When tempers flare, it’s no good for anyone…
And when “low boiling” anger is constant in a person’s day-to-day life, not only can those flares happen at any moment – the tension you don’t see is doing just as much damage.
Before we get into what to do about anger in your marriage, let’s first explore how and why it happens.
Anger is, in many ways, a secondary emotion. It’s the byproduct of other negative feelings, such as:
These painful emotions tend to be more internal, and for most people, pretty tough to deal with and/or express to their spouse.
Anger is, then, the outward projection of trying to wrestle with those tough feelings. This happens in a couple of ways:
• If one spouse says something that makes the other feel inferior, stupid, ashamed, etc., the knee-jerk response is one of anger – directed at the person they blame for causing the bad feelings.
• If underlying negativity is more or less ongoing, tiny things can trigger outbursts of anger. What might seem innocuous or unrelated could actual strike a nerve, bring out those painful emotions, and result in an unexpected angry reaction.
One other reason for anger – similar, but a little bit different – are feelings of frustration. This type of anger stems from feeling unheard, ignored, or ineffective.
This is the type of anger that comes from making the same request time and time again, from repeatedly encountering the same problems, and so on.
But to dig a little deeper, we have to understand why our spouses might feel the way they do… Why the things we say or do (or in many cases, don’t do) contribute to their negative feelings and eventually make them angry.
To do this, we have to think about unique, individual triggers.
First, think about what pushes your own buttons. Are there things you feel self conscious about? Ongoing problems (in any aspect of your life) that make your blood boil just thinking about them?
Well, everyone has those types of issues!
Your spouse has their own unique set of triggers too, and even if they can’t articulate them very well, these triggers are the source of all their anger. Reducing the amount of anger in your marriage starts with identifying and admitting to them.
Once you have a good idea of each other’s triggers, you can work to avoid them – or at least change the way you approach the “problem topics.”
One effective way is through the use of “I statements.”
Instead of saying “You didn’t call me! Why are you so forgetful?” – instead use a statement that focuses on the way it makes you feel.
“I feel neglected and worried when you don’t call. It makes me feel like I’m not a priority to you.”
Phrasing your frustrations in such a way does two important things:
• It removes direct blame
• It helps mitigate your own anger because you have to consider the complex emotions you’re feeling in those moments
Instead of making your spouse feel inferior or ashamed for not calling (which may provoke anger and defensiveness), you’re making your feelings the focus – not their shortcomings.
This also helps you focus on the problem… Not the person.
Triggers can be nearly anything, from certain phrases (like being told to “calm down”) to name calling, from eye rolling and dismissive attitudes to tones of voice…
And while it may take some time and effort to identify these things in yourself and your spouse, any progress you can make is well worth it!
Most of these triggers are rooted in earlier experiences, whether from childhood or past relationships, or even from earlier stages of the marriage. Ask your spouse to think about these things (while you do too), and when one of your buttons gets pressed… STOP!
Take a moment to let your spouse know how it makes you feel, and ask that they do the same. This can stop so many arguments before they spiral out of control, and drastically reduce the amount of anger that happens between the two of you.
If you can both be aware of why you’re feeling the way you do, you can focus on those “source feelings” instead of just reacting with outward anger.
It might not be perfect, and it might not work every single time, but when tempers start to bristle, when tensions start to run high, focus on the why of the issue:
• What specifically happened? (stick to the singular issue at hand)
• How does it make each of you feel? (evaluate yourself and be honest)
• Is anger masking another emotion? (get to the root of how you feel)
When you step outside yourself a little – and understand some of your spouse’s core emotions – you can make conflicts about the issue in front of you, not about every issue you’ve ever had…
If you can keep anger in check, you can avoid saying hurtful things, overreacting, blaming, name calling, insulting, and making things much worse than they already are.
Anger doesn’t solve problems. It only clouds the issue and makes things worse. You have the power to control it, though – you just have to understand why it happens.