I can’t stop myself from being mad at my husband, and it’s ruining our marriage. I know I’m not supposed to look at his flaws all the time, but I do. I just seem to be angry at him all the time, even though he is a great husband and father. Do I need therapy? Is our marriage over?
I have to admit, I’m afraid I’m ruining our marriage. Our baby shouldn’t have to suffer from a divorce just because I can’t shake this. I’m writing to you because I saw one of your videos on youtube and I hope you can help me.
[Shan was answered privately by a counselor. It’s free to ask your questions here. —Ed]
Can Anger At Your Spouse Be Overcome?
Anger is one of the most common problems in a marriage, so don’t be ashamed of it. People afflicted by anger know very well how it steals every ounce of happiness, making the goal of marital harmony feel completely out of reach. But once anger is conquered, you’ll be overjoyed by all the love that comes rushing back into your marriage.
Anger is a VERY solvable problem when you have a clear understanding of what causes it, and a specific process to fix it. Being constantly angry at your spouse can absolutely be resolved. But not by trying to fix the “problem”, or today’s “reason” why you are angry. You must address the underlying causes in your mind.
It’s a shame we don’t learn about how the mind works in school or when growing up, as we would avoid so many negative interactions with others; especially our spouses.
We’ve found that learning how the mind works and eliminating anger are so critically important for saving marriages that they are the first concepts we teach our clients. Because of this, our approach has proven to be far more effective than traditional marriage help.
No one has to live with anger. It can be conquered!
Once you learn why your mind gets angry, and start seeing for yourself how it works, you’ll be able to start making progress.
Although most people are able to ‘get by’ living with their anger, many more eventually reach a point where the anger episodes get so bad they finally recognize how it affects their lives, their marriages, and their basic peace and happiness. At that point, something has to be done.
Fortunately, anger is one of the problems that can easily be traced to its root cause and overcome.
My Own Past With Anger
Long before I became a marriage healer, I personally suffered from anger and eventually came to my own point of realization that something had to be done.
I had always been prone to anger, but I never saw it as a problem. I always had a reason to justify it. In the ’90s, I started recognizing the negative impact it had on my family, friends, and business associates and I finally decided to do something about it.
Unfortunately, the psychological tools available at the time were pretty meager and insufficient.
With a determined effort, and many “final” vows to stop being angry, I was able to make some progress, but not nearly enough considering the effort I put in. It took everything I could muster to just begin to control my outer reactions.
After working on it for over 10 years, I still hadn’t made any real progress. The only thing I learned to do was to become aware of my reactions. Sometimes I could stuff my anger, or redirect it. But I never actually conquered it then.
Once I began saving marriages, I started observing anger objectively, traced its origins, learned what fed it, and devised a way to eliminate it.
Everything changed when I learned about the relationship between the body, mind, and soul. This is the real key to understanding the cause of anger and how it impacts marriage.
Through helping my clients, I created a clear, foolproof process to conquer anger. I now teach this process as part of my larger step-by-step marriage-saving system. It has done wonders for me and my clients, allowing us to master anger, and become immune to the anger of others. As you can imagine, that was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise for me!
In this article, I’m going to share my discoveries with you, so you can see for yourself how anger works and what you can do about it.
What Triggers Anger
Contrary to popular belief, anger is NOT caused by outer circumstances like life events or what people say or do. Not even if someone is intentionally offensive toward us.
One of the reasons I chose to write about this email is because I like how Shan noticed this important detail herself. She realized the anger she feels isn’t based at all on her husband’s behavior.
Society teaches us to blame our anger on others. We are taught to justify our anger based on outer conditions such as “he started it” or “she was rude.”
Some anger management experts suggest the solution is to avoid anything that will trigger your anger. But ultimately, that’s not practical. It’s like staying inside just in case the weather turns bad, instead of simply dressing appropriately.
Blaming anger on outer conditions not only doesn’t help, it makes the situation worse by distracting us from the real problem and its solution.
Outer conditions trigger switches in the mind, but they are not the cause of the anger. This distinction is very important. In order to resolve anger, we must understand it and how it is caused.
The Root Cause Of Anger
Anger has a basic formula that is as sure as gravity. This won’t explain everything, but it does establish a clear premise upon which to build your understanding.
The formula can be expressed as, “Anger is the primal reaction to thwarted desires.”
Said another way, anger is the mind’s reaction to not getting its way. I hate putting it that way because it makes an angry person seem like a spoiled brat, which is as far from the truth as can be. Yet, the formula is accurate, though it may not be clear at first.
