If anger is not handled effectively in marriage, it can act like a cancer that slowly erodes all the good parts of the couple’s original connection. And the problem is: No one can trigger us more than our intimate partner. So often I am often asked, “Why can I behave perfectly normal with friends and coworkers, but when it comes to my significant other, I get so hurt and angry?” My response is this, “Because, they are just that important to us.” Further, when you are married, the implications of their behavior are far greater than when you are in a dating relationship. That makes us feel anxious, and unfortunately anxiety sets off a reaction in the primitive part of our brains, our brain stem. This is the part of our brain that we are born with, that leads us to operate on a “fight or flight” mode. When this part is activated, we are literally not acting from our wiser, more mature part of the brain (the frontal cortex). Knowledge of this alone is insignificant, though, because our partner is not going to care if we tell them, “I’m sorry, dear, my frontal cortex didn’t mean that.” Marriages in recovery must have both individuals focused on self-awareness, attentiveness and regard for their spouse, andbehavior that is intentional, not unconsciously driven by impulses or dysfunctional beliefs. Another factor that can contribute to dysfunctional beliefs and behavior related to marriage and anger is our family of origin experience. Unfortunately, many people grew up in families where anger was not expressed or addressed appropriately. If you grew up seeing the people around you be miserable, or tolerate things they were unhappy about, how would you know any different? The following represent some dysfunctional ways to cope with angry feelings:
- Using Denial (ignoring issues/problems).
- Peace at any price (e.g,conflict avoidance/giving in/withdrawal).
- Being a Victim (keeping track of everything that has happened).
- Passive/aggressive behavior (“yes”ing then “forgetting,” sarcasm, stubbornness, procrastination).
- Bigotry (finding other groups to direct your anger/hate/rage at).
- All is well (Attempts to sugar-coat; Using religious doctrine to help minimize).
Try to identify what you have learned about anger by watching the people that raised you, your community, and our culture at large. Talk with each other about these messages and experiences, and what dysfunctional styles you might tend to “lean” towards when you are scared or very upset.
Over the years, I have worked with all kinds of people, and couples at all stages of marital crisis. This work has proven to me that if couples are willing to do the hard work of awakening each day with an attitude of humility and forgiveness, openness to the person you each are trying to become, and an effort to continue working at listening and understanding each other, they will find their way out of the bleak, dark abyss of pain, hurt, and resentment.
If you or your spouse are having difficulty managing your anger, please read the Tips section of this topic and get educated about anger. Pine Rest offers an effective Anger Management Class for Individuals throughout the year. Couples education is also a wonderful way to increase your tool set, and some workshops, like PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program), have actually been shown to decrease Domestic Violence in marriage.
Self Talk When You’re Angry
Both research and experience shows that when people with anger problems change their self-talk, their anger de-escalates and they regain control. When you feel yourself starting to get angry, take a “Time Out” and read positive self-talk statements. Transfer them to 3 x 5 note cars and read them several times a day as well as during your Time Out. The following are examples of positive self-talk statements, but you can add your own as well:
- I don’t need to prove myself in this situation. I can stay calm
- As long as I keep my cool, I’m in control of myself.
- No need to doubt myself. What other people say doesn’t matter. I’m the only person who can make me mad or keep me calm.
- Time to relax and slow things down. Take a Time Out if you feel your body getting tight.
- My anger is a signal. Time to talk to myself and to relax.
- It’s impossible to control other people or situations. The only thing I can control is myself and how I express my feelings.
- It’s okay to be uncertain or insecure sometimes. I don’t need to be in control or everything and everybody.
- If this person gets upset, that’s their issue. I don’t need to respond to their anger or feel threatened.
- People are going to act the way they want to, not the way I want.
- I feel angry. That might mean I have been hurt or feel scared.
- It’s nice to have other people’s love and approval, but even without it, I can still accept and like myself.
- Most of the things we argue about are stupid and insignificant, and in 10 years will not matter. It’s okay to walk away from this fight.
- When I get into an argument, I can stay with my plan and know what to do. I can take a Time Out.
- If people criticize me, I can survive that. I do not have to be perfect.
- Nothing says I have to be content or strong all the time. It’s okay to feel unsure or confused.
- I don’t need to feel threatened here. I can relax and stay cool.
Time Out is really taking time away from a situation that has got you so upset you can not think, remain physiologically calm, and communicate in safe and assertive ways. If you feel yourself getting worked up, or feel an argument brewing that is making you nervous and tense, tell your partner you need a Time Out and reschedule the discussion. A good rule of thumb is to reschedule within 24 hours. If the idea of further discussing it seems unsafe or impossible, then schedule a third party to help you, such as a minister, family member, or counselor.
