For many men anger is a “safe” emotion. I say safe because it feels safe for him.
There are a couple of things at play here.
- Men are less empathetic than women (proven by testing, and probably based on differences in the brain). This makes it more difficult for him to negotiate emotionally charged situations. Because anger pushes people away, it is a good way to avoid the whole thing.
- Boys are taught there are manly and unmanly emotions. (Peers will teach boys this even if they do not get the message from adults, and TV and movies reinforce the idea.) We learn to suppress weak or “feminine” emotions, and play up those that are considered masculine. Anger is one of the “approved” emotions. Anger is also a good fall back when a man needs to cover an “unacceptable” emotion.
A man may not default to anger intentionally; for many it is a habit. Once the habit is made, it is difficult to change. Anger becomes his cover emotion, the one he pulls on when he is unsure or when what he is really feeling is not acceptable.
You Can Help Him
First: If his anger results in violence toward you or the kids, get help now!
Obviously defaulting to anger is not a good thing. Changing that would be good for your marriage and for his life in general. However, telling him he has a problem with anger is just going to make him angry.
- Try to help him find the emotions that are behind the mask of anger. Do this in private, and do not push too hard. Ask him why he feels angry, and give him time to think about it because he honestly may not know. You can also ask him what he feels in addition to the anger.
- If you see a pattern of him getting angry in response to certain things you do or say, try to find a way to change the situation. I am not saying ignore it or let him walk all over you, just find a different way to deal with it. This can make it easier for him to avoid the anger habit.
- Tell him how his anger makes you feel. Wait until sometime when he is not angry, and try to give him a short concise explanation of how his anger affects you. You do not have to suggest how he should change or push him to discuss it – just give him the information and let him think on it.
- Show appreciation when he avoids anger. Words are okay, actions are better. Show him that limiting his anger will make things better with you, and he will have greater motivation to work on his anger.
~ Paul – XY and learning all the emotions.