Yesterday I was meeting with my Perinatal Consultation group and our topic for the month was “Postpartum Couples”. We had a really interesting discussion about some of the relationship patterns that we commonly see in couples struggling with the transition to parenthood. Postpartum women feeling incredibly angry with their male partners was discussed at length, as well as the ways men typically respond to the anger directed at them. In my experience, men are generally taken off guard, confused, hurt, stunned, and scared (though this last emotion may not be acknowledged) when confronted with female anger and aggression. While women, on the other hand, feel like their anger is needed to get through to their partner, and have no idea how their anger is impacting him. (And so she may actually get angrier and angrier!) It’s a really vicious and painful cycle!
If the couple is stuck in this cycle, and seeks out couples therapy; since the majority of psychotherapists are women, chances are, now the couple will see a female therapist. So now the male partner has to agree to go into a room with two women to talk about what a terrible partner he must be! Yikes! Obviously, this is not what should happen in couples therapy, but it must be incredibly difficult and courageous for men to come to couples therapy, especially with a female therapist, when they have been getting the message from their partner that they are a bad father or husband, and are really letting her down, and anticipating that their couples therapist will see it the same way and join in blaming him for their relationship problems.
I came across this image for “Men Safe Area” and would love to add this to my office door!
For men, “safety” is generally emotional – safety from being gained up on by their female partner and female therapist, safety from being shamed, and safety from being blamed for all the problems in the relationship – as each member of the couple plays an equal role in co-creating their negative cycles. For all the men out there that have summoned up the courage to go to couples therapy, thank you! And for all the men that have thought about it, but then think, I’d rather get a root canal without anesthesia” please know, couples therapists know how intense female anger can be, and we know that her anger is usually a defense when she feels hurt, and misunderstood and needs you to be there for her! Her anger is like a smoke signal for an unmet need. It’s OK you don’t recognize it as that, she may not know how to tell you, or maybe she did tell you, but you missed it by accident – that’s what couple’s therapy can help you with! It’s about learning to see yourself and your partner more clearly! No one gets thrown under the bus!
For a comedic look at the fear men have about female anger, I offer you this flash back to Sex and the City where Carrie reacts to her then boyfriend breaking up with her on a Post-It note! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juM99Ke9D6g
If you are a therapist in the Chicago area and are interested in cultivating your interest and expertise in Perinatal Mental Health, a new round of the Perinatal Consultation group will be starting in October. You are welcome to contact me directly for details at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!