It may not solve your interpersonal conflicts, but Time Out can help you calm down so you can have more control over how you act.
Tips for taking a time out:
• Do not use time out as a way to avoid a difficult subject or to punish your partner.
• Use time out to protect a relationship from unhealthy, escalating arguments.
• Leave any situation immediately if you feel your anger building to the point of becoming abusive. Getting some physical space from the person you are in conflict with by going in another room or outside is important and will make it easier to calm down.If your spouse chases you, go in to a room with a lock and lock the door. Later, get help from a qualified marriage counselor, as someone who cannot let you set a boundary with them needs help learning to do so for the sake of the marriage and their well being.
• Engage in physical activity which could have a calming effect and helps you discharge your body’s energy (e.g., take a walk, mow the grass/shovel snow, run up and down the stairs, stretch, lift weights, etc.).
• Try to avoid thinking about what just made you angry –instead, think about calming experiences, activities, or people. Or, focus on breathing, your muscles relaxing, or the sounds around you.
• Read your list of positive self-talk.
• Do not use alcohol or drugs, and do not go for a drive.
• When you feel calm, return again and possibly try to talk again. If you cannot, then express love for your spouse and the regard for the success of the relationship and ask if you can have a 3rd party’s help.
• Remember, you are taking Time Out for you and your health, as much as for the relationship’s success. There is strength in self-discipline and you are building strength and increasing the chances of your own longevity.
PREP COUPLES COMMUNICATION COURSE
To help couples overcome common problems in miscommunication, take a Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) class. PREP is a skills building program designed to help committed couples of any status (married or unmarried) and any age learn to communicate more effectively, manage conflicts, and solve problems without damaging intimacy and trust. It has been featured on national shows such as Oprah, 20/20, and 48 Hours.
This seminar will help couples learn valuable information such as:
• The 4 Relationship “Danger Signs”
• Relationship Ground Rules for Handling Conflict • The Speaker-Listener Technique
• A Method of Problem Solving
• How to Preserve Fun and Friendship in a “busy” culture. An eight-hour program, couples will learn by traditional lectures, watching videotaped examples of other couples, participating in larger group discussions, and private practice sessions coached by mental health professionals trained to help participants apply what they learn to real-life situations.
“It is a very valuable program because the skills couples learn can be used for the rest of their lives,” said Remi Rakipi, the course facilitator. Rakipi received a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Michigan. She also holds a certificate in marriage and family therapy, specializing in couples and sex therapy, from the PENN Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. She is the monthly relationship expert on WZZM 13′s Take 5 program and has been published in the Journal of Couple and Sex Therapy. “A satisfying relationship takes work. When I worked in Philadelphia, I watched couples really absorbing the information they learned in the PREP workshops. I found it so helpful I wanted to bring it back to Grand Rapids,” said Rakipi. For more information, send an email to Remi at email@example.com or call (616) 617-1188.
Anger Management Classes for Adults
Led by Jim Bottenhorn, MA, LLP, Director of Pine Rest’s Hospital Admissions. Open to adults and older teens. Registration is required. Cost: $65/individual or $95/two family members. Class fee due at first class. Call 616/493-6033 for more information and to register. Participants will learn the difference between the emotion of anger and aggression, explore the factors that influence their anger, learn to recognize anger’s warning signs, and develop new ways of responding to feelings of anger that are productive, vs. unproductive. Class participants will also learn to communicate their feelings appropriately, rather than stuffing them or blowing up. American Psychological Association article on Anger: http://www.apa.org/topics/controlanger.html
Emotions Anonymous is a twelve-step organization, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Weekly meetings help people work toward recovery from emotional difficulties. EA members are from many walks of life and are of diverse ages, economic status, social and educational backgrounds. The only requirement for membership is a desire to become well emotionally. Our program has been known to work miracles in the lives of many who suffer from problems as diverse as depression, anger, broken or strained relationships, grief, anxiety, low self-esteem, panic, abnormal fears, resentment, jealousy, guilt, despair, fatigue, tension, boredom, loneliness, withdrawal, obsessive and negative thinking, worry, compulsive behavior and a variety of other emotional issues. Visit their website at http://www.emotionsanonymous.org
Help for Domestic Violence issues is available at the Grand Rapids YWCA.
For emergency shelter or confidential telephone support, call 24-hour Domestic Violence Crisis Hotline at (616) 451-2744.
Safe Shelter is available for women and their children for up to thirty days. Help is available in finding legal, medical, housing, and child care services.
National Domestic Violence Hotline:
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or http://www.ndvh.org/