Being married to an angry man is scary because it’s unpredictable.
It’s only natural to make like a turtle and retreat into your shell because it can really hurt to get the brunt of his anger. Your brain works overtime thinking of ways to protect yourself, which is exhausting and stressful.
It can also make you feel like you need to figure out how to keep him from getting angry. Or that you need to be a buffer between him and the kids.
Or it can make you feel that you need to just get out!
It seems like the only solution is for him to work on his anger issues. Until then, nothing can improve. You just have to wait for that to happen and encourage him to definitely get some therapy or something.
If that’s not happening, it can make you feel powerless and hopeless.
That’s what I used to think too, but it turns out I was making some mistakes that actually made the problem worse, not better.
And I’ve discovered I’m not the only one. Lots of well-meaning wives have made these same 3 mistakes.
Here they are, along with what to do instead so you can make your home peaceful, calm and safe.
Mistake #1: Walking on Eggshells
I know this one probably seems like we’ve just landed in Opposite World because walking on eggshells, or going out of your way to make sure he doesn’t get angry, seems like what you absolutely SHOULD do if you’re trying to keep things peaceful, right?
I know! I thought so too!
But trying to “walk on eggshells” means you’re trying to control how he reacts. And anytime I’m trying to control someone else, it’s pretty irritating.
So irritating that it could actually make them mad! It’s like trying to put out a fire with gas.
Whenever I’m controlling, it’s because I’m afraid, so if I’m afraid he’s going to blow up and I show up with that fearful body language and look on my face, it’s a message to him that says “I think you’re going to be upset.” Which, ironically, can be very upsetting.
So what should you do instead of walking on eggshells? (Which, let’s face it, can’t be done anyway.)
One idea is to ask yourself these two powerful questions:
1. How do I feel?
2. What do I want?
The answer to “How do I feel?” might be “scared.” Or “nervous.” Or “afraid.”
The answer to “What do I want?” will depend on you. Only you know what you want right then. Maybe it’s to do something to care for yourself, like take a bath or a walk, or maybe it’s to get takeout for dinner or shop for shoes online.
Sometimes when I’m scared it’s because I’m trying to get my own attention.
Fine, you might be thinking, but then what if he does blow up and I’m browsing shoes? Isn’t that going to make him even madder?
That leads me to the next common mistake.
Mistake #2: Depriving Him of Oxygen
I thought my husband was angry because he just had problems, probably from childhood that he would have to work on for a long, long time in therapy.
But it turns out, I was depriving him of oxygen, by which I mean respect. I thought I was respectful, but I wasn’t. I was picking at him all the time without realizing it.
Comedian Steve Trevino does a bit that explains this really well.
He talks about how he didn’t want to get married. He says, “No man woke up one day and was like ‘You know what? I’m tired of making my own decisions. I would like to be questioned all the time about everything I do.’”
Then he mimics his wife saying, “Why did you park there?” And Steve says, “I can’t take it. I lose it. ‘FINE! Tell me where you want me to park, boss!’” Then she says, “Oh my god, you’re mad. You have anger problems.”
Steve says he parks that car by himself all the time and never gets mad. He never asks himself why he parked there when he’s by himself. So he thinks it must be her!
And this is a great example of what my marriage used to look like, where I’d question my husband and think it was harmless, but really I was questioning his competence.
These days, instead of questioning how he does things, I figure out what I want and express that, as in, “I would love to park close to the store.”
I’m not questioning his judgment, which would be disrespectful, but just giving him the information about what I desire. (Why do I care about where we park, I sometimes wonder! Who knows! But if I do, it’s up to me to communicate what I desire instead of questioning his choice.)
Mistake #3: Trying to Get Him to Stop Being Angry
When you’re scared because you know your husband is angry, it’s the most automatic thing in the world to try to get him to stop by interrupting him, walking away or rolling your eyes.
You always have those options and you’re the expert on your own life.
But what if you mixed things up the next time he gets angry by just…listening? Listening without interrupting, even if he’s yelling.
It can be scary, especially if he’s mad AT you. But listening can be a powerful tonic for anger. Sometimes people get mad because they don’t feel heard.
I did this with my dad, who had a habit of getting worked up about politics. He’d yell and pound the table and go on and on. I’m not proud to say that my reaction was to dismiss him. I’d interrupt or try to change the subject, but he just got louder and more determined to make his points.
Until the day I decided to just listen. I still wasn’t interested in his political points, but I am interested in him, so I just sat there looking at him attentively, and when he paused I said, “I hear you” or “uh-huh.”
That was it.
And then something amazing happened. He stopped. All by himself. He calmed himself down.
He hasn’t gone on a political rant since. But if he did, I’d know it means he just wants to be heard, and there’s nothing I need to do about it but listen.
He just wants to be heard and seen and understood, like all of us.
Of course listening is easier said than done, especially if he’s hurling insults or swearing at you or the kids! When that happens, a powerful response is to honor yourself by simply saying “Ouch!” and leaving the room.
Or just “Ouch!” if you’re stuck in a car, for example.
It feels ridiculously vulnerable to say “Ouch,” but if you are courageous enough to say it, without defending or offending in the process, you give him the space to hear only his own conscience and see that he has hurt the woman he loves.
That is not what he intends, and your vulnerability is a powerful reminder that he loves to be your protector, not your antagonizer.
You have the power to remind him to be the best version of himself when you show up as the best version of yourself.
How will you be your best self today: by getting in touch with your feelings and desires? Expressing those desires? Just listening or saying “Ouch”?
I can’t wait to hear which you experiment with.