Why Is Male Anger So Threatening?
Until about a year ago, I’d never really heard my boyfriend raise his voice. This was partly because we’d been living apart for our first two years together, so we’d avoided a lot of the quotidian challenges that make people snap at each other. But it was also, in large part, because he is gentle and considerate almost to a fault. Everyone says, “Oh, he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” but he wouldn’t even hurt a fly’s feelings.
Still, he’s a human being with a stressful job, and once we moved in together I found that there were times when he would express general frustration by slamming cabinet doors a little harder than necessary, or by talking to me with evident tension in his voice. And every time, even though I knew I was in no danger, I would be utterly paralyzed with fear. Usually I would try to keep my voice bright and even, but I’m sure it was obvious I was doing this out of self-preservation: Don’t make any sudden moves. Other times, I shut down.
He took this amiss at first. When someone is self-evidently terrified of you, and you haven’t really done anything to inspire that level of terror, it’s hard not to be mystified and maybe a bit hurt. And shouldn’t people get to blow off a little steam, when they’re clearly not being threatening or violent or even especially loud? Finally, he tried to explain to me that “it isn’t about you,” at which point I got my emotions in order and started responding with more equanimity. Just kidding! I burst into tears.