It seems reasonable and logical to blame anger on the person who “caused it”, but with a little analysis, we can see the anger is actually caused by them behaving in a way different from how we wanted and expected them to behave; a thwarted desire.
Look how angry people get about stupid politics! This occurs because of politicians not doing what we want them to do. Thwarted desires.
Some people even use anger as a weapon, threatening to get upset, cry, or scream if they don’t get their way. Thwarted desires.
People even get mad at God or life when they or a family member falls ill.
Though all of these outer “causes” seem like reasonable justifications for getting angry, ultimately it is the person who gets angry who is the real victim. They are the only one who feels the anger and loses their happiness by suffering its negative effects. They are the only one who selected the conditions that would trigger their anger. They are the only one who even has the power to get angry or to stop it.
The construction of the human mind itself creates the conditions in which anger can exist; specifically, the following three functions of the subconscious mind:
- Instincts – which are imminently reactive.
- Habits – which are autopilots, to save time and effort.
- Memories – which store past “useful” information, whether correct or not.
Shan could clearly see that feeling angry all the time was illogical and ruining her marriage, but she didn’t have the anger formula or an understanding of how habits, memories, and instincts played a role in undermining her happiness. Without this knowledge, she couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. She thought there might even be something wrong with her that might require therapy. Fortunately, this was not the case.
Shan showed great maturity by understanding it was not her husband’s fault that she felt angry. A deeper explanation of anger will help you also extricate yourself from the seemingly inescapable dilemma: ‘If he acts like a jerk, how is it not his fault if I’m angry?’ I will elaborate more on this later.
How Our Biology Creates Anger
Understanding how the body and mind interact to ultimately create anger is the key to resolving anger issues.
Many of our traits have their origins in the biology of our particular gender. These psycho-physiological traits are incredibly tenacious and difficult to overcome.
Some biologically based traits are wonderful. For instance, the nurturing trait we primarily see manifested in women. Most women have this trait, and most men don’t, as you know. This is in part because a woman’s body, designed for childbearing and mothering, releases hormones that affect her mind to behave in a certain way.
Men, who are not treated to these biologically produced chemical cocktails tend to be more indifferent to the needs of others. This isn’t a judgment. That’s just the way it is.
This is just one of many examples that illustrate how our biology controls our minds right under our noses without us realizing that it’s happening.
There is an underlying motivating force that controls much of our behavior which is universally built into our biology. And that doesn’t just mean men and women; it’s in ALL living things. You must be aware of this trait if you want to be happy in your marriage.
The number one biologically driven trait is the drive to survive. It is as present in a blade of grass as it is in a single-celled amoeba or a human being. Our bodies are a collective of trillions of individual cells, all striving to survive.
The body comes with all sorts of needs for food, shelter, and so on, which all exist for one reason only: to satisfy the drive to survive. If it was left to the mind alone to remember it needed food and other essentials, it would likely forget to feed the body. But the mind is reminded by a signal from the body when it is chemically short on some sustenance. That signal is an instinct.
The mind, in an effort to serve the needs of the body more efficiently, stores information that it knows the body is going to trigger, in the form of, have you guessed it? Memories and Habits!
The memories are filled with information from past experiences so the mind “knows” when to react to certain opportunities or threats.
There are two main expressions of the drive to survive. One is for opportunities, like food, and the other is for threats. Protecting the body is the most crucial job of the untrained mind. The body rules the mind, and thus you, by scaring it all the time, making it think that your life will end if something does or doesn’t happen.
If your boss doesn’t smile at you, your mind may put its own version of events together and think you’re going to lose your job, your security will be at stake, and your life is on the line.
If your husband doesn’t smile at you, your mind may create its own story and decide he is cheating on you, your marriage will fail, your friends and family will shun you, and you guessed it, your life is in danger.
The subconscious calculations are endless, the threats are endless, the fear is always right around the corner, and the mind reacts to fear with… ANGER!
Anger is the instinctive response to fear, real or imagined.
The Relationship Of Body, Mind, and Soul
I have been referring to “the mind” this whole time as if it is a separate entity because it is. You are not the mind. You are essentially a soul or a consciousness who possesses a mind and an animal body.
The body is driven to survive and filled with instincts. It makes constant demands of the mind for food, water, shelter, bathrooms, procreation, comfort, and safety.
The mind is simply a sub-conscious calculator that responds to and manages the body, stores memories, and performs habitual actions (and reactions).
If you, as a conscious being, do not control your mind, reactions, and behavior, then the body will. And if you regularly suffer from anger, then it has been running the show for a long time.
You will have a body until the day you die, and its traits and motivations will always be present. Learning about the mind allows us to objectively recognize what is happening and do something about it before we get caught up in anger or other negative emotions.
