Anger Busting - Woman Wants to Fix Fiancee's Family
My fiancé and I are planning to be married this summer. “Jack” is a great guy, we have a lot in common, and we are looking forward to a wonderful life together. It is not Jack I am worried about, it is his family. In the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time with Jack at various family events or just hanging out on the weekends, and I am appalled at how they treat each other. The standard mode of communication between everyone – parents, brothers, sisters, and the odd uncle or two – is screaming. I have never been around such blatant hostility in all of my life. I feel like I am stuck in the Jerry Springer show every time I am with them. One minute we can be having a pleasant conversation or sitting down to a quiet dinner and then BOOM – someone gets their feelings hurt or starts an argument and it gets really ugly. More than once I have been ready to call 911. I am very worried. So far, “Jack” hasn’t demonstrated this kind of behavior with me; as a matter of fact, he is constantly apologizing for the way his family behaves. However, I am concerned for how this might affect our marriage. For one thing, I don’t look forward to spending Christmas with these people, and I certainly don’t want to raise my kids around this outlandish and possible dangerous behavior. I want to find a way to get at least some members of his family into some kind of anger management counseling before it is too late. Do you have any suggestions?
Worried Bride-to-Be in Washington, DC
I am sorry to hear of the difficulties taking place in your fiancé’s family. Unfortunately, this is an often repeated theme in the field of anger management. Anger is a very destructive force, and the fear and resentment it causes can quickly infect entire families down through several generations as people pass their pain on to each other.
I am deeply sympathetic to your concern, and I understand your desire to try to do something to help them, but you must be very careful here. Deep seated anger patterns take on most of the characteristics of any other addictive behavior, and as such, presents often insurmountable challenges to someone outside the system who wants to change things. The more you try to push, the more they will push back, and the more likely you are to become obsessed with “fixing” them. You can easily become addicted to the desire to control and change this family, which will not help them at all and will only make you sick. What’s worse, you could end up getting sucked into their anger vortex and end up acting more and more like them.
You must keep in mind that this family believes that – for better or worse – this anger pattern is NORMAL, because it is all they have ever known. They might dislike the effect that a single anger event might have on one or more of them interacting with each other, but they may also vigorously defend their integrity as a family against “do-gooders” like you who come in to criticize and control them. You must proceed very carefully here.
Actually, the most important thing I would suggest is that you encourage your fiancé to take an anger management course (our online course is inexpensive and easy to use: www.AngerManagementSeminar.com ). Even if you don’t think he has a serious problem with anger, the fact that he was raised in that environment almost absolutely guarantees that his anger patterns will worsen during the course of your relationship, so the sooner he can learn to recognize the warning signs and learn effective methods to manage his own anger, the happier you both will be. It would also be a good idea for you to take the course, too, because it will help you to understand how anger works and how to deal with it effectively in your own life. Believe me, if you are going to enter into a long term relationship with this family, you will have plenty of opportunities to get angry, because anger is contagious.
If you and your fiancé find this course helpful, then you have at least helped to shore up the stability of your own relationship and that may be the best you can ever hope for. I am not trying to sound negative, but the truth is that family systems are very difficult to change. It is hard enough to develop the leverage it takes to help one person change long-term patterns. It is a staggering challenge to change a whole family. Not completely impossible, but very, very daunting.
After you complete the course, if you continue and your fiancé/husband continue to struggle with these issues, I would suggest checking out a group like Alanon. I know you haven’t mentioned alcohol being a factor in these anger issues, and hopefully alcohol abuse is not a major problem here. However, Alanon is a very good source of support for people who are coping with addictive behaviors in the ones they love. Alanon can help you recover/maintain your sanity and help you avoid a descent into co-dependency, which is often a part of such situations. Also, developing a relationship with a qualified family therapist might be helpful, because I suspect you will need assistance sorting through the issues that will continue to arise in the future.
Again, I would urge you to proceed with caution, and ground your expectations in reality. First – make sure you take care of yourself and don’t get sucked into trying to save this family; they must be willing to save themselves. After that, encourage your fiancé to work the program himself. Then, develop a strategy for dealing with the extended family.