second marriage. But it didn’t go well on both parties. There’s nobody to blame in that second counseling situation. But my personal counseling when I got off the “I’m a badass federal agent, I don’t need help.” Now I’m like, hey man, I’m a man, I’m not perfect, I need help. So when I did that, I started counseling in February and did it almost every week, and it was awesome. It helped me, like, get rid of my rage and anger towards my wife. It made me look at me instead of looking at her and putting all that resentment and anger towards her. I was saying, hey, man, you caused this just as much as she caused this. It’s a hundred and a hundred of failure In counseling. I found that I had to look at myself, had to better myself by doing all the things to, whatever it may be, to make myself better as a man, as a father, as a Christian, as a supervisor over a unit, before I had to medically retire — all of that dealing with people.
0:10:07 – LAURA STASSI
Have you ever had conversations with your kids, now that they’re older, your kids and your step-kids, about anger, about rage, about expressing emotions?
0:10:16 – BILL
Yes. Due to my medical issues, I had to have one of those life weekend talks with both of my kids to talk about wills and final arrangements and everything, because my kids kind of thought my estranged wife would take care of all that and they didn’t have to deal with it. So when we talked about that, I asked them: Back when me and your mom got separated and divorced, did you have anger issues? So we talked about all that.
0:10:43 – LAURA STASSI
Getting that all out there — what a beautiful gift you gave them, to be able to talk about that.
0:10:48 – BILL
It was sad that it had to be a medical situation, but I think it’s something that each and every one of us should do. If it’s 10, 20 years down the road, your kids need you as much as you need them, and you should offer the opportunity for them to vent, share. And you need to have that open arms of, I can accept anything they say without getting angry or getting rage, because it’s about love. That’s all it’s about. It’s about love, and love’s hard.
0:11:16 – LAURA STASSI
Yeah, I love that because love is so many things. It’s a verb, it’s a noun, but it’s also hard.
0:11:28 – BILL
It’s very hard.
0:11:29 – LAURA STASSI
You know, I’m just struck … I feel like I have to ask this question: Do you regret either divorce?
0:11:39 – BILL
The second one? Yes. The first one, no. The second one? All right, I’ll admit this. As I told you what I do for a living. I went to a really heavy depression. I worked for five years for the state and in five years of hundreds of fires and fire investigations, I did some calculations, went back because my counselor asked me, how many do you think you saw? And I went back and calculated that I dealt with over a hundred bodies going to bags that were burned up because of fire-related situations. That caught up with me, and I let it catch up with me. I stopped going to church, I stopped doing activities, I started drinking like a fish.
My ex started running away from me because she didn’t know what to do to help me. I think if I would have sought out help four years ago, three years ago while I was in the midst of doing this, I probably could have saved that marriage. At first, when she said she was done — man, I had so much rage and anger. But then, through growing to myself to be a better person, I have found that I could have done that in the past, but I’m doing it now.
So, that’s why I try to have as much kindness as I can to my exes, because it makes my life a lot better to be kind than to rage. And when I have a rage moment that, hey, I miss wife one or two, that I find healthier things to do other than grab a cold beer or a bottle of scotch or whatever it may be. And I find joy in doing things. I’ve started doing all sorts of new activities that I never did before, such as pickleball, such as disc golf, such as doing more fun things with my dog. I’ll take the dog to a bar to watch a sporting event, and people love my dog. And that brings me joy. So I think you’ve got to find joy where you can find it and not dwell on the fact that, hey, I screwed this up. Yeah, you did, but can you blame the person that left because you screwed up? No, you can’t. You’ve got to take responsibility that, hey, this is what I did. Accept it and move forward to find new rainbows in life — because they are out there.
0:13:59 – LAURA STASSI
Bill also said he’s not currently looking for another romantic partner. He’s focusing on his family, including his grandkids. They call him Papa, and they do crafts together. Last Halloween, they put together a lit-up Halloween ghost for the front porch. It was made with a tomato plant cage, a white sheet, and a Styrofoam ball. Okay, as someone who’s not crafty, I’m seriously impressed.
You know, a lot of men and women are groomed to think of anger as a bad thing, but there are times when it shouldn’t be denied.
(Sounds of glass breaking and shouting)
That’s after the break.
This is what it sounds like inside an event space designed to help people get some rage out.
(Sounds of glass breaking and shouting)
I’m with a woman in her early 50s. She works in higher ed. She told me her therapist recommended she get in touch with her anger. So we’re throwing bottles and drinking glasses against a concrete wall. I’m happy to lend a hand — and a baseball bat.
(Sounds of hitting object)
That’s us, beating up a car. To be honest, it was pretty beat up to begin with. Still, all in all, our mild version of raging felt good.
Earlier that day I sat down with this woman. We’re calling her Anne. I wanted to know why Anne’s therapist said she needed to get mad. I started by asking Anne what name we should call her former husband.
