Hysteria When Your Partner Is Too Calm – Free Ebook

There are arguments in which one person will
get so upset that they start to behave in

ways that range far beyond the imagined norms
of civilised conduct: they speak in a highly

pitched voice, they exaggerate, they weep,
they beg, their words become almost incoherent;

they pull their own hair; they bite their
own hand; they roll on the floor.

Unsurprisingly, it can become supremely tempting
for their partner to assert that this dramatic

behaviour means they have evidently gone mad

  • and to close them down on this score. To

press the point home, the unagitated partner
may start to speak in a preternaturally calm

way, as if addressing an unruly dog or a red-faced
two year old. They may assert that, since

the partner has grown so unreasonable, there
doesn’t seem to be any point in continuing

the conversation – a conclusion which drives
the distressed partner to further paroxysms

and convulsions.

It is natural to propose that the person who
loses their temper in the course of an argument

thereby loses any claim to credibility. Whatever
point they may be trying to make seems automatically

to be invalidated by the fact that they are
doing so while in a chaotic state. The only

priority seems to be to shift attention to
how utterly awful and immature they are being.

It is evident: the one who is calm is good;
the one who is frothing and spluttering is

a cretin.

Unfortunately, both partners end up trapped
in an unproductive cycle that benefits neither

of them. There’s a moment when the calm
one may turn and say: ‘Since you are mad,

there’s no point in talking to you.’ The
awareness – in the raging lover’s mind – that,

as they rant and flail, they are
throwing away all possibility of being properly

attended to or understood feeds their ever
mounting sense of panic: they become yet more

demented and exaggerated, further undermining
their credibility in the discussion. Hearing

their condition diagnosed as insane by the
calm one serves to reinforce a suspicion that

perhaps they really are mad, which in turn
weakens their capacity not to be so. They

lose confidence that there might be any reasonable
aspect to their distress which could (theoretically)

be explained in a clear way if only they could
stop crying.

‘I’m not going to listen to you any further
if you keep making such a fuss,’ the calm

partner might go on to say – prompting ever
more of precisely this ‘fuss’. The frustrated

one is gradually turned into a case study
fit only for clinical psychology or a straight

jacket. They are, as we might put it, pathologized,
held up as someone who is actually crazy,

rather than as an ordinary human who is essentially
quite sane but has temporarily lost their

self-possession on account of an extremely
difficult situation.

On the other side of the equation, the person
who remains calm is automatically cast – by

their own imperturbable nature and subtle
skills at public relations – as decent and

reasonable. But we should bear in mind that
it is at least in theory entirely possible

to be cruel, dismissive, stubborn, harsh and
wrong – and keep one’s voice utterly steady.

Just as one can, equally well, be red-nosed,
whimpering and incoherent – and have a point.

We need to keep in mind a heroically generous
attitude: rage and histrionics can be the

symptoms of a desperation that sets in when
a hugely important intimate truth is being

blatantly ignored or denied, without the uncontrolled
person being either evil or monstrous.

Obviously the method of delivery is drastically
unhelpful; obviously it would always be better

if we didn’t start to cry. But it is not
beyond understanding or, in theory at least,

forgiveness if we were to do so. It’s horrible
and frightening to witness someone getting

intensely worked up – but with the benefit
of perspective, their inner condition calls

for deep compassion rather than a lecture.
We should remember that only someone who internally

felt their life was in danger would end up
in a mess in a discussion.

We should keep this in mind because sometimes
it will be us who fall into a deranged state;

we won’t always be the aggrieved, cooler-headed
party. We should all have a little film of

ourselves at our very worst moments from which
we replay brief highlights as we witness the

other frothing and shouting and so remember
that while we ourselves looked mad, our contortions

were only the outer signs of an inner agony
at being unable to make ourselves understood

on a crucial point by the person we relied

We can stay calm with almost everyone in our
lives. If we lose our temper with our partners,

it is (at best, in part) because we are so
invested in them and our joint futures. We

shouldn’t invariably hold it against someone
that they behave in a stricken way; it isn’t

(probably) a sign that they are mad or horrible.
Rather, as we should have the grace to remember,

it is just that they love and depend on us
very much.

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