Do you ever get angry at your spouse? For most of us, the answer is a resounding yes. We’re human, after all, and anger is a normal human emotion.
But while feeling angry isn’t inherently bad, anger can have a negative impact on your marriage if it’s not dealt with well.
When You’re Angry and You Know It: Why it’s Normal and What To Do (And NOT Do) About It
If you have this idea that healthy couples never get angry with each other—or at least “shouldn’t” get angry—it’s time to drop that unhelpful belief. The truth is, all couples fight. According to relationship expert and researcher Dr. John Gottman, even healthy couples occasionally get angry, yell, and have heated rows.
What’s more, anger can actually be useful for couples in many cases. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. But useful—yes! Anger often acts like a catalyst that helps married partners confront unaddressed issues.
Of course, it’s hard work to sit down and actually discuss an underlying problem and the anger it spawns, but the cost of not doing so is far too high. In other words: unaddressed or suppressed anger often leads to resentment and stress—very dangerous for a marriage and for human health.
So, once we agree that feeling occasionally angry at your spouse is normal, the next step is to ensure you’re expressing your anger appropriately. Here are a few examples of what not to do when you’re angry:
- Direct criticisms toward your spouse’s character (“You’re so lazy!”)
- Make broad generalizations and assumptions (“You always do this!”)
- Use sarcasm, insults, put downs, shame and blame tactics, and threats (including threats of divorce)
- Use the “silent treatment” or “silent anger” by giving the cold shoulder or withholding love
- Yell, throw things, or show any other aggressive behaviors
- Speak or act when your emotions are very heightened and powerful
Unhealthy responses like these won’t create any positive change—but they will end up hurting you, your spouse, and even your children who must bear witness to your example. Instead, here are some healthier ways to express, communicate, and respond to your anger:
- Focus criticisms toward your spouse’s specific action or inaction (“I’m so angry you forgot to take the trash out and made us miss trash pick-up, even though I reminded you three times”)
- Speak when you’re feeling more in control of your words and actions
- Use self-soothing strategies to help yourself get to a less triggered state
- Discuss and respect boundaries surrounding angry interactions (“We’ll take a 20-minute time-out if either one of us starts raising our voices or saying something demeaning”)
3 Things to Realize When You Feel Angry at Your Spouse
1. Seek to understand why you’re angry.
Be as specific about this as possible. Are you angry about a particular action or inaction from your spouse? Are you angry at someone else and taking it out on your spouse? Are you angry because you made an incorrect assumption? Are you angry because an old emotional wound was triggered, or because you haven’t been fully honest with your spouse about something that’s bothering you?
Whatever the reason (or reasons) is for your anger, find it. Be curious. Be open-minded. Be kind to yourself during this exploratory process. You don’t need to figure it all out right at the moment, but at least spend some quiet reflective time later to gain some insight. Awareness about why you’re angry is the first step in addressing the emotion and moving on from it.
2. Keep some self-soothing techniques in your back pocket.
It’s not about never getting angry. It’s about knowing how to deal with your anger when it comes up. And you don’t have to be as calm as Buddha before talking with your spouse about what’s made you so upset—just be sure you’ve calmed down enough so that you can stay in control of yourself.
How should you calm down? Find your soothing strategies and keep them on the ready—whether that’s a long walk, a workout, a bubble bath, a puzzle, a few chapters of a book, a couple pages in a journal, a five-minute breathing exercise, or something else altogether. If you need to, write down your list of “go-to” anger management strategies and review it regularly.
3. Be willing to forgive.
It sounds simple, but be willing to forgive your spouse.
Remember, even healthy couples can get into some pretty heated, anger-inspiring fights. But importantly, healthy couples also have a knack for finding forgiveness and not sweating the small stuff. (Healthy couples also tend to be good at expressing anger appropriately and trying to understand the source of their anger, too.)
The bottom line: always keep space in your marriage for a little grace and humility, and be willing to accept each other’s imperfections and momentary gaffs.
Do you need help finding forgiveness, mastering your anger, and improving the dynamics in your relationship. Contact April at Couples Thrive today to schedule your first consultation.