I come from a family of angry men – my grandpa (dad’s dad) was stoic as they come and his main way of expressing anything emotional was through anger up until the day he had heart surgery and came out a lot softer.
My dad, though a lot better at expressing emotion than grandpa, has a fuse that very quickly leads to dynamite. Being a sensitive soul I found this very hard to deal with at first, but after years of my dad reassuring me he is not really angry and realizing that it’s not something that’s targeted to me specifically (his Mac usually suffers a lot worse than I do) I’ve learnt that anger is just one way of expressing something – be it concern, fear, panic… Usually it comes from a place of feeling powerless and using the “power of anger” to try to conquer the situation. At other times it’s simply habit – what you saw growing up and therefore learnt to do.
I’ve also seen my own anger flare up when helping to raise kids in the township here in South Africa when I feel helpless to a situation (kids aren’t always that easy to deal with, especially as they are stuck in a pattern of disruptive behavior, which easily makes you feel powerless), but anger solves nothing. Not long term. Anger can, short term be great if used wisely, such as when you need to frighten someone to stop them from doing something dangerous, or simply to alert you to some inner emotions you need to look at. That’s the thing though – most people stop and look, whilst those who easily get angry haven’t learnt how to do that. They explode instead. Which not only hurts those around them, but also themselves.
So having spent a lot of time contemplating anger, let’s have a look at how to deal with an angry husband.
When dealing with an angry husband the first bit is simply understanding anger itself.
Anger is a defense mechanism – someone is attacking you, you get angry. It gives you the energy, or power, to defend yourself and win the fight.
That defense mechanism can be faulty though.
First of all, not everything that triggers our anger is a survival fight. I.e. we don’t actually need to fight using our anger, because it’s not a threat to our life. Somehow, as we’ve evolved, it seems some base instincts have remained a bit behind. Especially if someone has grown up in an environment where there was much more survival instincts needed, such as in an area ravaged by gang wars.
Secondly, some people’s anger mechanisms are over active. Somehow their brains are wired to switch to anger instead of concern, fear, humiliation, or sadness. Either because it appears to be less painful for them to feel angry, or because they don’t know how to express emotions. Possibly this is biological, but often it also has to do with childhood scars. Anger makes us feel powerful and if someone felt powerless as a child, anger might have been used as defense mechanism against the pain. Only trouble is, after a while it becomes a habit and the brain, on auto-pilot, switches to anger instead of another emotion.
Just knowing this will help you understand that even though your husband appears to be angry with you, in reality a) he’s still acting out childhood patterns which have nothing to do with present reality b) he is likely not really angry with you, he’s using the anger as a shield against a feeling, be it sadness, powerlessness, hurt, etc. You could have triggered that emotion, or he could have mis-interpreted something you did, but the anger itself is just a defense.
Anger is present in all of us. For some it’s more easily triggered. What seems to be universal though is that when we are tired, hungry, or over worked, we snap more easily (how we snap varies, but for those who get angry that’s usually the way they go).
If your husband seems to be more irritable and angry recently it isn’t necessarily to do with your relationship. It could also be because he doesn’t get enough sleep (or sleeps at uneven hours, meaning he’s always suffering jet lag), he’s stressed at work (whether he likes to confess to it or not – male pride and all that), he is eating too much junk food (try a whole foods diet with nothing refined, nor deep fried, etc. and be sure to take supplements, like omegas, probiotics, vitamins and anti-inflammation one), or he’s simply be over exerting himself in some way. Whatever it is, it’s leaving him depleted of energy and, as a result, he loses his temper a lot more easily.
If your husband has very suddenly turned more angry than usual and you can see no outside event which has triggered it, you should take him to the doctor’s for blood tests to see that there’s nothing acting up.
For someone who is always angry, diet and overall wellbeing might not be the cause, but anyone leading a healthy lifestyle will feel happier. Hence, it’s worth a shot to help him to lead such a lifestyle. If you’re transforming your own lifestyle at the same time, even better as you’ll become healthier and happier too!
Another reason that you husband could have turned more angry lately is psychological triggers. It’s not his body that’s exhausted, it’s his mind. For example, he could be suffering from seasonal disorder (i.e. in winter he’s depressed due to lack of sunlight), he’s recently had some small event remind him of childhood trauma, he suspects you’re being unfaithful or wanting to leave him, or he’s having a midlife crisis.
