How do you experience anger? How do you express it? Are the answers different in your relationship than they are outside it? A study scheduled for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy shows that women but not men are likely to experience and express more anger in relationships than they do generally in their lives.
First let’s talk about what the study didn’t find. Researcher Jodie Kocur and Jeffrey Deffenbacher point out that stereotype in American culture generally holds that men are hot-headed, “more comfortable experiencing anger and expressing anger aggressively,” they write. But their study of 389 college-aged participants found no difference in how men and women experience anger, and showed that, in general, women are less likely than men to control the anger they feel.
The researchers describe this mix of anger experience and expression using the words trait anger, anger-in, anger-out, and anger-control. Between men and women, there was no difference in trait anger (how much anger a person generally feels), anger-in (“boiling on the inside,” they write), or anger-out (“becoming verbally aggressive”). But men report controlling their anger more than women, for example “calming down” when feeling angry.
So forget about that guns-blazing male, cowboy stereotype – at least on a population level! And that’s the thing about statistics: any single case may break the mold, but it seems that at least in this study, men were generally more likely to control their anger than women.
But what about relationships? It turns out that how men and women experience and express anger depends on where they’re experiencing and expressing it – are you in a relationship or not? When the researchers had their subjects answer the same questions about anger, this time with a relationship in mind, they found that “men reported less anger than women, whereas women reported greater, outward, negative anger expression than men.”
Again, outside relationships, men and women have equal anger levels, but inside relationships, women both experience and express more anger than men.
How can that be? Well, one interesting explanation the researchers offer is that women appeared to control their anger slightly more in general than they did in relationships, whereas men controlled their anger more in relationships than in general. This means that in relationships, women were more willing to “let it out,” whereas men were more willing to let it out in public. The funny thing is these anger imbalance didn’t depend on the relationship – the researchers found that things like relationship satisfaction, closeness and length still left women slightly more angry and willing to show it than men.
Here’s the good news: despite these gender differences, people tended to have overall less anger in relationships than in their lives in general. Though partners in a relationship don’t suppress their anger as much with each other, they feel less anger in the relationship than they feel outside of it.
Again, any study that draws its conclusions from statistics can only describe what generally happens – how do most people and most couples experience anger? But any individual or unique couple may certainly experience anger differently.
I’d love to hear about your experiences of anger in relationships! Does your experience match the study? Let me know in the comments or at the social media links below!