0:15:48 – ANNE
Shall I say the name? So I chose Carrington because I feel like it has a certain connotation around being very self-assured, cocky, and other words that I didn’t – that I did use with you that weren’t very nice.
0:16:06 – LAURA STASSI
Well, we can bleep them, so go ahead and say it.
0:16:09 – ANNE
You know a cocky (bleep).
0:16:13 – LAURA STASSI
Okay, I love that. And apologies to any actual Carringtons out there who are not cocky a-holes.
Okay. So what was it about Carrington that drew him to you in the first place?
0:16:27 – ANNE
Back in the day, he was kind and creative and funny and attentive and fun and loving and unique – really, everything drew me to him in a way that I’d never been drawn to anyone before. Literally, the first day of grad school I saw him and was like oh golly, I think I like him.
0:16:52 – LAURA STASSI
So yeah, it was really immediate.
And it sounds like from your estimation, he felt the same way about you.
0:17:00 – ANNE
Definitely. He had actually seen me a couple of days prior at the school we were attending. I didn’t know this. And he had figured out my name and who I was, and he fessed up to that later on. So it was immediate for both of us, I would say.
0:17:18 – LAURA STASSI
You know, from the outside looking in, it sounds like you were one of those golden couples and golden families.
0:17:25 – ANNE
Yeah, I mean it was wonderful, I loved our life.
0:17:29 – LAURA STASSI
So I know hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, is there a moment or an incident that you can now point to and go okay, maybe things weren’t as wonderful as I thought they were.
0:17:41 – ANNE
Probably four or five years ago, we started to have some pretty challenging conversations, and I saw a change in the way he was communicating with me and sort of the expectations he had of me. I thought it was just part of being married and that we would work through things. And we did some therapy. I certainly wasn’t particularly worried about anything.
But here we are and I’m — again, on hindsight, realizing that in his mind, those things were much bigger than they were to me. And I think they sort of directed his path over the last four or five years in a way that I was unaware of.
0:18:23 – LAURA STASSI
Okay, yeah. And when you say — I mean, I don’t want to get too much into your business, but when you say challenging conversations…
0:18:30 – ANNE
Yeah, sure. I can give like broad …
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was everything from, sort of money issues to how we communicate about the children, how we approach life. Frankly, like he is way more adventurous than I am. I have some pretty significant anxiety. But have since the day I met him, and we’ve always talked about it, but it became a much bigger issue. Yeah, for him and again, I’m understanding now that for him, it was something that he didn’t think we could get past. And I never questioned that we could get past it if we worked together.
0:19:08 – LAURA STASSI
Right, and was he bringing these things up? Or was he responding in a way that you thought, okay, wait a minute, what’s going?
0:19:13 – ANNE
it was some of both. So he would get mad about, let’s say, we had an argument about the kids wanting to do something and one of us was okay with it and the other wasn’t. So he would get angrier than I would expect. I think, yeah, about that. But then the other way in which it was sort of coming out and manifesting was, I would think things are going fine, and then we would be in a conversation and, frankly, he would just look at me with disdain. And that really crushed me, of course, and I wasn’t gonna stand for it. You know I’m, I have, thankfully, a good self-worth and, and so I challenged him on it.
And that’s when we really went into some really deep therapy a couple years ago, and it became clear that he was done. He was almost like, before we even started talking, yeah, so that was rough.
He started saying things in therapy like, I don’t see a way forward. You know, if we were dating, we’d be broken up. So I obviously was getting some big clues. And I said, listen, I am committed. I simply don’t believe these are things that, that should end our marriage. After all we’ve been through together, all we’ve experienced, all we’ve built. Let’s keep working.
And again, it became very clear that he had decided in his mind that it wasn’t gonna work. And I said, I am not gonna be the one to end this marriage. If you want it ended, you have to do it. And so a couple months down the road, finally he’s like, we have to make this decision. I’m like, you tell me. And essentially, he did. He wanted it to come from both of us. And I kept saying, this is not for me. Yeah, this is you. And then it got challenging with kids and stuff and wanting to respect them and knowing what a shock it was gonna be to them.
0:21:09 – LAURA STASSI
They had no idea.
No, it’s hard. No, I mean, I feel for you so …
A lot of us stay in for too long because it’s like. what is this gonna do to our kids?
Do you think that he agreed to go to therapy because he wanted to work it out, or do you think he went to therapy as a way to figure out how to tell you he wanted out?
0:21:29 – ANNE
Definitely the second, definitely the second. He was done. And I was clear, as we were going into therapy, that I wanted to go into strengthen our connection, re-find intimacy and passion, in whatever we do, you know. We were looking at being empty nesters, and I saw an opportunity in front of us, like let’s do therapy and let’s get better than ever. And he was very clear that he was doing therapy so we’d both be okay.
0:22:01 – LAURA STASSI
Okay, how — not to be judgy, but how … what’s the word? Condescending. Carrington, stop being so condescending.
