“I Can’t Stop Being Angry”
Los Angeles, California
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 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. You may wish to contact our TMF marriage counselors for a private response. It’s free to ask your questions here. —Ed]
(ed note, both men and women can conquer anger)
Can Anger At Your Spouse Be Overcome?
Yes, anger is one of the most common problems in a marriage, so don’t be ashamed of it or give up. I can help you not just “manage” anger, whether it is yours, or your spouse’s, but how to eliminate it.
Those afflicted by anger know how it steals every ounce of happiness, making the goals of marital happiness and especially 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. So of course this is important enough to address.
Anger is a VERY solvable problem when you have a clear understanding of what causes it (it isn’t what it looks like), and then apply a specific process to fix it, and by that, I don’t mean “managing” it because that is not a good direction to take. Being constantly angry at your spouse can absolutely be resolved. Being victimized by your spouses anger can be managed in a way that brings happiness back into your lives. You must first understand some things about how your mind works. I will keep it simple.
Any and all reasons (which are mind-induced excuses) for anger, whether blaming upbringing, attacks, or horrible outer conditions, do not matter once you realize you have the power of free will and learn how to use it. You can beat anger.
It’s a shame we don’t learn about how the mind works in school while growing up, as we would have been able to avoid so many negative interactions with others; especially our spouses.
Here at TMF, we’ve found that learning how the mind works and eliminating anger is so critically important for saving marriages that mastering anger, emotions, and especially anger are among 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!
As one learns why your mind gets angry, and starts seeing for yourself how it works (the mind is not as complicated as they would have you believe), you’ll be able to start making progress.
Although most people can ‘get by’ living with their anger, most people 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 otherwise the marriage is doomed to failure.
Fortunately, anger is one of the problems that can easily be traced to its root cause and overcome.
My Own Struggles With Anger
Long before I became a marriage healer, I personally suffered from anger and eventually reached a point of realization. I knew 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 whether it was to blame someone or something I. like almost everyone else never thought I had a “problem”. It wasn’t until the ’90s, I started recognizing the negative impact it had on my family, friends, and business associates that I finally decided to do something about it.
Unfortunately, the psychological tools available at the time were pretty meager and insufficient. Even now I get angry comments from psychologists (which I remove- who needs them) who condone anger as being “natural” and emotions being something we should all embrace. You yourself experience anger and emotions, though they are natural, are just as toxic and destructive as strychnine.
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 but my inner anger was burning a hole in my heart. I even got headaches from the (wrong) effort.
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 somewhat aware of my reactions but not always and I was still not in control. Sometimes I could stuff my anger, or redirect it when I was in a situation that demanded it. But I never actually conquered it. Ironically, my wife and kids got the brunt of it.
When I began saving marriages, I started observing anger more objectively, traced its origins, learned what fed it, and devised a way to eliminate it, entirely.
Everything came into real focus 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 (also how to have an incredible marriage).
Through helping my clients, I created a clear, foolproof process to conquer anger, to eliminate it. 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 simultaneously 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. Even though what happens on the outside gives us good excuses for the anger it is just not the truth.
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. That is a hugely important detail.
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.” They even speak about “justifiable” anger but when you recognize anger is always self-destructive that hardly makes any sense.
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 steers us away from its solution.
Outer conditions trigger switches in the mind, but they are not the cause of the anger. This distinction is very important. 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” because we are rightly taught that we live in a “cause and effect” world, but with a little analysis, we can see the anger is actually triggered 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 politicians are 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 itself, 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 ones 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:
1. Instincts – which are imminently reactive.
2. Habits – which are autopilots, to save time and effort. Habits are applied “regular thinking”.
3. 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. And, although I love therapists as much as anyone a time will come when their methods and ideas will seem as primitive as bloodletting is now considered by modern medical practitioners.
Shan showed great maturity and expressed deep insight by understanding it was not her husband’s fault that she fell to anger. 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 our biological bodies. These psychophysiological traits are incredibly tenacious but not impossible to overcome when you have the right tools and you know how to use them.
Some biologically based traits are wonderful and bring us happiness. For instance, the nurturing trait we primarily see manifested in women who care for their children with such tenderness it brings tears to your eyes. Most women have this trait, while most men mostly don’t, as you know because of the gender component. 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 are biologically designed to be protectors of their wives and children.