Men don’t always share what they’re thinking and feeling. Sometimes they aren’t even aware of it themselves, as they haven’t stopped to check. A lot of the time when we have a day of feeling irritable, we don’t necessarily stop to check for the cause. Other times, even when we do, it takes months, or even years, to get to the core of it as it’s stuff playing out in our subconscious. At any rate, a man who wants to look like a stallion isn’t necessarily keen on telling you he’s having a midlife crisis, or suspect you don’t love him anymore, and therefore is feeling more angry than usual.
So what can you do if you suspect it’s underlying psychological issues? It depends. You can be supportive, or you can try to figure out what’s going on. You know your husband so you likely know better than I do how to help him.
If You Are the Trigger
If your husband gets seriously riled by you all the time, then you have to look into what you’re doing. If it’s not justified (such as you just being “bad” for no apparent reason), then it’s abuse. However, if you are constantly poking fun of your husband in public, or ding things on purpose that you know will make him angry, then what’s your reason for doing it?
I have a friend who used to date a guy who would a) poke fun of her in public for things she really cared about (like being ironic about a project she really cared about, because everyone knew she was really good at it so surely it didn’t matter that he made fun of it, right?) b) do things she explicitly asked him not to do (such as turning the house upside down the day before a party she’d been planning). He thought my friend had a nasty temper and with him she did, but she was constantly provoked by him in ways that, if you ask me, were abusive. He couldn’t see that though.
In short, if you’re constantly going against your husband’s wishes, because you find them silly, or you think it’s a fun joke, check if he really thinks it’s that fun or he has reason to be angry.
Take Control Over Your Emotions
As your husband is raving on about one thing or another, don’t let it intimidate you. You know that his anger is a volcanic reaction to something that does not require a volcanic reaction. He’s, in a sense, turned a mole hill into a mountain, or, rather: reacted as if the mole hill was a mountain. Of course, he will get angry at mountains too, but the point is knowing that his anger is what it is: a shield to another feeling, or an ingrained habit.
He might be upset in you, whether justified, or not, but the anger itself doesn’t mean zap. It’s just his way of reacting to the upset.
Once you realize that, the anger doesn’t hurt, because you see it for what it is: a reaction.
Another kind of man would cry, or get hysterical, but how your husband react is through anger. It’s coming from a place that’s real (then again a lot of upset is imaginary – one person fails a test and shrugs their shoulders as they just think they’ll learn more and do it again whilst enjoying life in the meantime, another person sees it as a sign of stupidity and labels himself a failure – which person is right? What’s real?), but the anger itself is just a chain reaction.
Anger Is Not Resolved with Anger
Maybe it’s justified that you get angry. Your husband keeps erupting in fits of anger for silly reasons. Why can’t you yell back to make him realize that he’s being silly?
Well, that might work one time if you normally withdraw as a response to the anger, as it can alert him to it being the wrong thing to do. However, if you constantly fight back, it will only end up a negative circle.
Something I learnt from The Kazdin Method of Parenting and raising kids with behavioral issues is that you need to break state. You won’t reach them when they are angry. If you respond as they expect (by withdrawing, getting frustrated, getting angry, etc.) you feed the anger. They achieve their psychological gains, be it rejection (from you), intimidation, or whatever else they have become accustomed to. That way their thoughts about themselves remain intact (I’m bad, I’m powerful, etc.) If you break their state of mind, they don’t get the payback they expected, hence the necessity to do what they were doing has evaporated.
Now, husbands aren’t children. I don’t suggest you start dancing and singing the way I do to nip a tantrum in the bud, but by not reacting the way your husband expected, you are breaking the negative feedback circle. A simple “I’ll talk to you when we’ve both calmed down” might very well do the trick. If he feels you put the blame on him when saying he’s angry (and he feels the anger is justified), simply say: “I’ll talk to you when I’ve calmed down.” If you hurt your husband and that’s why he’s angry, then a sincere apology could do the trick.
To break your own pattern of response to your husband’s anger you have to stop taking the anger personally – it’s an ingrained habit of his. Look at it as you would a movie and try to figure out what’s really going on in his mind. Disengage. Usually, even in regular conversation, we get so caught up in our thoughts and feelings we forget to see what’s really going on. People who are really good with interacting with people step back to gauge reactions to what they’re saying and doing. So look at the man behind the anger instead, and try understanding the pain, or habits, that caused it.
If your husband’s anger hurts you emotionally, you have to tell him so. However, nagging isn’t going to solve the problem.
