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How to Confront Your Angry Spouse and Reclaim Your Self-Respect

Photo: Richard Upsur

Loving an angry person can be a daily challenge. Even worse, confronting angry people often creates an atmosphere that is hostile and distancing or punishing with aggression or cold hostility. However, you might have reached a breaking point and are ready to do a cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of your changing the rules and insisting on respectful behavior.

Think of several likely bad case scenarios that might happen if you challenge your spouse, and ask yourself, “Can I live with this?” If so, go ahead and rock the boat a little. Some boats need rocking.

John Gottman’s research showed that women are more dissatisfied in marriage and confront their husbands to try to promote change. A disgruntled woman might air her frustration and criticize her partner harshly and he comes back with defensiveness and anger and the fight begins once more. See if the proverb “A soft voice turneth away wrath” works with your partner.

Gottman also found that people who start a potential disagreement with a “soft, non-blaming startup” are more likely to get the problem solved. Some partners inadvertently encourage the angry person by showing derision and sarcasm that encourages the other person to escalate their level of anger.

Families are systems and each member of the family is caught in the dynamics that create anger. Some nitpick at their partner, provoking them even more. Watch the type of complaints you make that threaten your partner’s self-esteem such as statements of blame that start with “You always_____.”

Criticism and sarcasm about another person’s behavior is not productive and may make the problem worse. They are other forms of passive aggressive behavior that causes more harm to an already distressed relationship. Save your energy for problem solving. Make a list of his or her buttons that you push and observe how you set him or her off.

Carl Ridley described how men do not typically provide emotional support for women over a long period of time because they have not been conditioned to do so with their socialization. He related that men cannot provide emotional support for an angry woman.

I caution women to not feed their own angry beast inside as it can turn and devour them! Do not further provoke an already angry partner. If provocation is your pattern, own it and do the necessary release work to stop this most unproductive behavior that destroys relationships.

If the destructive person says he can change all by himself but hasn’t been able to do so for years, it is alright it is alright to challenge him on that mildly but firmly.

Look him in the eye and say, “I and our children deserve better.” Keep your voice calm while you level with him.

Continue, “Your destructive behavior is no longer welcome or acceptable. It will not be tolerated any longer. You appear to be in denial about constantly hurting others. You’ve tried and tried to control it for several years and haven’t succeeded. Your way of dealing with anger is not working. You need a professionally trained person to help you. This means going to an anger management class or addressing the issue in counseling. Which plan is preferable to you? Classes or counseling?”

Keep reminding him about making better choices in life. Find some phone numbers of resources, write them down and present it to him. Be crystal clear as to what you expect to have happen and how you will respond if you don’t get it. Use exact, clear words …something like:

“You have a choice. Before acting immaturely, you can either walk away and calm yourself down or continue yelling which traumatizes your family. Make this decision for yourself and for your family. We can become a more loving family if you take this step.”

Bring it up again that he is being unfair with his offensive behavior and his refusal to learn tools for change affects everyone. Boundary it off. Repeat as necessary! And if you continue to live with an abusive partner, I recommend getting a copy of Tina Turner’s hit record What’s Love Got to Do with It? and playing it over and over nonstop until you get the message that feeling love for someone who abuses you or the children is not love.

It is attraction to an abuser which is a toxic bond. Abuse can create trauma bonding where the submissive person gives up power while the abuser/manipulator gains power. Giving your own power away to someone who manipulates you is an insidious, toxic delusion.

For Those Who Can’t Say No (And You Know Who You Are)

  • May you know your Bottom Line—what behaviors you stand for and what ones you won’t.
  • May you listen to your Crap Detector when something radical doesn’t feel right.
  • May you get a reality check with someone you admire if you’re not sure about a boundary.
  • May you use your firm voice to ask for what you want and know you won’t always get it.
  • May you set and stick to strong boundaries when pushed past your personal comfort level.
  • May you recognize when you do too much for another person and are approaching burnout.
  • May you speak with authority to say what works for you and what doesn’t.
  • May you understand the difference between agreeing because you want to and giving in.

