“My wife is always mad at me!” “Why is my husband angry with me?” One of the most common yet challenging issues I see when working with couples is anger. Anger is one of the most powerful and most destructive human emotions. The long-term damage it can have on a marriage can be irreparable as it tears apart the trust and safety in a relationship. We’ll provide a few points on how to deal with anger issues and how to control anger in a relationship and live with an angry spouse.
If you’re struggling with an angry husband or wife you probably want to find a way to help them simmer it down a notch. There are many ways to help your spouse blow off steam in a healthier way, but first they need to know that their hot-headed behavior is affecting you and your relationship negatively. Is this a conversation you’re already had? Even if you’ve casually asked them to calm down during an angry outburst they may not know how much it is affecting your unless you make a point to sit down and talk to them about it. You can even right a note to them about it and schedule a time to sit down and talk.
If your wife feels angry the cause is likely to stem from either a struggle involving power, disproportionate amount of responsibilities, or the amount of attention/quality time you spend together. While most people think men become angry more often, women are just as likely to express anger as men.
Before we take a deep dive into the root cause of your spouse’s anger and strategies that can help you help them control themselves, let’s take a look at the clinical definition of anger and what it looks like in marital interpersonal communication.
The American Psychological Association1 defines anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”
Your definition might sound a little different.
Maybe it’s “seeing red,” or “boiling over,” or feeling like you’re “going to explode.” Maybe it’s just the sensation of intense negativity brimming under the surface. It usually doesn’t feel “good” (although this isn’t always the case, especially when anger is spurred by injustice or a sense of righteousness).
Tools to help you if you are living with an Angry Spouse
1) What is anger really?
Anger is energy that is essentially a protest against feeling disconnected. As we may have grown up unable to restore connection in more productive ways, we resort to anger as our only way to express our displeasure with our situation.
Anger is a secondary emotion which is usually covering up fear or sadness.
The danger of anger is that it is so powerful that we can become out of control. The Talmud (Nedarim 22a) states that if a person becomes angry, kol minei Genehenom sholtin bo, the various agonies of Gehenom (hell) gain a hold of him. An angry person can experience life as a living hell as well as make the lives of his/her loved ones miserable.
2) Is it healthy to express it?
While it is generally not advisable to suppress emotions, the expression of anger or rage can be extremely dangerous.
Not only do the images of a screaming spouse become a part of our neural imagery and contribute to our anxiety and disconnection, they also reinforce feelings of anger in the rageful spouse.
Brain research suggests that the more one rages, the more facilitated the rage pathways in the brain become.
This means that the more we express our feelings of anger, the more angry we get.
From a Kabbalistic perspective, Rav Shalom Ber of Lubavitch teaches that although verbal expression is rooted in the realm of thought and emotion, when we express these thoughts and feelings through speech, we actually increase their emotional intensity (Sefer Hamaamarim 5659).
Whether we are expressing love or expressing anger, the more we put our feelings into words, the more intense our feelings become.
This is why a suggestion to quell anger is to remain silent, as when we remain silent, the intensity dissipates (Reishis Chochma- Shaar HaAnava ch.5).
More inspiration for dealing with an angry wife or an angry husband:
- 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
- 4 Things that Destroy Marriages According to Research
3) How do I deal with my anger?
Ultimately the goal is to transform the feelings of hurt that are beneath the anger so that the desire to rage is no longer present.
The best way to deal with anger in a relationship is to learn how to express one’s feelings in a safe way, both taking ownership instead of blaming, and asking for unmet needs.
Instead of raging against your spouse for not caring about you or for committing a wrongdoing against you, share your hurt and ask for what you need.
When we get angry, our brain gets stuck in the amygdala, the primitive reptilian part of our brain where we experience the fight/flight response.
Learning non-violent communication is the best way to get unstuck because it forces us to use our pre-frontal cortex.
This calms the brain and stops it from flooding our body with stress hormones.
When we are able to use our words and calm down, we are also better able to become conscious and in control of our actions. We can begin to explore why we are feeling angry.
When we share with our spouse in a non-combative way how deeply we need to feel loved, it is hard for them to turn down our request.
This is the opposite of the response we provoke when we attack and blame.
4) How do I deal with my spouse’s anger?
Living with an angry spouse can be scary.
While ultimately your spouse needs to take personal responsibility for his/her anger, there are things you can do to improve the situation and deescalate conflict.
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 reflect 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.
Merely say to them: “What you’re saying makes sense and you make sense.”
Once things are calm you can always apologize and explain your intentions.
Another helpful way to deal with your spouse’s anger is to try to imagine that your spouse is in pain and have compassion for him/her.
