Have you noticed that you can’t seem to talk with your husband without getting angry? Do you find that you quickly lose patience and go straight to yelling whenever you speak with him? Erupting in anger is not conducive to effective communication. Before you can change this negative pattern, you’ll need to think about what’s triggering your outburst of emotion and why. Understanding what’s behind your anger will help you change course and find a way back to calm, productive conversations with your spouse.
Strong Emotions Are Driven By Past Experiences
Anger, and other strong emotions, can be better explained with the 90-10 principle. The reason you have a strong emotional reaction is 90% historical, and 10% current. Specifically, historical factors such as religious background, childhood experiences, culture, trauma, and past relationship stress contribute to how we react in the moment. Experiences we’ve had in the past inform how we respond in present situations. Only 10% of our response reflects the here and now.
Part of the reason why we’re so attached to our emotional history is that our nervous system is designed to help us remember the past in order to stay safe. It’s a protective mechanism that kicks into gear in times of stress.
For example, we savor berries which are safe to eat. But when it comes to poisonous berries, we are wired to remember their color and taste to avoid eating them in the future and risking illness.
Similarly, if you grew up with a parent with an explosive temper, you too may find yourself going from calm to screaming in the blink of an eye when your partner raises their voice to you. We are deeply influenced by our memories and experiences since we are wired to learn from them.
Understanding Your Anger
In western culture, anger is often a superficial emotion. Meaning, anger masks some other underlying emotion and shouldn’t be taken at face value. We are socialized to consider anger as a more acceptable form of expression than sadness, embarrassment, or worry.
These other emotions feel more vulnerable while anger feels empowering. Remember that there’s more going on underneath the anger. Consider what is driving your reaction and address those feelings first.
3 Steps Toward Better Communication
When anger seeps into your conversations, it becomes difficult to make decisions, problem-solve, plan, or just share your thoughts. You get stuck in a merry-go-round of hostility. It’s unpleasant for everyone involved. In order to have a calm, productive talk with your husband, take these 3 steps to ensure you’ll be able to speak without getting angry:
- Understand where the anger actually comes from (i.e., your emotional history). What did he do that triggered your response? What is the real emotion that you felt? What is the history of that emotion in your life? Do you feel insecure in your relationship? Perhaps you feel ashamed of something you haven’t addressed yet? When you get to the bottom of the feelings which fuel your anger toward your spouse, you’ll be able to move past it.
- Learn how to stay grounded. Strong emotions hijack our brains and turn off the centers of self control and logic. You might have heard the expression “Hurt people hurt people.” This is an old survival skill that our nervous systems unfortunately cling to. Instead of lashing out at your partner, take a break, soothe yourself, and then come back to the conversation with a clear head.
- What do you want to say, do, or change without getting angry? If you lead every conversation with big emotions, you’ll likely not accomplish much. You’ll need to stay cool and collected to get your point across. Articulate your needs and wants without allowing your emotions to control the conversation.
Productive way to express what you need from your husband:
“I felt alone and taken for granted when you were talking to everyone but me at the party. I was bullied and friendless as a child so this is an old issue I struggle with. It’s important that I am seen by you and not ignored, especially in group settings.”
“You’ve been spending more time with your friends lately while I’ve been carrying much of the load at home. You know how much it bothered me that my father never lifted a finger and I had to help Mom raise my younger siblings. So this is a sensitive issue for me. I don’t mind you going out to have fun but I need a bit more of your help around the house. I think I’d also feel closer to you if we were more like a team.”
When you are able to identify the issues and tell your husband what it is that you need without getting angry, you’ll significantly improve your relationship and grow closer as a result.