Anger: Defusing the Minefield

May 18, 2016

in Uncategorized

I’d like to tell you there’s something you can do to defuse your husband’s anger. But that’s only possible if his anger is your fault, and it’s not. (If your husband is abusive, please go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.)

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What you can do is make his anger a problem for him, which may motivate him to change. The problem with this is a man given to anger will use anger to avoid changing. Your efforts will initially result in more anger. You need to understand this and be ready for it. Pick a good time in your life to confront this, and get some prayer support from one or two friends who know how to keep a confidence.

If you think you can do it, start by letting hubby know his anger has become a problem for you and you’re going to make changes to protect yourself and perhaps precipitate change. Let him know you think you’d both be happier if he was less angry.

Getting him to change means taking away the benefits he gets from anger. He does it because it works for him. Take that away and his motivation to keep doing it is gone. Make his anger cost him, and he has a reason to change.

Walk Away

When he passes a reasonable level of anger, walk away. Say “It’s a waste of time to talk with you when you’re angry” as you leave. It takes at least 20 minutes to burn through the hormones and chemicals that feed anger, so give him at least that long.

One caveat here – you must be fair about how you define anger. If you walk away at any hint of anger you’re not being fair and your husband will see that and dismiss anything you say about his anger. Women tend to be more sensitive to anger and set the bar lower. I’m not asking you to put up with wrong behaviour on his part, but be fair to him. If he’s angry but doesn’t let it control him, see that as his doing the right thing.

Don’t Give In

If he uses anger to win fights or get his way, start resisting. Be as gracious and loving as you can, but stand firm. Saying something like “I will not be manipulated by your anger” would help him understand. 

Don’t Argue About Anger

He will likely say “I’m not angry.” (Or he may yell it.) Alternatively, he may try to justify his anger. Don’t be pulled into these things, they’re traps. You might ask why he treats you differently when others are around, and suggest he knows others would not approve of the anger he shows you at home. Beyond that, don’t play.

Deal With Your Own Emotions

Learn to be okay with yourself regardless of how he is feeling or acting. It’s okay to be happy when he’s upset. It’s healthy to not allow him to drag you down with him. This also shows him he’s not in control of your reality. The less his anger affects you, the less it works for him.

Reward Good Behaviour

Be on the lookout for things you can praise or reward. If he avoids anger when he would have used it in the past, or catches himself and backs down, say something about it. Often it will be better to wait and comment later, but be sure to do it. Praise his successes, and acknowledge the difficulty in breaking a long-standing habit. 

Stand Firm

See your marriage as one of three things: how it was before, how it is unless and until he deals with his anger, and how it will be if he deals with his anger. The second of those is tough, but it’s better than the first and the surest way to get to the third.

Be Ready to Bail

If he’s never been violent before, odds are he won’t start now. If he ever hints or heads that way let him know you will leave and take legal action to protect yourself and the kids. Make it clear where the line is and what crossing that line will cost him.

~ Paul – I’m XY and you have my prayers.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jolie May 18, 2016 at 7:20 am

Wonderful article with great advice.

Anger can be very intimidating and when dealing with someone close to you, it’s very hard not to take it personally.
The worst kind of anger is the kind you can’t predict. Walking around on eggshells just waiting for the bomb to go off places one in a position of being a prisoner of fear.

The coping strategies mentioned above sound very much like the strategies used in dealing with an alcoholic. It’s hard to find inner peace and become stronger without support. Al-anon has some very good reading material (12 step methods) which can help in strengthening one’s inner resolve when dealing with a difficult person.

I couldn’t agree more with the last strategy: Be Ready to Bail (and seek help).

Great article, thank you.

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Paul Byerly May 18, 2016 at 7:39 am

@Jolie – Where are the support groups for those living with angry spouses?

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Jolie May 18, 2016 at 9:31 am

If there is alcohol involved I would suggest trying attending an Al-anon meeting.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapists are great for helping one deal with behavioral issues.

There are anger management courses and counselors also….assuming the angry person decides to take responsibility for his/her own behavior.

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Beth May 18, 2016 at 7:55 am

This may be true for some men, but it is not true for my husband and there may well be others like him. My husband has always had an anger problem, however talking to him about it and how he feels about it has helped me to understand him and also how I can help him and what I do that is unhelpful (N.B. he does NOT blame me for his anger, neither is it directed at me). Anger does not “work” for him – he would say himself that he gets no benefit from it. In fact, he would say the opposite – he hates it and he hates himself for it. When he gets angry, he feels bad about being angry and worse afterwards. He wishes that he did not get angry. And it is not as simple as choosing to gain control. For him, there is no time delay between the trigger and the anger in which he can make that choice. He chose to go for counselling when he realised it was affecting our children (but that decision took time – the person has to be ready and willing, and he was reacting to negative childhood experiences). The counsellor worked with him to try to insert a conscious step between trigger and anger. It’s a long process and sometimes he manages it.
We have realised through talking that in a situation in which I might cry – he would get angry instead. And he doesn’t choose to get angry any more than I choose to cry – it’s an emotional response that comes out in a different way. What he needs when he is angry is the same as what I need when I am crying – a hug. If I were to walk out of the room (which would be my instinctive response because I don’t like anger), it would make the situation worse – it makes him feel worse and even smaller. The same if I were to rebuke him. He knows that he has messed up and is already feeling guilty for it. He doesn’t need me to point it out. What he needs from me at that time is reassurance of my love, sympathy and understanding that he is fighting a difficult battle. I still don’t like being in the same room when he is angry and it can take effort to give him that hug, but I choose to because I love him and support him and we are fighting the battle together.
The hug is NOT a reward for bad behaviour, but an acknowledgement that he is feeling bad and needs support and love. It may not be appropriate for everyone in every situation. Also, not everyone will want a hug when they are angry or upset. Why not ask them what they do need? It’s probably best to ask at a time when they are not angry.
I should point out that my husband never uses his anger to manipulate and is not abusive or rude (sometimes objects get broken unintentionally because he does not realise how physically tense he is, and that makes him feel worse too). He keeps his anger focused on the cause, not a person. I would not recommend staying in the room if it is likely to turn violent.