While this may be difficult if you feel like you are being attacked, it will help you be able to experience your partner in a whole new light.
Instead of judging your spouse you will be able to approach him/her more lovingly and understand the cause of the anger.
If you are able to do that, you will feel less threatened and your spouse’s anger will abate quicker.
We all long for deep connection in our relationships.
It can be frustrating when we do not experience that.
Will we learn how to get what we truly want by articulating our needs from a place of emotional maturity or will we explode and protest that loss but in the end never achieve it?
Healing the hurts which prop up anger in our relationship is the best way to achieve a marriage filled with peace, serenity, and loving connection.
Perhaps you struggle with anger without even realizing it—though of course, even if you don’t realize it, your body will. Physical health issues that are scientifically linked to anger include heart disease, headaches, digestive problems, eczema, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
One 2016 study even found that individuals who tend to have angry outbursts during marital conflicts are more likely to develop cardiovascular problems later in life; the research published in Emotion was based on 20 years of data and even controlled for variables like age, education, exercise, smoking, alcohol use, and caffeine consumption.
Should We Strive to Avoid Anger in Relationships?
On the one hand, anger is a normal and even appropriate response to certain situations (e.g., angrily telling a child not to run into the street after a bouncing ball). There’s truly nothing shameful nor inherently wrong with feeling anger, despite what your inner critic might say.
On the other hand, anger can clearly become problematic for a person’s physical, emotional, and social wellbeing, and can be especially troublesome for couples who struggle to address and express their anger in a healthy manner.
Unhealthy Anger in Relationships
If either you or your spouse answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s time to make a change to improve your communication.
Are you or your spouse are angry most of the time?
Do either of you often become angry in response to seemingly trivial things?
Are you or your partner verbally or physically abusive or feel “out of control” when angry?
Here are three things that may help you both.
1. Consider the root cause
Are you angry because you have an unmet need in your marriage? Are you feeling unsafe, unsupported, unheard, or disrespected? Has there been a betrayal, such as financial infidelity or an extramarital affair, that you haven’t fully made peace with yet?
Be open to the possibility that your anger is trying to tell you something. Maybe this uncomfortable feeling is trying to help you speak up for yourself and have that difficult yet necessary conversation with your spouse.
2. Take an honest inventory of yourself
Also consider that your anger might be, at least in part, due to a mismatch in reality and your expectation of reality.
For example, if the story you’re telling yourself about how your spouse should or shouldn’t be (e.g., believing they “shouldn’t” leave dirty clothes on the floor) isn’t aligned with who they really are, you might end up perpetually setting yourself up for frustration and anger.
Some questions to ask yourself that might help here include:
- Am I expecting my spouse to be someone they aren’t?
- Is this anger serving me right now?
- Am I willing to accept this?
- Am I willing to help change this—or change my perspective on this?
- How have I contributed to this situation?
- Am I making assumptions or taking things personally when I needn’t be?
- Am I taking things out on my spouse?
- Am I stressed? Sleep Deprived? Under-nourished? Under- or over-exercised?
- What do I need to do to take care of myself at this moment?
3. Seek professional resources
Anger is a normal color to find on the canvas of human emotions and feeling occasional anger toward your spouse is unlikely to be something to worry about. Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, can help.
But if you have frequent, moderate to intense anger, hold grudges, think about “getting even,” or express your anger in a way that could harm yourself or others, get help in the form of individual and/or couples counseling. These are emotional red flags and need to be addressed.
Couples counseling is also a great opportunity for you and your spouse to learn how to avoid and/or de-escalate angry situations, how to identify the root causes of your anger, how to help each other feel more heard and seen in your marriage, and ultimately improve your connection.
Living with a spouse that is angry is so painful and uncomfortable. Talk with us about our 2 Day Marriage Restoration Retreat which is 90% successful in saving marriages- especially those that are volatile as it brings back the safety and calm so that you can begin connecting and communication.
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- American Psychological Association, retrieved July 8, 2022 from www.apa.org/topics/anger
- UC Berkley News, “Couples study ties anger to heart problems, stonewalling to back pain”, Author Anwar, Yasmin. Published May 24, 2016, retrieved July 8, 2022 from https://news.berkeley.edu/2016/05/24/anger-to-heart-disease/
- American Psychology Association, “Interpersonal emotional behaviors and physical health: A 20-year longitudinal study of long-term married couples”, 2016. Authors Haase, C. M., Holley, S. R., Bloch, L., Verstaen, A., & Levenson, R. W. (2016). Retreived July 8, 2022 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0040239