If your husband loves you, his real desire is to be loved and desired by you, even if his psychological patterns don’t allow him to get there. As a result, using anger, blame, etc. when talking to him, will only hurt him and make him even more angry to try to cover his own pain. (And your anger and blame, just like his, is just something on top of that feeling of hurt inside.)
Instead, try telling him in a loving manner how you feel, whilst being vulnerable and showing him your hurt and simultaneously reassuring him you’re sharing this because you love him so much and you want to increase the intimacy between the two of you.
In addition to this, slowly improve your overall relationship by reassuring him you desire him – tell him he’s hot, initiate sex, dress up for his sake, get some new lingerie, give him compliments in the bedroom and so forth. Also, show him how much you love him by complimenting him, doing random acts of kindness for him, touching him (holding hands, caressing, kissing, etc.) and praising him in public (check out The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman for tips on how to make someone feel loved). What’s more, always tell him when he does something you like. Chances are he will start doing it more often – telling him you love it when he takes out the rubbish as he’s doing is likely ten times more effective than telling him you hate when he doesn’t do it. Men remember when you made them feel good and will act so as to receive more of it.
Come Up with Little Tricks
If you can both agree that arguing isn’t good, you can also agree to disagree and walk away to think before you continue the conversation. Chat about things. Decide never to go to bed angry. Decide to have a safe word, so that when you argue, one person says the safe word and you stop for a pause and you both go for walks by yourself to calm down. Decide that in the middle of each argument you need to stop and tell each other you love one another. And so forth.
If It’s Too Much
If the anger is constant/daily and you can’t take it, nagging, as mentioned, isn’t going to solve it. You have to make a decision – stay and accept him as is, whilst working together for something better (without nagging), or leave. Constant threats from you about leaving him won’t solve it. Simply draw a line and make your decision, one way or another.
Abuse Is Not Tolerated
If someone is angry a lot in situations where it’s not justifiable, it’s a form of emotional abuse. However, the person doing it might not intend to abuse you. Men have their patterns, which have nothing to do with you (you might have spilled the milk in their lap, but them getting angry is an ingrained habit, not caused by your milk, which, if anything, should have led to amusement, or disappointment/stress if they’re in public and won’t look great with milk spilt all over them), and they will act them out. Showing anger at you for things like spilling the milk (when at home, not in public), burning the pancakes, being too attractive at a party, or not being attractive enough are signs of abuse as they are related to a need of control. You might be able to work with this, by trying the methods above and seeing a psychologist, but if it’s bad already, or it’s getting worse, you may also have to leave. No one has the right to control you, not even your husband.
If your husband shows concern using anger, rather than sadness/compassion (my gran once told me she fell and broke her arm and grandpa started shouting at her), then it’s not intended as abuse, but nor is it comfortable, even if you should be flattered that they are so worried they’re screaming. These men are emotionally unavailable, to an extent, though and you could say that’s emotionally abusive, even if there’s absolutely no harm intended from their side. It’s a matter of figuring out if you want more emotional support, or not, as well as if they’re willing to become more emotionally available.
Some men (like my dad), who naturally react with anger, learn that you get upset, even though they don’t mean for you to get upset. My dad used to shout “you’re too sensitive” until he figured that didn’t work either and has taken it upon himself to start with “I’m not angry nor criticizing you, but my opinion is” and continuing in a level voice (more or less). He also apologizes if he does lose his temper. Which to me means he tries. Which means he loves me. And I have taken responsibility for my reactions. Why would I feel hurt by a man who is doing his earnest not to hurt me? Our opinions might be like night and day, but that doesn’t mean harm is intended, as I used to believe, which led to me blaming my dad a lot.
However, a relationship with a husband is very different from that with your dad. In a relationship you choose whom you’re with. If you want more emotional support and your husband isn’t willing give it, you can choose to leave him.
Of course, some men just have a temper. They blow their fuse. The anger isn’t misdirected (i.e. it’s not because they’re sad, or worried), it’s just it’s a volcanic reaction to a tiny issue. It can be abusive in the sense that you don’t want to receive that kind of energy though.
You have to try to discern whether you are dating someone who, by choice, or otherwise, are emotionally abusive, or just have a problem with their temper. If they are abusive and aren’t willing to work on it, then you have to leave them. If they are willing to work on it you have to ensure progress is made. If it’s a problem with their temper, you have to learn to see beyond it and disengage if you want to stay with them. Hopefully you can also work with them to change it.