What do you do when your spouse is showing signs of anger? Or it may be really obvious she/he is angry. And what if his/her upset or anger is about you??
You may have been hoping your partner wasn’t angry with you. Most of us want to sidestep conflict. It’s uncomfortable and we may lack the skills to work through it. Plus, angry people are scary.
When your partner is angry with you, do you typically:
- turn the conversation around to something you’re angry at him/her about instead? (Defensiveness)
- change the subject to something neutral (or walk away) in an attempt to avoid the anger? (Distancing)
- step into the victim role by agreeing or being self-deprecating? (Defensiveness - Victim stance)
- verbally attack your partner until you are both yelling?
You know that none of these approaches will bring a good outcome to the original subject (what your partner is angry about). What can you do to cool the fire in your partner instead of inflaming it? It’s easier than you might think: what's needed is for you to really listen to his/her concerns.
That’s right, listen - even if you don’t agree. You can still hear your partner’s point of view even if you have a different point of view. How do you ensure that you don’t become a victim or an attacker in this situation? You certainly shouldn’t jump in or respond with your own comments! Instead, simply repeat back what your partner said. “What I heard you say was you’re upset with me about...Did I get it?”
This is simple but not easy. And it's more challenging when you're partner is angry with you. By repeating back what your partner says, you are letting your spouse know that you want to know what’s going on inside him/her. You are showing that you care. In effect, you are saying, “You can tell me when you are upset with me. We can handle this together. It’s best to get this out in the open, in a calm way, so it doesn’t fester and grow." Anger can show up in any relationship and knowing how to manage it is a crucial adult skill.
There is, however, one caveat: do not repeat back things your partner says when he/she is abusive. You should not repeat name-calling or attempts to shame you. And you need to get yourself to safety if your partner is physically or sexually abusive. In this article, we’re talking about how to handle your partner’s anger that is verbal and under control, not abusive.
So, in typical cases where your partner is angry but in control, your job is to:
- listen to your partner
- remember that listening doesn’t mean agreeing
- repeat back what your partner said (even when you don’t agree) "What I heard you say was..."
- check with her/him that you “got it”
- ask, “How can we make this better?”
When an angry person is listened to, they often calm down. They want to be heard and to connect, but are doing a poor job of asking for it! Knowing this will go a long way toward helping you stay calm and able to care for (and calm) your spouse when he/she is upset.
Something else that will help you in these moments: self-soothing. Use one of your techniques to keep calm such as taking deep breaths, alternating tapping your fingers or connecting with your Higher Power.
We're here to help. To learn more about how you can deal with your partner’s anger effectively, call (908) 246-3074 or email email@example.com.