Handling a partner with anger issues

What you need to know:

When you try to control an angry partner, they may become defensive and more uncooperative. It is unwise to get angry in response to a partner’s anger; better to let the other person be angry and recognise they will eventually calm down.

Every parent knows all about tantrums. Toddlers have loads of them, because they are so easily frustrated, have difficulty expressing themselves, and have poor coping skills. But even adults can have anger outbursts, just as toddlers, and for much the same reasons. Especially with their spouses.

If your partner often gets angry like that, you probably feel embarrassed and helpless, because anger is scary and impossible to manage at the time. But there is an approach which will gradually stop such outbursts. Basically, the same way all mothers learn to deal with their toddlers.

This boils down to picking the right things to fight about, ignoring bad behaviour and reinforcing good.

Have a routine

Start by making your basic household routine as stable as possible, so everyone always knows what to expect. And watch for situations where your spouse tends to lose their cool. Such as when they are tired or hungry. Try to spot what pushes their buttons, and if you sense an outburst might be on the way, try to ease the situation.

If they are hungry for example, perhaps offer a snack instead of waiting for the next meal. Try to offer them choices rather than insisting on what you want. And if you are often saying no, consider saying yes occasionally if their requests are not too unreasonable.

Minimise your involvement

While your spouse is angry, try to minimise your involvement. Either carry on with whatever you are doing or unobtrusively wander off. And do not give in to their demands. Because that sends the message that anger gets you what you want. And so it becomes a way of life.

Stay calm, or at least pretend to. Because the more attention you give to anger outbursts, the more likely they are to happen again. If you do need to speak, keep your voice low. Anger is hard to ignore, but if you also get mad, you are giving your spouse the attention they want. Which is just as rewarding as getting their way.

Stay calm

You also cannot reason with someone who’s in the middle of an outburst. Their brain is just too full of hormones to be rational. The ‘maybe-I-can-talk-some-sense-into-them’ approach just means everything lasts longer. But as soon as you see signs that peace is returning, give your full attention back to your partner and talk to them warmly. Because rewarding their calmer behaviour means they are more likely to stay that way.

Once the outburst is over, you can discuss whatever started it in the first place. Make that discussion a good experience, because that’s the positive approach you want to be remembered and repeated.

Reward good behaviour

Try to notice when your spouse is behaving well and comment on it. Because giving good behaviour more attention means it’s reinforced and becomes more common, while ignoring bad behaviour means it tends to die away.

So the basic rule is to show little to no emotion and not rise to the bait. That needs patience and determination to begin with, but once you’ve learnt the technique, it really works.

Be honest

According to fustany.com, an angry partner is likely to blame you or someone else for their outburst, and the important thing to remember is not to absorb the negativity and anger they load on you.

This is something you must be very honest with yourself about and consider your actions. An important question you must ask yourself is, “is there anything you are doing or not doing that provokes or worsens your partner’s anger?”

The simplest thing for us humans to do in a situation is to blame ourselves, and here is something important to understand; you are only responsible for your own actions, not those of others.

If you need to apologise or change your behaviour, do so and then move on.

Think influence not control

Do not focus on trying to change your partner. You cannot. You can, however, influence your partner and show them the benefits of your position. You can influence your partner by creating a positive environment that is conducive to cooperation rather than control.

You may have heard the expression, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” When you treat your partner with sweetness, you may bring them closer to you, and closer to understanding how you feel and why you feel that way. This may increase your chances of productive outcomes.

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