Dealing With An Emotionally Explosive Spouse: 5 Practical Anger Management Tips

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Dealing with an emotionally explosive spouse is no easy feat. One minute you’re reminded of how much you love them, the next you feel like you’re married to a stranger.

While every marriage has its ups and downs, angry outbursts and emotional explosions really take a toll on your relationship. These five practical tips* may be just what you need to help you address anger management in your marriage:

1.   Set boundaries

Sometimes people feel guilty about setting firm boundaries in their marriage. However, every relationship, romantic or otherwise, will require some amount of boundary setting. Clear limits that are respectfully honored, will help to ensure that your relationship functions well.

Boundaries might feel tricky or intimidating, but they’re one of the best ways to keep a relationship intact. If you’re dealing with an emotionally explosive spouse, determine in advance how much emotional expression you’re willing to handle.  Then, let them know where you draw the line. For example, tell them you will not tolerate certain tones of voice, name calling, etc. If they push this boundary, let them know in a calm tone of voice that you are leaving the conversation.

Tell your partner you’ll be willing to talk once they settle down. Encourage them to speak or engage you differently. Most of all, keep in mind that your boundaries deserve respect. Anger management is better achieved when you maintain your relationship standards and hold your ground.

2.   Stay calm

Keeping your cool, especially when your spouse is experiencing an outburst, can seem impossible. Fighting fire with fire, however, will only make things worse. No good will come from matching your spouse’s angry or dramatic tone.

Of course, you have every right to feel angered by their outbursts. Still, it’s generally best to take a mental step back. Breathe. Calm yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts and body, slow them down.

Wait until you are both in a place to speak calmly before addressing the problem at hand. When you’ve both had time to collect yourselves, you’ll be better equipped to have a mature, solution-focused conversation.

3.   Try to be compassionate

Clearly, your spouse struggles with managing their emotions. Thus, it’s important to communicate that you aren’t out to judge or condemn them. Instead of accusing or attacking them, try approaching your spouse from a place of curiosity. This approach can help them calm and gain control over their strong emotions, which is key skill in anger management.

A statement like “I want to understand what you’re feeling when you get this angry,” might help them open up to you without feeling guilty. Rather than blaming, infuse more goodwill. Try to see anger-provoking situations from their point of view. Trying to understand does not mean you have to agree with them but it may help you to gain insight into what is going on for your partner.

Take a variety of factors into consideration. Your partner’s past relationships, upbringing, current stressors may be emotional issues. In addition, your unresolved relationship problems and areas of miscommunication may irritate or excite your partner too. Employ compassion before becoming accusatory.

4.   Don’t take it personally

One of the most important things to remember? When your spouse lashes out at you, it very likely has little to do with you at all. This can feel especially hard to remember when you are the person receiving the brunt of their reactions.

Remember, whatever the source of their anger, the battle they are fighting exists within themselves. They might make remarks that aren’t really intended for you or say things they’ll regret later. During the heat of the moment, it’s important to remember that you don’t necessarily need to accept blame.

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5.   Consider counseling

If you have an emotionally explosive partner, both individual and couples counseling are important for effective anger management. Especially before the behavior goes too far. Your spouse’s self-exploration, with the help of a professional, may help them understand themselves better. Sessions together can also help them recognize the toll their emotions take on you and your relationship as a couple. You may also want to seek counseling on your own too. Your spouse’s behavior may be affecting you more than you realize.

*Important Note: These tips are not applicable to any situation where you feel you are in physical danger. If you are in a relationship where you are being physically and/or emotionally abused, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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Janie McMahan is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. Refer her website page on marriage counseling for more information, or contact her at 512-739-2494.