What About His Bad Behavior?
The distinction between the outward event and the cause of anger is important.
Your spouse might indeed have done something unacceptable that needs to be addressed. Fine, address it. However, your anger is an issue for you to address. Will you make better decisions for your family when communicating with your spouse in a blind rage? Or will you make better decisions when you are calm, loving and wise?
There are things your spouse might do that trigger your mind, such as leaving the towels on the floor, the seat up, or the toothpaste cap off. Or maybe not communicating enough, or too much, or lying, or being too honest. Do you see how the anger is triggered in your own mind? Your triggers might even change daily based on some subjective criteria or desires that you don’t even know you have and don’t want.
Your spouse might trigger you during arguments, yelling, or fighting. Or from signs that they might be cheating, or that your marriage is falling apart. Do you see how these convince your mind that your security and ultimately your life is in danger? Fear, and the desire to not be afraid lead to anger.
Your body controlled mind may not make a distinction between leaving the seat up for the 1000th time, an argument, and being in real physical danger. But you as a consciousness can. It is your job to control your anger. Even if he’s a jerk, behaving irresponsibly, or “deserves it.”
Spouses are the one person we chose to love and cherish. Yet they also tend to be the most common targets for our anger and lashing out. Ironic, isn’t it? In this context, uncontrolled, reactive behavior should be embarrassing. You didn’t know before, but now, hopefully, you’ll be able to start improving.
How To Eliminate Anger
Now that you understand where the anger comes from, and how our minds are controlled by the body’s drive to survive, you have the conceptual understanding needed to start taking back control of your mind.
We have consciously chosen to participate in a loving relationship with our spouse, but our bodies and instinctive-reactive-subconscious minds aren’t aware of this. When we get into arguments with our spouse, the body perceives a threat as real as being mugged on the street. Our bodies are flooded with emotions and chemicals, and we start acting defensively; unless we consciously control our mind and stop the reactions.
The overall process to finally get a handle on anger is this:
- Learn to become aware of your reactions as they are happening. You cannot stop what you are not aware of.
- Use a reliable set of techniques and tools that you can use to stop negative reactions and feelings. Even keeping your mouth shut is a good start, but you can go further to actually stop the feelings.
- Establish this as a new pattern of behavior. Using the right tools over time will create a strong habit that automatically stops reactive anger before it starts.
What happens initially is that you stop saying things you shouldn’t, even if you’re raging inside. And right away your home becomes more peaceful.
Your body will always be producing the drive-to-survive messages and you may get triggered from time to time. However, you will have the tools and habits to fight and win every time. If you slip, you’ll catch yourself faster and faster.
Over time you learn to stop not only the outward reaction but also the inner emotional reaction. You develop a habit of nipping anger in the bud and it becomes so strong and kicks in so quickly that the feeling of anger never has a chance to arise in your mind.
One day you’ll realize you haven’t gotten angry in a long time.
I battled anger unsuccessfully for ten years. Yet once I began using this process, I was able to win the battle very quickly. I have conquered anger, my clients have conquered anger, and you can too.
We’ve gone over the whole process of how the mind works, what causes anger, and how to overcome it. In this three-step plan that I and my clients have used to conquer anger, I’ve given you a deeper and more useful understanding than you could get from any anger management class and made it relevant for marriage.
Obviously, there is so much more detail we teach our clients, including the specific tools and methods we use to stop the negative emotional reactions, eliminate bad habits, develop good ones, and so on. These all require so much more explanation then I can give in even a lengthy article like this. But I’ve given you a good start.
If you’d like more on this topic, and even the techniques we teach, then I suggest you look at the system I developed. The first part of my complete marriage system specifically addresses how to control anger and negative emotions. If you sign up for the free trial, you’ll be able to take a look at it at no cost.
I didn’t set it up this way just for this article. I set it up this way because all of our clients need to make sure they have a firm handle on their emotions and anger or we’ll never have a strong enough foundation upon which to build a tall skyscraper of marital happiness.
You’ll also get to see other parts of the system which walks you through my proprietary step-by-step process of rebuilding your marriage from the ground up, in only 12 weeks. We’ve been continually refining this process by working with countless couples over the last 15 years.
Finally, if you’d like more insights on marriage beyond anger, look right below this post and get my “Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts For Marriage.” These are the key lessons we have learned through helping couples over the last 15 years.
If you just stop doing the don’ts and start doing the do’s, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a very happy marriage. It’s free and I highly recommend you download it, print it out, and post it where you’ll see it every day.
Love and blessings to you all.