We recommend using parts of the Imago dialogue to learn how to respond when your spouse is angry. 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 and basically provide a calm presence for the storm that is the anger. It doesn’t mean you agree with him/her it just means you have decided to be the first person that will create the calm necessary to proceed.
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
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.”
But it doesn’t make sense!
For many, it can be difficult just to say those words because they disagree with what was being shared. If I disagree and have my own explanation, how can it make sense? Making sense does not mean being right or wrong; rather it means that you are validating the right of your spouse to have those feelings. Perhaps you saw things differently but this was her 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.
You make sense because…
One component 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 to validate.
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.
If your spouse is upset with you, apologizing in the moment will not usually be effective.
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, but it is the most helpful response I have found. Hope you will see the positive results it can have on your relationship!
Having compassion does not mean condoning 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.
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.
It may make sense why a wife would get anxious if her husband is not producing adequate income and she may yell at him but 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 with her his concerns about her outbursts.
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. You are essentially telling your partner that you have a right to feel the way you do and it makes sense why you feel that way, based on the way you see things in your world, even if in your eyes it may seem warped. 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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