Alex and Courtney are an engaged couple in their early thirties, living together in the city. One evening Alex was hoping to hang out with Courtney, but Courtney’s friend came over unexpectedly. Courtney sensed that Alex was seething in the other room as she and her friend visited for several hours. In another incident, the dog started barking when someone was ringing the doorbell excessively. Alex was irritated by this incident and Courtney withdrew for three hours. Alex got angrier as time passed, thinking that Courtney was giving him the silent treatment, like her mom used to do to her dad. But Courtney was afraid to discuss this incident with Alex, anticipating it wouldn’t go well.
Alex lived with a silent rage. Small incidents elicited his anger, and even though he wasn’t violent and didn’t typically verbally attack Courtney overtly. Still, his internal fury pushed Courtney away—sometimes literally into another room. When Alex was single, his seething would have been less of an issue. But with a live-in finance, he needed to recognize the impact of his affect.
Typically, Courtney would withdraw when Alex seemed in a mood, but occasionally she would poke the bear—comment on his effect in slightly critical ways—which only increased his ire. Courtney needed to talk directly with Alex about his anger and the impact it was having on her. In our couples counseling sessions, she was learning to do this safely, without the fear of retribution.