0:22:15 – ANNE
I didn’t pick up on it at all. I was. My thought process was oh, I’m so thankful he wants us both to be okay. Several months in, finally, I was like, oh, you’re not talking at all about Improving our marriage. You want us to be okay when we’re split up.
0:22:33 – LAURA STASSI
Okay, now I have to ask another question, I’m sure everybody’s asking. Do you think there was somebody else involved?
0:22:41 – ANNE
I didn’t at all think that. He said there wasn’t. He promised me those years that we were having the trouble that he would be faithful to me, and I believed him. Looking back and knowing sort of his situation now, I believe he knew somebody, met somebody, something that caught his interest. I Think he was physically faithful to me. But I wonder if he was emotionally faithful because the pace at which they started dating after our separation — not even our divorce — was very quick.
0:23:17 – LAURA STASSI
I’m really sorry because I know that’s very hurtful. During the time you were separated, did you think you all were going to get back together?
0:23:25 – ANNE
No, he was done. When we separated he said, let’s work hard to wrap up our divorce by July. So we separated in January, and he wanted to be done by July. And I was very much in shock about everything at that point and very bewildered that this was happening, and I was sort of — I literally was like okay, fine. So I just kind of did the things I needed to do to work toward that. And then things got a little complicated with our separation agreement and all that stuff. So it was longer, but he very much wanted it to happen as quickly as possible.
0:24:04 – LAURA STASSI
And what were your emotions during this time?
0:24:06 – ANNE
I, like I said, I was bewildered. I only in the last month realized I spent the last year and a half, or a little over a year, in shock. And what that looked like was me just like, putting one foot in front of the other and at times pretending not like things were fine but like my life could go on like normal. And now I realize that was naive, but of course I’ve never been through a divorce before.
So I only knew what I knew. I was devastated. I was terribly heartbroken, crying all the time yet trying to be strong for the kids. I continued working, I continued trying to do stuff with friends, knowing somewhere in my mind that that was the right thing to do. After these many months of just kind of almost being like a zombie and putting one foot in front of the other, my therapist was like, Anne, you are in a grief process. It is real. Everything you’re experiencing is completely appropriate. And this is gonna take time, and the complete heartbreak and crushing pain that you’re feeling is unfortunately part of that.
0:25:20 – LAURA STASSI
I think people who are on the other side of it understand there comes a point where, like my sister explained it to me once, in your mind you will shut the door, and you’ll be able to go on. And for me, shutting the door meant realizing we are not getting back together. And then I was able to go forward. But for me, going forward also meant being really mad and doing some really kind of embarrassing things, all in the name of anger, rage. You know, just fury that who is this person to be treating me like this?
0:26:05 – ANNE
It was funny how many people — all of my friends, several of my family members — would say, aren’t you so angry? And I would just say, no, I’m just devastated. You know, anger isn’t something I’m feeling. And so, again, I talked to my therapist about it, and she just said that it was something that likely would come and that I might have to work to tap into it.
Sure, I have moments where I will cuss his name up and down and left and right to my friends when I’m talking about things that happen or conversations that we have, but it’s very momentary. Again, almost 18 months after the separation, it’s starting to come up a little bit more, but for so long it was weird. It was almost like I felt guilty because I’d spent 30 years, almost, loving him and wanting to protect him.
I tend to be a person who, if I get frustrated, unfortunately, I tend to be that person who ends up crying, keeping a lot in, reflecting later, and having really angry conversations in my head, but not very often letting it out. I am more — I am definitely a feeler, and I do wear my emotions on my sleeve, but they tend to be in the joy department and happiness and love and connection and kindness. And then if I get angry or frustrated, they’re much more … confined? Condensed, I think, is the word.
Contained, thank you. That’s the word.
I don’t think so. I am the daughter of a wonderful cusser, and so I love to drop a good F-bomb.
0:27:49 – LAURA STASSI
Okay, I want you to let loose the F-bomb.
0:27:54 – ANNE
Okay. (Bleep) you, Carrington.
Did that feel good?
It felt great.
0:28:01 – LAURA STASSI
Anne wears a necklace that says, keep going. And, she is. She believes she has some emotional work still to put her marriage and Carrington fully behind her, but she’s finally feeling excited about her future. She’s even thinking about dating. And since I believe the F-bomb can be equally valid for anger and for excitement, I say (bleep) yeah!
Dating While Gray’s audio production and mix is by Steve Lack: Audio. For more on the show, check out datingwhilegray.com. That’s where you can find the latest episodes, plus the archive of previous episodes. You can also find links to send me questions, comments, tips and true stories through email and voicemail. You know I love hearing from you. While you’re there, sign up for the free Dating While Gray e-newsletter, delivered every Friday to your inbox. That’s datingwhilegray.com. I’m Laura Stassi. Thanks for listening.
Transcribed by https://podium.page