Friday, August 10, 2012

Ten Tips for Dealing with Anger in Marriage

We may not like to talk about it, but if you’re married, you’ve been there. How do we deal with our anger in marriage? How do we argue? How do we reconcile? We all have different ways of handling our differences with our spouse, but here are a few things I’ve learned over the 13 years I’ve been married to my husband.

1.    Stop talking – wait till you can be reasonable and sincere
Before you say something you don’t mean, stop. You can’t take your words back. You can ask forgiveness later, you can say you were out of line, but the memory of your voice saying something hateful or unkind will last forever. Stop before you say something you don’t mean. Sometimes this is so hard for me, but I NEVER regret it!

2.    Don’t storm off, or walk away
My husband can’t stand it when someone walks away. I try to respect that, and have found value in that habit. Walking away is wimpy. Walking away either says you don’t care or you don’t respect your spouse enough to listen. If you need a break to keep yourself from violating rule number 1, then tell your spouse, in a reasonable tone of voice, that you might need a break to think. You don’t want to overreact, and you want to make sure that you say what you mean. That’s fine. Your spouse should understand. Just make sure that you DO come back to continue the conversation.

2.5 But, don’t let the sun go down on your anger
Make it a habit to resolve things as quickly as you can. There’s nothing more miserable for each of you, and for your children, than to have you two walking around for days grumbling, rolling eyes and being snippy. What torture! In the end, you will only make things worse by hurting each other more. My husband and I try to resolve things the DAY they happen. This mostly comes from my impatient nature. I can’t STAND to wait! God can bring good from anything, right!?

3.    Don’t be a Princess (or Prince)
We are ourselves. We all have a hard time remembering that we are just one side of the story. Because we live in OUR head, and we hear all OUR arguments, we reason out the injustices done to us and feel OUR pain. We don’t live, hear, reason or feel what our spouses do. We just see their faces and hear their voices, and when they’re mad, that might not engender much sympathy.

Often, when I’m mad, I have to go off to my room, shut myself in, lie on the bed and calm myself down enough to be able to consider the issue from my husband’s perspective. Even if I’m obviously RIGHT, sometimes doing that can help me see a bit of reality: He did travel out of town the past three days and stayed up with the baby last night. He’s really, really tired and I can should cut him some slack. Or, I can consider of how my words might have sounded to him. In light of what he’s been going through lately, I can better understand how my they hurt him, even if I didn’t intend it.
Sometimes we really do just need to stop thinking we’re so perfect and righteous in order to be able to understand how our spouse feels.

4.    Take a break – clear your mind, don’t mull or blab
Sometimes mulling only brews more anger. Maybe you need a break. Go for a walk. Go to the store, play a game of Go Fish with the kids. Get your mind off the topic for a bit. Many times, I have found that after stepping away, and removing the emotion from the topic, I can come back and look at the issue that caused our disagreement and realize that it really wasn’t that big of a deal after all!
Be respectful. Even if you’re angry or upset, there is rarely a time when it is necessary for you to blab to a friend or even a family member. Once everything is resolved, you will usually regret revealing that intimate part of marriage to someone else. Be careful of calling a girlfriend, or complaining over a beer with a friend.  When we’re angry, we are hardly ever fair, and will usually not give the complete story. That never ends well.

5.    Dig Deeper – what is the real reason you’re angry?
Sometimes you’re really not angry about what you think you’re angry about! And that’s just not fair. What can your spouse do if you’re throwing old emotions or misdirecting anger at him? He has no CHANCE! If you feel some burst of anger pop out of nowhere, there might be something more there. Think about things for a while.  Try to find the root cause, so that you can really deal with the issue and move on.

I remember one August getting very upset that my husband wasn’t available to go purchase school supplies as a family. I was so very put out… I think he thought I was a bit nuts. But, after a few minutes of reflection, I realized that I wasn’t really mad that he didn’t want to go buy school supplies. I was really just overwhelmed in general about the end of another summer, and the beginning of a new school year – my kids were growing up, and I was a little shaken! And I took it out on my poor husband!

6.    Pray
Seriously, pray. Don’t pray that God will show your spouse how right you are. Don’t pray that God will comfort you in your agony.

Don’t pray selfishly!

But, rather, pray for God to grant you the virtue of humility. Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, promised to you when you entered into a sacramental marriage, to be poured out. Pray that God will help YOU to love more, act with kindness, and be a better servant. God will take care of the rest.
“To love is to cherish one thought, to live for the person loved, not to belong to oneself, happily and freely with one’s heart and soul to be subjected to another will … and at the same time to one’s own.”  – St. Josemaria Escriva
7.    It’s okay to apologize first
Because sometimes, it just doesn’t really matter. I don’t know how many times my husband has come up to me, given me a hug, and said, “I’m sorry!” He wasn’t stating who was right and who was wrong. He wasn’t saying, “I’m sorry… that you messed up!” In his mind, and in his voice, he conveyed that he was sorry that we fought. “I love you. I don’t want to fight. You’re my best friend. I’m sorry.”

“You are more important than my feelings.”

It takes great humility to apologize sincerely.  It’s SO hard. But it feels good to let that resentment and anger go.  And sometimes, when one person is willing to start, the other follows. That first step of love and humility can soften hearts and bring the rest of the issue out in the open with an attitude of love and a true desire for resolution.

8.    “I’m sorry, but…” Is NEVER okay
We have a “No ‘I’m sorry, but…’ Rule” in our home, with our children, with each other. If you’re ready to apologize, then you’re either in, or you’re out.  If you say something like, “I’m sorry, but that was a really stupid thing to do!”… guess what? No dice. You’re back at square one, or worse. Make sure your apology can hold water and be taken seriously. Make sure that you are able to be sincere, or wait. And remember, your body language speaks volumes. Make sure that your face, your eyes and your voice echo what you feel.

9.     Don’t be afraid to ask for help when necessary

You may think everyone else’s marriage is perfect and you’re the only couple who has struggled. That’s NOT true. I bet you’d be surprised how many couples you know who have gone to a wise priest for advice, been on a marriage retreat or gone to some sort of marriage counseling. Sometimes loving enough to admit you need a bit of help is the greatest gift you can give your spouse.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or that you have failed. You’re just looking for some outside, detached, well-informed perspectives. It might just be the best thing you’ve ever done for your marriage. So, don’t afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.

10.   Be thankful, and love.
Practice love. Remember the good things, and bring them to mind often. Make a habit of speaking well of your spouse. Say something nice on Facebook, praise her to her boss at the Christmas party. Tell him you’re proud of what he does. Tell him you love the way he mows the grass like clockwork or the taste of his sweet rolls on Saturday mornings. Remember those things that made you fall in love with him in the first place. And bring them to mind often.

It’s like strength training. If you go to the gym regularly, and routinely repeat those things that will make you strong, when you’re thrown into a tough moment – that hike up the mountain when you’ve had little sleep and it’s starting to rain (yes, this just happened to me recently!) – the strength you’ve built up over time will carry you through. You will be strong when you need to be.  Even in those unexpected moments.

It is the same with love. Give yourself some strength. The Lord has given you two to each other, to wear down the rough edges, to help you become the person he intends you to be, to bring you closer to Himself by bringing you closer to your spouse. Rejoice in the confidence of God’s faithfulness to your marriage, and be faithful to each other.

“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working, and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.” 
-St. Francis de Sales

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