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Letting the Anger Out

Thursday, April 27, 2006

posted by Andrew

One of the recurring themes through submissions I receive from clients is the anger couples feel towards each other. Some couples feel pure unadulterated hatred, some feel hurt and have a wish for revenge, and others feel frustration at the state of their marriage. What started as fresh-faced enthusiasm and lust has ended up in frustration, lack of communication, and mutual dislike for the way things are.

I received a submission from a client recently who spoke of her husband’s tantrums when she questioned him on issues he didn’t want to talk about. He would yell and scream and hurl verbal insults at her in an effort to make her leave him alone. This really worried me.

I asked her how she responded to these tantrums, and her reply was that she would take a step back and leave the room. I thought about this for a while, wondering if this was indeed the best course of action. Part of me wondered if leaving the room perpetuated the violence and led her husband to look upon his outbursts as an effective way of ending communication. But the other part of me wondered if she had stayed and confronted her husband’s violence if it would have made a difference. If she didn’t give up and leave the room when he started getting angry, would he see it as an ineffective way to deal with his problems? Or would the anger have escalated to physical violence?

I wish there was an easy answer to this. So she asked me "What would you have done?"

I would have ceased communication and left the room as she did, but later when he calmed down, I would have spoken to him about the violence and insults, and explain how inappropriate it is in a marital environment. When your partner lets violence and anger in, it indicates they have lost control. At this stage, nothing you say is going to make a difference, so your best course of action is to end the conversation and leave the room.

But… there should always be consequences. If you leave the room and say nothing about it later, the message your partner gets is that the angry outburst works, and reinforces the behavior.

Negative behavior has to have negative consequences if you are going to combat anger and break the cycle of violence. My answer to this subscribers situation was to choose a moment later and make your thoughts about the appropriateness of their outburst very clear. It is important that you assert yourself and identify what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

So next time you are in a situation where anger rears its ugly head, you need to consider your response to it, and your most effective way to combat anger and break the cycle.

Choose your battles, and be sure it is at an appropriate time and place.

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