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Losing It: How Men and Women Differ in Expressing Anger

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2010-02-12-angryface.jpg It has both bothered and perplexed me to see my husband, who I think is the most loving and gentle man on earth, publicly get righteous with the security person at the airport who refuses to let him on with his carry-on bag because they "changed their carry-on dimensions," or get pissed off at the computer store sales clerk who decides he forgot to mention a $75 charge for removing a hard drive. There have not been many of these incidents, but enough to rattle my world and wonder how the same man who loves and cares for me so tenderly can have such a "beef" with other people.

How do I handle, and is it okay when he gets mad at people who he believes are incompetent or liars?

Right now I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Committed -- her follow-up to her ever-popular Eat, Pray, Love. Committed is about Elizabeth's journey through her questions about marriage, peppered with historical, cultural and philosophical perspectives on marriage from around the world.

To be honest, I wasn't that taken with the book until about two-thirds the way through where she caught me with an "A-ha!" moment.

In reference to her soon-to-be husband, Elizabeth says, "Felipe has the bad habit of sometimes snapping impatiently at people he feels are either behaving poorly or interfering somehow with the quality of his life. This happens rarely, but I wish would happen never."

I have been married now for eight months and while everything about marriage is actually way better than I ever imagined, this one area of my husband getting angry at outside people has not settled with me completely.

But why?

In Elizabeth's case, she explains that whenever she sees Felipe "fly off the handle" in public it messes around with her cherished personal narrative about what a gentle and tender-hearted guy she has chosen to love. And it is this messing around that, as she puts it: "frankly, pisses me off more than anything else."

In my case, I think there is definitely an element of that and also frankly, a fear of my own anger. Let's face it ... if a woman vents her anger in public, she is usually classified as "crazy" or "a bitch." I don't really want to be called either of those things, and I would fancy a guess that there are a good number of other women who feel the same way.

As a result, women generally tend to vent less than men in public, and internalize the anger instead.

"While he [Felipe] expresses zero tolerance towards idiots and incompetence, I think that behind every incompetent idiot there lies a really sweet person having a bad day," says Elizabeth.

2010-02-12-femalebrainweb.jpgI would say that this is also an element to my equation. Researchers have shown that females have a brain that is more oriented toward interconnectedness, global thinking, and as a result, more compassion. But I wonder, does this compassionate view sometimes keep us from speaking up for ourselves?

In a conversation on this topic, my husband wondered if women also forgo the rightness or wrongness of a situation (the morality, let's say) because they don't want to take the heat of looking bad. "A woman might want to save face instead of admitting that someone else did something wrong," he says.

If someone does something "wrong" to him, like try to overcharge him, he'll write the CEO of the company. He doesn't care about being nice. In other words, he's not worried about the CEO being upset with him.

Maybe we can learn from each other, my husband and I.

Maybe he could gain some compassion for those he is considering "idiots" and let go of some self-inflicted stress. And maybe I could gain some chutzpah and let go of the fear of speaking up for myself.

(Actually, I am learning already because I recently wrote my first letter to a CEO of a company that had crossed some professional boundaries, and ... it worked!)

When it comes to anger, I'm learning there is a difference between losing it and using it.

What do you think?

Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed. is a writer and editor specializing in health and wellness, women's issues, social change, personal growth and empowerment. Her work has been featured by The Huffington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, LonelyPlanet.tv and other popular media sites. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.

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