Dealing With an Angry Spouse
An angry spouse can be hard to live with. Anger can erupt when you least expect it. In this article I help you understand it and provide a strategy to resolve it.
The internet is full of tips regarding anger management. Management of anger is not the answer. Resolving the anger in an angry spouse leads to a happier household. To help an angry spouse you have to get to the root cause of what is creating the anger.
What Causes Anger
Anger is caused by many things. It can be an obvious reaction to a bad situation, or come out of nowhere, triggered by what appears to be an irrelevant event.
“Anger is a natural response to perceived threats.” – Mayo Clinic
Here are some of the more common causes to anger:
- Selfishness – not getting what one wants
- Fear = being aggressive to counter an unknown
- Pain of rejection – feeling loss
- Unchangeable unsatisfactory conditions – feeling a loss of control
- Expectations – another form of not getting what one wants
- Loss of control – lashing out when vulnerable
- Feelings of injustice – also, not getting what one wants or expects
Certified in Strategic Interventions, I am familiar with anger and how it manifests itself. The above list comes from various sources all trying to explain anger. The list is valid, but it describes what I call surface issues. Selfishness, fear, pain of rejection, loss of control, etc., all describe why one can be angry, but on the surface. Dealing with these issues would NOT resolve the anger issue. To resolve anger, we need to get to the root cause of the anger.
If you are familiar with my work, you know I often refer to the 6 human needs. These are needs we all have. The 6 human needs are certainty, uncertainty, significance, love, growth, and contribution. I explain a little more about the 6 human needs in my post about the 6 Pillars of a Happy Marriage. The 6 human needs are important because they explain why we do the things we do. All of our actions and behaviors can be traced to one or more of the 6 human needs.
The 6 human needs are very important in understanding yourself and your partner. It is so important that my coaching programs begin with an exercise on determining the 6 human needs for yourself and your spouse, and positive ways they can be fulfilled.
In regards to anger, one will exhibit anger when what fulfills one or more of the human needs, is in reality or perceived, taken away.
For example, if I have love as a top human need, anytime I feel I am not getting the love I need, I can express my lack of love in the form of anger. I might lash out at a particular time I try to connect with my spouse and am turned down. Or, the anger might be triggered by something that simply reminds me of the love I desire. My spouse may think I am being selfish. My spouse may think I am expecting too much of her.
Do you see how the surface issue can be used to explain the anger, but in reality, the underlying human need is really the cause?
The Angry Spouse
An article in Psychology Today offers this:
“Problem anger comes in many forms, e. g, any resentment, restlessness, impatience, agitation, irritability, or sarcasm that motivates behavior contrary to your best interests. But the experience of these unpleasant emotions can be invaluable guides, if you use them like a gas gauge. They tell you that your current state of core value is too low and that you need to fill it up, that is, act according to your deepest values.” – Psychology Today
Replace “core value” with human need, and it ties in nicely with what I mentioned earlier.
When faced with an angry spouse, most people either cower in hopelessness either in private or in public, or lose temper themselves and escalate the situation to an all out fight. The biggest challenge in dealing with an angry spouse is not becoming angry yourself.
Dr. Greg Baer, author of the Real Love series of books, has an extraordinary story that will help you understand what is going on when your spouse becomes angry. To paraphrase, the story goes like this. Imagine you are at a pool on a beautiful hot sunny day. People are laughing and having fun in and around the pool. You are looking to relax and take in the rays. You position the lounge chair in the perfect spot. You close your eyes and bask in the sun. After some time, a little splash of water hits your foot. The cold water alarms you, but you recognize it was just a small splash. You are, after-all, by a swimming pool. Soon afterwards another splash comes and this time it reaches up your legs. Now you are getting annoyed. Who is being so selfish to splash you trying to sunbathe. Again, another splash. Immediately, another huge splash comes and this time reaches your face. You become enraged at this inconsiderate person. Quickly you get up and rush towards the edge of the pool to chew out the person splashing you. As you reach the edge of the pool, you see a person bobbing up and down trying to breathe. The person is drowning!
What just happened to your anger? In an instant it went away, didn’t it? You went from being angry and in an instant, once you understood what was happening, the anger immediately subsided and you try to help the drowning person.
Now, consider this situation. Your spouse is the drowning person. Instead of being in the pool splashing water on you, your spouse is annoying you with whatever behavior that annoys you. Maybe the annoying behavior is anger. It could be anything! When your spouse is annoying you, imagine your spouse is the person drowning. You’re not upset anymore are you? If your spouse was drowning you would do anything you could to help them from drowning.
Let this sink in for a while. When your spouse is exhibiting anger or another annoying behavior, they are drowning. They need help. They need you to save them. Below, I show you a strategy how you can save them.
A Strategy for Dealing with an Angry Spouse
Working with an angry spouse can be quick, or it can take some time. A lot depends on how quickly you can get to the root cause of the anger. The key is to not waste time on the surface issues.
I teach strategies. I don’t do tips. Marriage tips are a dime a dozen, and while they can be of good quality, most people read them and move on to something else, paying little attention on how the tip can be implemented. Taking consistent action is the key to success. I offer you this 5 step strategy:
Step 1 – Understand what need(s) are not being met
You have to study your spouse. What is happening when your spouse gets angry? What is consistent when anger flares up? A lack of which of the 6 human needs can explain the anger? You need to understand your spouse. You need to develop a new awareness of your spouse that goes very deep.
Step 2 – Take responsibility for your actions
Do you do and not do anything that triggers the anger/drowning? What actions can you do or not do to prevent the anger? I know it’s hard to look inward when someone else is getting angry. It’s their anger – they need to get over it, right? Uh, no. You and your spouse are a team. You are one. As one, you need to seriously look at your action or inaction that may be triggering the anger. What might you be doing or not doing that deprives your spouse of one or more of the 6 basic human needs?
Step 3 – Develop an empowering mindset
There are many mindsets, or attitudes, that can be empowering. Here is a good mindset to adopt: Save your spouse from drowning. The next time your spouse gets angry, don’t allow yourself to cower away or lash out. Instead, see your spouse as drowning, and take on the responsibility of saving your spouse. Now, you can take what is lashed out at you, and you will respond gently, but assertively.
Step 4 – Pick your tools
Once you have an empowering mindset, now you need to select the tool(s) you will use. I call them the mechanics. A good mechanic to use when someone starts to get angry is a pattern interrupt. A pattern interrupt is something that makes the other person stop thinking about what is happening, taking their focus off of prior thoughts and emotions. Imagine your spouse starts to get angry. Immediately you start to do jumping jacks. How can your spouse continue with the anger when you start doing jumping jacks. That is a pattern interrupt. Other examples of pattern interrupts include asking a silly question like “Did you see the yellow sky today?” or “Have you ever had green milk before?” Or, an excellent pattern interrupt is to move towards your spouse and give them a long hug. Give a long kiss. Then whisper that you understand your spouse is angry. You are going to help fix the situation.
Step 5- Put the plan into motion
Take action! Start thinking about the needs of your partner and the lack of which ones which may be causing the anger. Plan out what you will think and do when the spouse gets angry. Nothing happens until you take action.
If something doesn’t work, make a note of it and adjust. Keep adjusting your strategy until you resolve the issue.