Sometimes, we just need to blow off some steam now and then. But what if this blowing off steam is directed at our spouse? It is natural for us to lose our cool now and then. But losing our cool and directing it against our spouse, especially if it becomes a habit, is not a healthy pattern to get into. You may understand why your spouse is angry or you may not. Either way, it can become very difficult not to blow up in return and escalate into a nasty argument.
My blog this week is not about spouses with a chronic pattern of anger issues. That’s a more serious problem, and outside of my recommendations. I would suggest that if this describes you or your spouse, that you seek the help of trained professionals to address it immediately. What I’m addressing today is an occasional moment of genuine anger, and how we respond when that happens. When we react defensively to moments of anger, it can leave us and our spouse feeling discouraged or even harboring resentment. Having some strategies in place ahead of time can help both of you form new habits that are more successful and will strengthen your marriage. Here are some helpful suggestions.
Focus on What Your Spouse “Really” Wants
It’s no fun when your spouse is angry with you, and it’s our surprise and dismay that sets us off in return. In calmer moments, we often realize that our spouse wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable. We just didn’t understand it was such an issue. So, when you first hear that angry tone, take a deep breath and do your best to disengage from how it makes you feel. Focus instead on the point of what your partner is saying. Focus on the problem, rather than the anger.
Anger isn’t usually instantaneous. Whatever the issue is, it’s probably been building for a while. When our spouse finally loses his or her temper and we instantly respond with anger of our own, it can feel unfair. Our spouse is left wondering why their “last straw” is our “first straw.” So take a deep breath (notice a pattern here), ask for more information, and stay as calm as you possibly can. I have found that keeping my posture open, uncrossing my arms, and making eye contact really does help in keeping me calm. If you need to, remove yourself from the room so you can get yourself under control and then re-engage when you are calmer.
Obviously, your spouse is angry, but there are probably a lot of other feelings going on under the surface, including possibly hurt, disappointment and sadness. If the problem connects to money worries or something to do with your children, your spouse may be experiencing some worry and fear. Really listen to them, and show with your words and actions that you understand what your spouse is feeling. One phrase that may work is “You sound like you feel ________,” or you can say, “What I am hearing you say is ______.” They key here is that you and your spouse are on the same page and they know you at least are clear about what they are feeling. Trust me: feeling understood can go a long way toward resolving the situation for your spouse. If at this point your spouse is feeling better and you sense you are connecting once again, reach out and gently touch him or her on the arm, shoulder or back to show support. You can even offer a hug. But don’t get offended if they reject your advances to touch them. It just may not be the right time yet.
Ask What You Can Do
These steps can do so much to defuse a tense situation. Once you feel that you’ve gotten to a point where you’re both hearing each other, and you both feel that you’re back on the same side of the discussion, ask what you can do to help with the problem and prevent it in the future. Obviously, it may not be something you did. It could be something involving your kids, a work issue or your extended family. But two heads are better than one, and there’s probably a solution you can agree on.
It may not feel like it when one of you is angry, but even then, you’re both on the same side. Using these steps can affirm both of you so that you can resolve the problem at hand instead of creating a new one. I am rooting for you. Let’s make our marriage great!
Please feel free to share this with others.