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From rage to grief in a relationship

From rage to grief in relationships

His rage was that of an abandoned child. At 55 years old, he was no longer that abandoned child, but the child consciousness lived on within him. Rage had flared throughout his life and was now threatening to end his marriage. His wife of thirty years had had enough; she would no longer bear witness (or brunt) to the rage of the man she had shared a life with. From this time onward, something would change. Either he found his way beyond rage, or he would proceed upon life’s journey without her company.

She was finally very clear about the line she had drawn. It was a boundary thirty years in the making. (This is how our most important boundaries often form, slowly, over time). It broke her heart, but nourished her soul.

He quickly recognized her clarity, and he believed what she told him. It infuriated him initially, but he also came to respect her for taking this position and standing up for her own well-being. If only he had been able to stand up for himself with such surety and self-respect. How many times had he resorted to rage-ful defiance instead of a mature integrity over the course of his own life? Reflecting upon his inability flooded him with shame, the feeling his rage had protected him from.

Rage becomes grief

I witnessed this man break, facing his loss, and no longer able to fend off the feelings of shame. His breaking continued over the course of weeks. He broke and broke and broke. His breaking became grief.

He grieved at his weakness. He grieved for his misdeeds, his lost opportunities, his unfulfilled potential. He grieved for his children and their experiences of him as a father. Finally he grieved for his own inner hurt child, an act he never could have imagined before.

In his grief a strange thing happened. The man softened. Grief had taken the place of rage in his heart. Was it better? It was different. Time would tell.

Rage is arrogance. Grief is humility.

Rage is arrogance; grief is humility. Rage can feel like power; grief is often fraught with shame. The two experiences appear (and feel) oppositional, and yet they are also linked. What is the thread that connects them?

This kind of grief takes time to ripen. It comes from and connects us to the depths. Not everyone is ready for this, and so rage finds an easy way in.

Any three year old can rage, and a three year old’s rage doesn’t look much different from a 55 year old’s. Grief is different. I don’t mean to diminish a child’s grief, but a long life somehow adds its own weight, and the longer one lives without feeling their grief, the more weighty it becomes.

Rage displaces grief

Rage covers over grief like anger covers over sadness, and by the time rage is all used up grief will be fully ripened. It hits like waves, breaking over us and breaking us in ways that rage never did.

Rage propped us, propelled us.
Grief sinks us.

Rage is surface – the skin flushes, fists clench.
Grief is deep – the heart breaks, gut aches.

Rage fills us.
Grief hollows us out.

Rage may persist as the primary force in a life until grief matures and steps up to take its place. Or maybe rage burns itself out, falls away, and reveals the grief underlying. Either way, the story of rage finally giving way to grief is a common story, a shared path, a sacred journey.

Not everyone takes the same path, but if you find yourself on this one I hope this piece of writing gives you some kind of orientation, some understanding, some company. (This story is about a man, but it is commonly a woman’s story too.)

To learn more about navigating relationship difficulties, read my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples.

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