Anger can be a wedge that drives otherwise healthy marriages apart. When one or both spouses has trouble with anger management, it can create an unhealthy and sometimes abusive environment. When left unchecked, this cause defensiveness, withdrawal, and ultimately divorce. Here are five ways to help manage your anger and resolve conflict that could ultimately help save your marriage.
1. Don’t Come to the Table Angry
It is important to recognize that anger can be healthy, but it can also prevent couples from resolving their differences. Often a result of feeling threatened, anger can interfere with effective communication, making it hard to listen to your partner and process what is being said. Rather than trying to fight out your differences in anger, commit to discussing differences when you are calm, and to pausing if either spouse feels angry or threatened. That way you will be better able to resolve the conflict and cause fewer hard feelings.
Instead of: “You make me so angry!”
Say: “I’m feeling angry right now, can we take a break and talk about this later?”
2. Avoid Blaming and Personal Attacks
Often, when we are angry, we want to call out the person that caused it. However, blaming your spouse is a terrible way to resolve conflict and a very effective way to erode the bond between you. If you criticize or blame your partner, they will likely become defensive or blame you in return. Blame turns the focus to the people, instead of the problem. By committing to focusing on what is wrong rather than who caused it, you can resolve conflict together rather than driving each other away.
Instead of: “You’re so needy!”
Say: “I am under a deadline at work and don’t have time to do that for you right now.”
3. Create a Narrative that Gets to the Source of Your Anger
Your anger is usually a response to a problem, not its source. Effective anger management often starts by identifying what is making you angry in the first place. Unless you have taken the time to get to the source of your anger, you cannot effectively communicate it to your spouse. Take time to exercise mindfulness or journal about your feelings to figure out their cause.
Instead of: “I hate it when you ignore me!”
Say: “I feel unimportant when you look at your phone while talking to me.”
4. Manage Yourself, Not Your Spouse
It is difficult, if not impossible, to control anyone else’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. Trying will often make them more upset. Rather than trying to manage your spouse’s anger, focus on your own behavior. If you can deescalate your own emotions, it may make it easier for them to do the same.
Instead of: “You need to calm down!”
Do: Take deep breaths, slow your own heart rate, and calm yourself first.
5. Schedule a Time and Place to Resolve Differences
Fights will expand to fill the time available. If a difference of opinion comes up at dinner, it can quickly escalate to take up the entire night and force both of you to go to bed angry. However, if you start discussing your differences with a set end time in mind, you can focus on resolving the issue before you need to move on to the next task. If you haven’t finished the work in 30 minutes to an hour, set a specific time and place to come back and keep working. Agreeing on a set time to resolve your differences also allows you to remove conflict from the bedroom, which can break associations between that intimate space and the negative emotions you feel there.
Instead of: Sitting at the dinner table until neither of you can stand each other anymore.
Do: Agree on a time and place with a deadline to resolve disputes or schedule the next discussion.
Effective anger management between couples takes dedication, practice, and patience. No one can learn effective conflict management strategies and break emotional habits overnight. It is okay to get help. Through a shared commitment toward anger management, and the help of a therapist to guide you through conflict resolution techniques, you can resolve your differences without driving your marriage apart.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps individuals and couples learn strategies for anger management and conflict resolution within their relationships. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.