I don’t know about you, but I am super sensitive to the anger and disappointment anyone feels toward me, but none more than my spouse. I don’t know why, but I want everyone to be happy with me all the time. Maybe because I’m a people-pleaser, if you are happy with me, then I must be okay. That’s my junk.
Couples will cause each other anger, pain, and disappointment. We have even felt a twinge of homicidal tendencies at times. Am I right? Normal stuff.
The way we deal with our spouse’s anger toward us can make all the difference in the outcome.
Let me tell you how I use to deal with my husband’s anger toward me. I would do one of two things. I would become defensive, make excuses, and deflect by pointing out things he has done wrong. Or, I would take it as a personal affront and catastrophize. I’m a failure. I’m less than. I’ll never do anything right, which is all self-shaming. Who can be perfect and make a spouse happy all the time? No one.
Neither of the ways I handled my spouse’s anger was healthy, so I had to learn how to handle it differently.
So let me give you some tips or best practices.
Listen to the complaint without judgment. Be open. You learn more about your spouse’s feelings every time they express them. You learn about their triggers- how they see things. Without conflict, you cannot grow to understand the perspective of your spouse.
Accept that your spouse has a right to feel the way they do. Their perspective is their reality, even if you don’t understand it or it seems ridiculous to you. Hear them the way you want to be heard. Ask questions if you need more clarity.
Accept your part. You know we screw up whether it is intentional or not. We are human. When an issue is brought up, put yourself in the place of your spouse. Try to see it from their perspective. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? What could you do differently that might make things better in the future?
Avoid defensiveness. Defensiveness is a self-protective response. Check yourself. Try not to let the issue trigger your own insecurities or self-esteem. The issue is the issue. You are not less than for upsetting your spouse. Affirm your self-worth. Don’t take it personally.
I would be remiss not to address the way your spouse expresses their anger and disappointment as well. If it is brought to you with criticism or contempt, you will inevitably take it personally and respond defensively, but there are ways to deal with this as well.
If your spouse expresses their anger with criticism or contempt, don’t retaliate in kind. Share your feelings and ask for something different. Something as simple as when you talk to me about a problem and speak that way, I feel shame, anger, and pain. Can you tell me what is bothering you more kindly so I can hear you more clearly? Ask to take a breather and come back to it when the tension is lessened. Speak your truth with respect always.
Now, I can’t tell you all of this without sharing something from my own relationship. My mind is full all the time. I have 100 thoughts racing through my mind regularly. What happens is I might not follow through. I forget to do things that are important and timely. I wreck cars because I’m not totally present when driving. I leave doors unlocked, sunroofs open (yes, it rained in my husband’s car one time). I get side-tracked, lose track of time, and run late. I lose things regularly. When I’m supposed to be giving my full attention to a conversation, my 100 thoughts can distract me. My kids call me the absent-minded professor, although my mind is never absent of anything.
So, needless to say, it makes my husband angry. Now, I could dig my heels in as many of us do and think, “That’s just the way I am. Get over it, but do I want to be right or have a more peaceful relationship? So, I own my part. I do go too fast and don’t stay in the present moment. I don’t pay attention to the details like I even wish I would, but my husband’s anger isn’t about me as a person. It is about a behavior or habit that could stand to be worked on. It is causing a conflict.
So, I take it as an opportunity to improve myself. I make lists now and focus on one thing at a time. I meditate to slow my mind down. I don’t stop in the middle of one task and run off to the other one that crossed my mind unless it is a timelier concern. I focus on my driving now instead of pondering the next task or the world’s problems. When I leave the house, I’ve gotten into the habit of checking all the doors. And before I get out of the car, I make sure to check sunroofs and windows then lock the car.
You might be thinking I’m doing all of this, so my husband is happier with me, but I’m not. He has some valid frustrations. When shared, frustrations are actually a way for me to take a look at what I could do better, and quite frankly, I’m happier with myself because I’ve taken some steps that have improved my self-esteem.
Having someone angry with you isn’t the worst thing that can happen. It can help you see things about yourself that maybe you could improve on. I don’t know about you, but I do want to be the best me I can be, and if my spouse’s anger helps me see how my behavior is affecting him and challenge my own personal growth, I can see it as an opportunity instead of the end of the world.
Do I always do this perfectly? Um, no. I can still get going too fast, but it’s progress, not perfection in life.
And let me assure you, my anger is directed at my husband as well, so don’t think this is one-sided. I won’t go into that detail because I’m careful not to throw him under the bus on my podcast.
Learning how to deal with your spouse’s anger using these steps will improve the outcome of the conflict.
- Listen to the complaint without judgment. Be open.
- Accept that your spouse has a right to feel the way they do. Their perspective is their reality.
- Accept your part. Is there some truth about what they are sharing that you could do better?
- Avoid defensiveness. Defensiveness is a self-protective response. Don’t take it as something wrong that is wrong. with you. Let the issue be the issue.
- If your spouse expresses their anger with criticism or contempt, don’t retaliate in kind. Share your feelings and ask for something different.