Anger Outbursts in Marriage, excerpted from Release.
Although some couples can make up with movie star quality after a fiery ordeal, most couples who seek me out for help don’t actually enjoy the makeup process as much as they would actually like to avoid a fire-extinguisher-worthy battle in their marriage.
Typically, when one or both spouses have a bad temper that is easily riled up, someone in their life (often in childhood or early adulthood, or even the other person in this relationship) has allowed themselves to do this without setting a boundary. This pattern may have gotten a start as early as infancy (picture a mother cooing over a tantrumming toddler).
You do, in fact have your work cut out for you if someone has been permitted to both engage others like this and receive affirmation or coddling for having done so. If you are a spouse who often gets injured from your partner’s anger outbursts, you are probably aware that trying many different angles can be very frustrating when none of them work.
You may even now be involved in a pattern of apologizing when someone else loses their temper even when you aren’t sorry since you don’t want to have them get riled up too much, or especially in the case of feeling your own safely is at risk.
In the latter case, you need to run, not walk to your nearest counselor and get help since this endangers you and your family. There is never a time when it is okay or acceptable for a spouse to push or hit another, or to violently call you names. This is the exception to the rule when it comes to telling others about the battles and getting help, even if you don’t start with a counselor but a caring friend or outside family member.
On the other hand, if you spouse is “just” getting engaged, blaming, cajoling or emotionally manipulating you in fights, try communication tactics and being a scientist of the relationship to see what works as a first step. Do you push at someone and disrespect their boundaries when they are clearly agitated and need a cool down?
Someone who engages in anger outbursts may not have insight into what will help them but you can be a student of them, and try to talk it out with them when they are in calm mode. Find out together what precipitated the outburst both generally and specifically? Were they exhausted? Did their boss make them feel badly? Are there any big red flags such as that they are not getting proper self care?
Some people, when they feel emotionally threatened, have anger outbursts and they don’t mean to hurt others, they are simply used to it, and need someone else to set a boundary with them so they are forced to act different.
They won’t like it, to be sure. But guess what? Life is about to get a little uncomfortable for them momentarily, which will bring increasing lasting and truer comfort than they have ever known.
If you are the one with an anger outburst issue, imagine having a very bad toothache and then being told a dentist was going to give you a shot and drill a larger hole that will be filled into your tooth to fix the problem. At first glance, the procedure sounds terrible but we know the lasting effect is pain-free bliss and before you know it, you are flossing and back to steak dinners and an occasional treat. In marriage, when you truly fix anger outbursts, it will have a similar joyous effect.
Offended spouse, here is one great way you can confront the person before an outburst has taken place and say (if necessary, in front of a counselor)…
“I realize you get your temper up when we fight, to the point of yelling and … (whatever else they do). I don’t mind if your voice raises a little since that’s very normal but when you go off the handle and.. (be specific), I have decided to walk away and try again later. I respect you and myself too much to be part of that any longer. I realize I may miss out on getting to the bottom of an important issues with you, so I will try other methods, such as resolving that when you are calm or speaking about it to a counselor or coach together, or if you are not willing, I will talk to a counselor or mentor about my issues with you myself so I can figure out what to do. What I do know is that I can’t be subject to fits of rage. We both know there are tips and tools to talk things out so we don’t get to that point of escalation. If you are becoming escalated, let me know that. (Discuss a way to say it) and then I will back off. I make that commitment to you now, that knowing that you tend toward outbursts, if I see the following nonverbal signals (turning green like the Hulk, smoke coming out of your nose, and basically other signals, etc), I will say, “I see you are getting agitated from our fight. We can talk later, and for now, I’m going for a walk, going upstairs, etc. I love you.”
In other words, set a boundary that also extends love and a chance to talk later. DO this as many times as is necessary until they get the point. The old style of interacting won’t work any more, and the issues won’t go away either so they will eventually have to choose to fight things out on healthier terms.
Remember, the anger outbursts aren’t necessarily stemming from hate. Your spouse feels threatened and is looking for control through the outburst so they need to be reassured of love as well as told they cannot do this to you – just don’t let them stay there, don’t be part of the unhealth even if you don’t feel it bothers you because the truthis you wouldn’t even be reading this unless it did.
Give us a call if you would like more personally tailored advice!