We recommend using parts of the Imago dialogue to learn how to respond calmly and with intent when your spouse is angry, specifically mirroring. Why? Because nothing is more diffusing to someone with anger issues than to be “mirrored back”. When you repeat back what your spouse is saying and validate his/her upset feelings, you are well on your way to learning how to control anger in a relationship. Mirroring is one part of the Imago dialogue. It helps by introducing a calm, soothing presence to prevent a storm of anger. Morroring doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with him or her, it just means you decided initiate the calm necessary to proceed in a healthy conversation.
One of the hardest exercises for couples to do when practicing the Imago dialogue is to validate their spouse. Validation is when, after hearing your spouse express her feelings, you let her know that
“what you’re saying makes sense and you make sense.”
What if Repeating Something I Disagree With Doesn’t Make Sense?
It can be difficult for many of us to repeat our spouse’s words when we disagree with what they said. If I disagree and have my own explanation, how can it make sense? It is normal to feel awkward at first. Just remember that with practice, you and your partner can master the art of Imago dialogue together.
Making sense does not mean being right or wrong
The reason we mirror our partner’s angry words when escalation is imminent is to validate their thoughts and feeling and deescalate. Whether we share the same feelings or not doesn’t matter; there is no right or wrong feeling.
When you repeat your partner’s words you are validating the right of your spouse to have those feelings. Perhaps you saw things differently, but this was their perspective. It is possible for both of you to be “right” as in the realm of emotions we are dealing with one’s subjective truth and interpretation. Of course, you don’t want to say, “in your world you make sense” because that implies disagreement.
Everybody eventually makes sense
We say in Imago that if you listen long enough, everyone makes sense. Usually when we hear the deeper story or childhood memory that the current event is triggering, there is usually little question as to how your spouse’s feelings make sense.
Accepting responsibility for an action that triggered your spouse could begin with the following words.
You make sense because…
One strategy that is extremely powerful but sometimes risky to add is a statement of personal responsibility. This means to take responsibility for the action that triggered your spouse’s reaction. So for example, say you made a comment that left your spouse feeling insulted. Instead of defending yourself and explaining your true intention, you merely say:
“what you’re saying makes sense and you make sense because I did say such and such.”
Keep It Short and Sweet
If you offer too much explanation, you risk going into your own world and explaining away. While we often like to smooth over a situation by apologizing or explaining our mistake or our true intentions, this is not what is needed at the time. At the moment of emotion, what is needed is validation and acknowledgement of your partner’s feelings.
More inspiration on how to respond when your spouse is angry:
- Why is my husband/wife always angry at me? Look beneath the anger
- A little known secret about anger
- How to respond when your spouse is angry
- The 4 Horseman of Relationships
- How to Win Back Your Husband or Wife’s Love & Affection
How to respond when your spouse is angry:
Pirkei Avos (4:18) teaches us: ” Do not try to pacify your friend at the time of his anger and do not comfort him while his dead lies before him.” Rashi explains that such an effort will be in vain because a person will not accept an apology in the heat of anger.
Apologizing to Your Spouse When They are Angry Doesn’t Work
The best way is to mirror back their feelings and validate them without any explanation on your part of why you did what you did.
A person in the heat of emotion is consumed with themselves and their feelings.
They are not interested in hearing what the other has to say, they are fully focused on themselves. By validating them you are giving them space to feel what they are feeling. Try validating and see how it works. Once things are calm you can always apologize and explain your intentions.
I have seen the difference validating makes in my own marriage and I also know how hard it is, especially on the receiving end of intense emotion. However, it is still the most helpful response to an angry trigger I have found. Hope you can experience the positive results mirroring can have on your relationship when one of you accidentally triggers the other.
Having Compassion Is Not Condoning Unwanted Behavior
You are making sense of the situation and developing a better understanding why your spouse did that repugnant behavior instead of getting stuck in the power struggle.
Eventually, when the storm blows over, you can share with him what bothers you about that behavior.For now, the healthiest and most constructive thing you can do is validate their thoughts and feeling so that your tempers don’t get the best of you.
While it might make sense why he does it and you may have compassion for him, it does not mean that you do not still have an issue with it.
If a wife is anxious because her husband is not making what she believes is adequate income she may yell at him. While her concerns about financial stability make sense it does not mean that her behavior gets a pass.
If the husband understands her feelings he feels less threatened and realizes it is not all about him. He can still discuss his concerns about her outbursts with her at a later date when they are both calm and relaxed.
Both sides usually need to stretch and meet each other half way. Once they can have compassion for each other they can be a little more sensitive to each other in the future and have a better chance of making the stretch.
Validating does not have to mean you agree or condone their angry outburst. You are essentially telling your partner that they have a right to feel the way they do and that feeling that way makes sense because of the lens through which they see the world (even if it seem warped in your eyes). Everyone has their story, we just need to listen long enough.
It would be helpful for you to experience a breakthrough and create safety in your marriage so that the moments of anger become fewer and farther between. Talk with us about our 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat so that you can no longer suffer from not knowing how to communicate and share in a safe way with each other.
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