Fear of confrontation typically starts in childhood with the youngster not wanting to displease a parent. These feelings of anxiety and guilt can come up when you bring up an issue that brings about an altercation. Being afraid to confront someone and set boundaries because you feel awkward and “funny” inside is just the fear of having the normal feelings of uncertainty, guilt and anxiety. Most of us dislike confrontation except that small percentage of people who thrive on it and become fueled with adrenalin.

Releasing Beliefs of Fear of Confrontation

Have you ever heard of Emotional Freedom Techniques? Try using them to tap away if you feel uncomfortable or frightened when someone is upset with you when you speak out. You may be feeling phobic or afraid of your own awkward feelings. Start with your present issue and then go back to your childhood or previous relationship. You may have accepted the role of the people pleaser or picked up the idea that others should not be challenged for rotten behavior.

If you are a nervous, fear-ridden person, this tapping protocol will be a gold mine for you. Do these self-limiting statements that create codependency right now before you get in another situation where you feel guilty and give in.

Even though _____ [add issue here], I forgive myself and now choose to breathe deeply and speak up and deal with the issue.

_____ I pretend I don’t care and give in to keep the peace because I hate conflict.

_____ I am afraid of confrontation because it makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable.

_____ I can’t stand feeling confused and anxious when someone is angry with me.

_____ I can’t hurt someone’s feelings so must give in rather than disappoint or upset them.

_____ I feel bad when I hurt someone’s feelings even when they are willing to hurt mine.

_____ I shrink in fear and lose my center because I’m afraid of loud voices and being scolded.

_____ I lose my train of thought when someone has an angry look on their face.

_____ I feel overwhelmed and rattled when _____ starts to yell at me.

_____ I become so nervous when being yelled at that I lose my train of thought.

_____ My heart starts beating wildly and I become _____ when_____.

_____ I lose it when I’m criticized or angry and dissolve in tears.

_____ I stuff my anger down to avoid conflict but then it builds up and I explode.

_____ I’m afraid to say what I really want to say because I feel weird and awkward.

_____ I’m worried that the other person will think badly of me so I keep quiet.

_____ I minimize the issue because I’m afraid I might be wrong so say nothing at all.

_____ I am afraid of my feelings of _____ when I try to ask for what I need, so back down.

_____ I learned to give in because it is easier than dealing with my fear of _____.

_____ I shrink inside when I hear a loud voice criticizing me because I feel _____.

_____ I want to run away and hide rather to deal with conflict to avoid my bad feelings.

_____ I cower in fear and then am disgusted with myself because I refrain from speaking up.

Customize the statements to your own experience. Add your own “Even though” statements:

Now go back and tap on the statements again with a setup statement that relates back to when you first felt fear around confrontation. This is called the originating event and may take you back to childhood. It’s important you release all these fear beliefs back at the root cause of when they first happened in your earliest years or in an abusive relationship.

Even though _____ [add issue here] when Mom/Dad/former partner/ bully _____, I forgive myself for feeling helpless and hopeless. I offer love and compassion to the helpless child and choose to speak up calmly.

So whether you are a man or woman who has put up with abuse, start gaining your self-respect by telling him that you are changing the contract of your putting up with bad behavior that you agreed to when the two of you came together.

He has changed the contract through repeated anger, and now you must change it for the mental health of all involved. He may not like your standing up for fairness and healthy interaction, but on a deep level, he knows that you are right. It comes down to your having the balls to state your boundaries. No matter what your gender, it is still balls and boundaries!

 Yet if there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty, both personally and professionally, it is this: Nothing will change in our lives until we change our own behavior. Insight won’t do it. Understanding why we do the self-defeating things we do won’t make us stop doing them. Nagging and pleading with the other person to change won’t do it. We have to act. We have to take the first step down a new road.” – Susan Forward. Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You.

lynne namkaLynne Namka Ed. D. a psychologist in private practice in Tucson, AZ. She developed most of the anger release products after years of working with angry children in groups and with families with anger problems. Lynne writes books and develops products in diverse areas of the self help field (parenting, children, relationships and conscious aging), providing techniques that produce tangible results for personal change and growth. Her website is called Angries Out.

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