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Paul Byerly May 19, 2016 at 6:29 am

@Beth – There are almost always exceptions.
Still, there may have been a time in his life where anger felt like it benefited him. We develop habits because they work or give us something, then we find it difficult to break the habit when we no longer see a benefit.
I am glad he has found ways to deal with it and that you are understanding and helpful. You certainly make it easier for him than if you got upset.

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Rosemary May 18, 2016 at 9:10 am

Thanks for including a reminder about violence. The tactics listed here would work with a normal person, even one who is excessively angry, but are likely to trigger more violence in an abuser, no matter how reasonably presented. Telling an abuser that you plan to leave or take legal action can be very dangerous – it’s better to make your plan in secret and leave without warning.
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Jolie May 18, 2016 at 9:18 am

I agree with Rosemary, an abusive person is a totally different animal.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799- (SAFE)7233 has trained counselors available to assist in abusive situations.

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Paul Byerly May 19, 2016 at 6:32 am

@Rosemary – Absolutely, we are talking about two different groups of men. Fortunately, three are plenty of resources for women dealing with abusive men.
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Paul Byerly May 19, 2016 at 6:33 am

@Jolie – Thanks – should have given a resource at the top of the post. I’ve added the Hotline’s website.
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IntimacySeeker May 19, 2016 at 10:32 am

I think men tend to feel angry more often than women because other emotions (fear, sadness, etc.) are not socially acceptable for them. I have read that anger can be a symptom of depression in men. I have also read that women tend to surpress anger because it is not [typically] socially acceptable for them. Another example of society dictating that men belong in one box and women in the other.

Feeling angry is often justified. However, expressing anger in an aggressive way is harmful. Stifling anger is also harmful. We all do well to recognize the roots of our anger and learn to express our needs assertively, showing respect to ourselves and to others.

When we feel anger so powerfully we cannot control our expressions of it, we need professional help. I think Paul’s suggestions in this post are wise, but I doubt I could exercise them without the help of a skilled therapist.

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IntimacySeeker May 19, 2016 at 10:36 am

I think men tend to feel angry more often than women because other emotions (fear, sadness, etc.) are not socially acceptable for them. I have read that anger can be a symptom of depression in men. I have also read that women tend to suppress anger because it is not [typically] socially acceptable for them. Another example of society dictating that men belong in one box and women in the other.

Feeling angry is often justified. However, expressing anger in an aggressive way is harmful. Stifling anger is also harmful. We all do well to recognize the roots of our anger and learn to express our needs assertively, showing respect to ourselves and to others.

When we feel anger so powerfully we cannot control our expressions of it, we need professional help. I think Paul’s suggestions in this post are wise, but I doubt I could exercise them without the help of a skilled therapist.

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Paul Byerly May 20, 2016 at 7:55 am

@IntimacySeeker – Society does invest a great deal into keeping us in the “correct” boxes.
You are right about getting help. Sometimes a good friend is enough, sometimes more skill is needed. Keep working up the ladder till you get what you need!
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A word of caution May 24, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Dear Paul, I have just a few comments, from someone who has survived some serious anger issues in the marriage.

1. Anger is a natural and healthy emotion. Men should not ever receive the message that anger is a problem and is something to be suppressed and ashamed of. The problem is not the anger; it is the way in which a man chooses to act out his anger. The problem might be hostility, criticism, contempt, intimidation, violence, etc. The problem might also include rehearsing negative thoughts to keep oneself in a near constant state of anger.

2. Feeling justified in using hostility, intimidation, violence, etc. toward the wife is the hallmark of the mindset of an abusive man. He might later say “sorry I did X” but what the abusive man is really subconsciously thinking is “I’m sorry I was forced to do X, I really don’t like to have to do that to you.” Abuse includes a lot more than just physical violence directed at the wife, and many abusers never go that far. In addition to the Domestic Violence Hotline, an excellent resource is “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft.

3. If a man is using his anger because it works for him, and then it stops working for him because his wife starts responding differently, he may initially escalate his behavior in order to try to achieve his usual result. In some cases, this can lead to violence. Even if it doesn’t, a wife should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better.

4. “Deal with your own emotions…the less his anger affects you, the less it works for him.” I found this to be true. Unfortunately, in the process of learning to be unaffected by him, I ended up detaching from him. Completely. This detachment has destroyed my marriage, probably permanently. I wish I could go back and do things differently, more carefully.

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Paul Byerly May 25, 2016 at 11:14 am

@A word of caution – Anger can be natural and healthy, but most of what I see today is neither. Yes, what we do with it is critical, but some people need to learn to not get angry at every little thing. This, to me, is an issue of maturity.
I hear you on the detachment – it’s a difficult balance.
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