If anger is something that comes up a lot in your relation as the problem maker, then this article is for you.
Juley has not been speaking to her husband for the last few hours. This wasn’t the first time that he had been getting the ‘silent treatment’, so he decides to put his foot down and ask her what he did to deserve this. That was it, Robin threw a plate and muttered under her breath, ‘it took you so long to ask, when have you ever valued me?’
What is anger?
Anger has been defined by dictionaries as an unpleasant antagonistic feeling towards a target, but what it fails to capture is the intensity of ‘justness’ that the individual feels, and of course the myriad feelings of the receiver. Juley’s case is an example of passive anger mainly. Anger can be expressed as verbal abuses or insults, physical quarrels, giving negative comments, false accusations, breaking things and so on, which are more direct and often not very predominant. On the other hand passive anger can be expressed by sarcasm, withdrawing oneself, refusing to listen or express/ won’t communicate, playing the victim role, avoiding intimacy and so on, this can be seen as mild but it has the potential to hurt the other person in a powerful manner. Either way, in a marriage, expression of anger for a prolonged period of time can cause an emotional strain in the bond.
What causes anger?
A major point to remember here is that, often one might not be the source of their spouse’s anger, but mere triggers or target receivers.
Keeping that in mind, anger is like any other emotion, it has to be expressed. Some of the few common basis or triggers of this emotion can be:
- Dissatisfaction in marriage and a wanting to distance, or dissatisfaction with oneself and capabilities
- As a defense to protect ego or pride or sometimes even when they do not want to face other feelings. Eg. The partner might feel guilty that he/she is unable to make time for family, therefore can sometimes show anger towards the family and then feel that ‘The family makes me angry, therefore I do not want to spend time’.
- Lack of control in life (it can be broad or a specific situation)
- Unfairness present which can be viewed as if the individual is being the target of injustice.
Stosny (1995), in his book has spoken about anger as stemming from hurt, which can be coming as feeling devalued, unimportant, accused, unlovable and so on. Especially for men, often anger has been seen as their male identity, so to express it in violent ways, such as domestic violence, has been observed to be more common and shockingly, even tolerated. As a receiver, one might be going through emotional stress and even start to lose trust and faith. You might start to bottle up your feelings of anger, and frustration, which might sometime even turn to self-blame wherein one might think, ‘I only make her angry and make this family unhappy’ (In which case, go back and read, you are only a trigger mostly). You might even get defensive when being used as the ‘punch bag’, therefore react quickly with more anger that will cause an escalation, thus slowly widening the gap in the union, marriage.
What won’t work
In general, the spouse tends to displace the anger from elsewhere on a safe target (which is you, in this case), for example, failure to complete a project at work can cause frustration which can be expressed as anger at home towards the spouse or even children. Therefore, you are considered as ‘safe’ because you cannot leave them and go and also, will not cause further damage to their hurt. Their deflected anger will make the target ‘unsafe’ after sometimes, when the receiver walks away, tolerates or starts arguing. One main thing that does not work:
Asking them to calm down has never worked and in fact be counterproductive, that is, make them escalate their anger.
So what can you do?
You cannot walk away, nor should you tolerate, so the gray area, like any other gray areas, can be vague and difficult to approach but it is important to give a pat on your back for trying to do something about your marriage, it means you care so much about it despite the emotional stress. 8 effective steps to tackle and stay in the gray area and manage spousal anger are given in this article:
It might seem odd when the first tool to tackle spousal anger is to listen to them when you might start to think that you have tried it. The difference here is that you need to actively listen. Anger is one of the most moralistic emotions and the person feels that it is justified, therefore if you find their anger irrational, then throw that away. Although you might feel the need to react, instead of throwing a ‘you are always like this’ try to understand their cause/ source of their anger because you are not trying to ‘control’ them. Your target is their anger, and not them. This tool does not involve questioning them, but just being an active listener who at the end can say ‘I understand that you are upset’.
2. Stop the spiral
As we discussed, asking them to calm down is not going to work, therefore, since you have listened to them, instead of reacting right to it outright maintain your composure. In that way, they have nothing to make them escalate their anger, and they will soon start realizing that they don’t have to defend themselves. You can use phrases such as ‘What I hear you say is… is that what you mean?’, this will reiterate the fact that you are just trying to understand. At the same time, the composure should be genuine, therefore it is essential that you express how you are feeling, such as ‘Your words are hurting me, I do not know whether you meant it or not’ or even a question such as ‘I feel helpless because I am trying to understand what happened to us, could you help me out?’ will help in containing the situation.
4. Long-term goals
The above two steps might seem very idealistic to start with, but you need to pick your battles now, as trying to be a listener isn’t very easy. So sometimes, you might want to react, but make sure that you contain the situation by mentioning that you do not want to argue but just to understand what caused the anger. You can use slight humor (but make sure that it does not come out as mockery or sarcasm, that is, your passive anger) to lighten the mood or invoke a happy memory in them. Remember that you aren’t here to seek revenge.
5. What am I feeling exactly?
This is the essential step because this will help define your problem. Often we tend to use strong words such as ‘anger’ for mere ‘irritation’, therefore you can ask them how exactly they are feeling or even rephrase what they are feeling by asking them ‘you seem a upset about something’, in this way you are refocusing the target and deescalating their ‘anger’ to mere ‘upset’). The scale above shows various levels of anger which you can use to de-escalate your spouse’s anger.
6. Laying boundaries
This step is of utmost importance. Even when you are trying to be compassionate towards your spouse, understand that nobody deserves to face emotional or physical abuse and, if one expresses anger and not bottle it up, it is better, does not always apply. If you feel that in a particular argument or situation, your spouse has been unfair towards you, be assertive and state your case. Also, make sure to lay boundaries such as what kind of words you as a couple, find appropriate and not degrading, to be used, what is your tolerance level and so on. For example, fighting in front of kids, throwing things, calling you names might be few things which you can state as things that are unacceptable; as they are very sensible ways to lay boundaries and contain the abuse.
7. What else can be done then?
You have by this time, contained the situation, tried to figure out the source.
- If you have found that out, then try to use problem solving strategies such as, if they are feeling ‘unloved’ in the marriage then, your goal would be to make them feel loved. At the same time, as a couple, you need to find obstacles that are stopping you to achieve these goals, which can be a promotion at the office or feeling unimportant. The obstacle analysis will help you land on a clear situation, from here your role will reduce. It is now predominantly your spouse who has to work on alternate solutions and decide on what they want to do about their anger.
- On the other hand, if the source isn’t found, then it is better to approach stress management strategies to manage anger from an expert counsellor, who will also aid in finding a source.
In case even after this, the spouse is unwilling to accept their problem, then too professional help is suggested.
8. Reasonable negotiation
Once you have, as a couple reached what the spouse wants to do. You both have to decide what can be done immediately. Setting these immediate goals should be realistic, such as, you can ask your spouse to think before he/she speaks and that you will also try to support him in the process. It is essential that both the parties decide on what they want from each other, after all, both are on the same side.
It can be a very taxing and time-consuming process, for the both of you. It is important to note the difference between anger as a normal emotion that should be expressed and rage/violence resulting from anger that is abusive on a longer run. Often people aren’t punished for their anger, their anger punishes them, your spouse might realize this sooner. If you have further doubts and need a hand to help through your abusive relationship then it is always better to get professional help or meet a marital counselor.
Trying to be compassionate and to forgive your spouse, and, even this will to change that has to spark in your spouse might require professional aid, so speak with our counselors on an anonymous and secure platform and work with your relationship counselor in addressing these issues at Askmile.com.