By the time most couples seek help with their marriage, anger is a profound element of the relationship. I’ve also noticed, however, that it’s common for neither party to acknowledge their own anger, although they can often easily point out the anger within their spouse. Wives might bring up their husband’s outbursts, raging, or controlling behavior. Husbands tend to point out their wife’s lack of forgiveness, withdrawal, or depression. Each of them feels fairly justified in what they’re allowing to brew under the surface of their behavior, without recognizing how much damage their anger is doing.
What Anger Looks Like
I’ve noticed that, for men, anger tends to be about coercing the world around them to do or be what they want it to be. When an angry outburst seems to make people fall in line, shut up, and keep the world moving the way they see fit, it can create the false sense that “all is well.” Anger seems to be used as a force to control the people around them, to regain or maintain their footing by putting people “in their place” by demeaning or powering-over them.
For women, anger tends to be more about reacting to what they experience as injustice against them. It tends to be a much slower to build; it simmers and stews, and often gets turned inward. Women tend to feel that society teaches it’s less acceptable for women to be angry. So, instead, they exhibit depression, anxiety, or psychosomatic symptoms and variations of PTSD. It seems to be the result of being silenced, gaslighted, belittled, and misjudged. For women, it seems anger tends to be used more as a force to resist the ways people have controlled and overpowered them.
For both, anger is a key building block in their wall of self-protection. It supports defense mechanisms and fuels the facades we wear. Anger can make it very difficult to be authentic and connect to your spouse, especially because the only connection that can happen is to whatever is in front of your shield of self-protection, which is often a very shallow, non-vulnerable self. In being self-protective, you disable the very thing your heart craves—authentic connection.
Anger is Not All Bad
Anger is not necessarily a bad thing. It informs us that something is going on that we need to pay attention to, something that needs to be addressed and changed. This could be something within ourselves, such as dissonance or unresolved trauma. It could be constantly feeling unsettled about who we are or where we’re going or being frustrated about being so uncertain, complacent, or fearful. Maybe our expectations need to be evaluated or our perception lined up with reality. Maybe we’re letting others define us or we’re trying to live their lives for them.
There might be an external force creating chaos or injustice that needs to be addressed. We control much less than we think we do, and circumstances have a way of proving that. People treat us wrongly. We don’t get what we think we deserve. We lose. Our debt overwhelms us. The laundry doesn’t clean itself.
Address the Root Issues
Whether the anger is internal or external, we are going to have to address the root issues. It’s how we wield our anger that makes the difference in whether we build or further destroy the relationships around us.
Take some time to evaluate how much anger is impacting your thinking. Do you constantly feel off-kilter, fearful, unjustly treated, misjudged, or misunderstood? Sitting in those emotions without navigating them purposefully or intentionally toward a healthy direction will lead your soul to the kind of anger that diminishes and destroys.
Evaluate the impact of anger on your behavior. Is your anger propelling you into behaviors that are demanding, punitive, coercive, or manipulative? Are you sarcastic and contemptuous? Is the silence glaring and cold? Both silence and rage break down relationships, and not living congruently as the kind of person you want to be will break down you. Anger may also be exhibited as anxiety or depression, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, little tolerance or patience, or as a driving force in an addiction.
Some great questions to ask when you’re angry are: What am I fighting for? What am I fighting against? What’s going on in me and what does that tell me about what I need? How can I better ask for what I really need? Am I trying to control someone else? Am I taking responsibility for controlling myself and managing my own internal world? How can I use boundaries more effectively to invite my spouse into a better connection without losing myself?
Using Anger in a Healthy Way
Once you’ve taken a hard look at how much anger is brewing within you, you are much better able to recognize when and where it is negatively impacting your life. And once you see where it’s going wrong, you can right it.
The biggest impact of dealing with anger in a healthy way is that, while the circumstances might not change, you will be more intentional about navigating them, which translates to feeling less like a victim. You’ll be better able to live your life, not simply be fending off everything happening to you. You’ll think more clearly, step more surely, and build relationships more authentically. And I think you’ll find your heart to be much more at rest.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to control your anger or use it in a healthy way, or if your spouse is having those problems, we can help! To learn more about the programs, therapy, and coaching we offer at the Marriage Recovery Center, contact our Client Care Team.