LOVING SAFELY: HOW TO COPE WITH AN ANGRY SPOUSE
An angry spouse can be frustrating or even frightening, but it doesn’t have to isolate you from him or her. The basics of caring for each other well and learning healthy emotional expression will help reduce anger in your spouse.
Having an angry spouse is a challenge. Your spouse might be depressed, stressed, or not have skills needed for healthy emotional expression. Here are some tips for how to cope with an angry spouse:
- Safety first
If you, your spouse, or your children are in danger because of the angry spouse, seek help immediately. If it is emergent, call 911 in the U.S., 999 in the U.K., or similar emergency services in your homeland. If it is non-emergent, seek help from a local domestic violence shelter or from family or friends who can shelter you. Asking for help from a counselor is also a good idea, for the spouse’s anger, for marriage issues, or for kids experiencing an angry parent. Anger is often the other side of the same coin as depression, so a counselor could help with both sets of symptoms.
- Be on the same team
Angry outbursts are often the result of a perceived injustice, feelings of disrespect, or seemingly overwhelming demands. Consciously being fair, respectful, and helpful are quick ways to unite together as a couple and reduce anger.
- Establish emotional safety
Sometimes anger responses are because of feeling injured or threatened. Saying kind things instead of criticizing, being sincere instead of mocking, and attentively listening will help your spouse feel emotionally safe.
Often anger escalates when someone does not feel heard, noticed, or appreciated. Using reflective listening, communicating directly, and reaffirming what your spouse shares will help them feel understood.
- Bury the weapons
We all know the weak spots of our spouse, and can easily target “zingers” that sting. Especially when our spouse is angry, we may want to defend ourselves or think our verbal attacks are justified. This will only escalate anger, and it is better to hold our peace.
- Change your habits
Just like other habits form, we can develop habits in the ways we communicate and respond emotionally. Making changes in the timing or tone of our responses, the types of the things we say, and the style of our communication can help break bad habits and build new ones that improve the emotional health of our relationships.
- Be a companion
Your spouse is your equal, your friend, and your teammate. Do not parent your spouse, talk down to them, or nag them. Share responsibilities, say kind things, and enjoy positive activities together. Have fun. Laugh. Talk. Smile.
- Keep your space, but don’t distance yourself
As a couple, you are the primary relationship for each other. Emotional conversations, venting, processing, learning is all done together rather than with outside people. At the same time, having individual quiet time is a healthy necessity for your own study, pondering, and self-improvement. Khalil Gibran said, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness… . And stand together yet not too together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart.”
- Be active
One of the best things for mental health is simply going for a walk every day. If you walk together before or after dinner, this is also a good time to talk and listen to each other. When the weather is nice to be outside, such fresh air and scenery can really lift your spirits.
- Be an individual
Having an angry spouse doesn’t mean you have to be angry. Expecting your spouse to be angry often doesn’t mean you have the right to push buttons, but it also doesn’t mean you should have to tiptoe. Any consequences from angry behaviors belong to the one who was angry, and it is not your mess to clean up for them. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have the right to punish your spouse by withholding affection or attention until your spouse “deserves” it. You are not the judge doling out consequences for your angry spouse, but you also don’t have to serve their sentence.
The basics of caring for each other and learning healthy emotional expression can help reduce anger in your spouse.