Men, who do not produce female biological hormones 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 avoid common pitfalls in your marriage, too.
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.
Instincts can be overcome, such as seen by the anchorites who wander in the Himalayan snows with just the barest coverings or none at all. If they can learn how to ignore the instinct to stay warm you can overcome the instinct that pushes you to react with anger. That, in fact, is where I got the ideas for my solutions.
The mind, in its 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!
Our memories are filled with information from past experiences so the mind “knows” when to react to certain opportunities or threats.
There are two expressions of the drive to survive. One is for opportunities, like food, sex (for propagation), shelter, etc., 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 you do not get your way, is how it ties back,
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. Scared? That’s when anger is used.
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. Anger!
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 an instinctive response to fear, real or imagined but the mind can be trained.
The problem, as you can see is that your mind has a mind of its own until you begin to master it. Until you take charge of its natural functions it doesn’t calculate on YOUR real behalf, only on behalf of the fear using calculations that are stored but do not apply…habits.
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 if you prefer) who possesses a mind and a biological body that would be considered animal if not run by you, a human being. Yes, it is part of you but it isn’t you just like your body is part of you but not you.
The body is independently driven to survive and is filled with instincts. It makes constant demands on the mind for food, water, shelter, bathrooms, procreation, comfort, and safety. Unlike animals that cannot control their minds and are therefore entirely driven by instinct and memory-induced reactions, human beings are intended to control their mind and include morality and love in their decisions about how to respond, not react, to their outer conditions.
Though not entirely true you can say that the mind is a calculator that responds to and manages the body, stores memories, and performs habitual actions (and reactions) but it’s not the way for humans. The problems that come from not proactively mastering the mind are endless.
If you, as a conscious being, do not control your mind, reactions, and behavior, then the body will control you. 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?
First, remember that none of us were told by anyone that we can and must master our minds. The closest anyone came to that was “control yourself” when we misbehaved as children. So, it is best to not judge ourselves or others but start moving in the right direction now.
Your spouse probably had done many unacceptable things that need to be addressed but by himself. However, your anger is the biggest issue for you to address or you would not be searching this topic. Will you make better decisions for yourselves and your family when communicating with your spouse when seething with anger? Or will you make better decisions when you are calm, loving, and drawing upon your innate wisdom?
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 gets triggered in your own mind? Your triggers might even ‘adjust’ based on some subjective criteria or desires that you don’t even know you have and don’t want.
Your spouse triggers your inner defense triggers during arguments, yelling, or fighting. Or from indications that they might be cheating (signs your husband is cheating should be seen as a wake-up call for you to change yourself. Challenging your husband will make matters worse because that will force him to fight or flight), 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.
A real big problem is that because the triggers are mechanical in nature our 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 because our minds weigh the risks of everything subconsciously and your spouse will put up with a lot. Ironic, isn’t it? They are the one you chose for love. 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 an unconditional love relationship with our spouse, but our bodies and instinctive-reactive-subconscious minds don’t include that decision in their calculations. 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:
1. Learn enough about the mind to be useful. Just as you learned enough about cars for driving.
2. Learn to become aware of your reactions as they are happening. You cannot stop what you are not aware of.
3. 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.
4. 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. You use the habit software of the mind to your advantage.
What happens initially is that you stop saying things you shouldn’t, even if you’re raging inside. And right away your interactions become more peaceful. But this is just a start.
Your body will always be producing the drive-to-survive messages and you will still get triggered from time to time. However, you will have the tools and habits to win. You’ll slip but catch yourself faster and faster.
You learn to stop not only the outward reaction but also the inner emotional reaction which is more important. 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. But that is not enough.
The goal is to retrain your instinctive reactions and change your normal thinking because all your actions spring from those. It is not only possible but doable.
One day you’ll realize you haven’t gotten angry in a long time.
I battled anger unsuccessfully for ten years using all kinds of methods from psychological to spiritual but I never learned what I needed until I realized it was up to me to connect the dots and create a system that was pointed and effective. I was motivated because of the needs of my clients who I was able to see more objectively. But, then once I began using my process, I was able to win the battle very quickly. I have conquered anger, my clients have conquered anger, and you can too. The process is methodical.
We’ve gone over the whole process of how the mind works, what causes anger, and how to overcome it. In this four-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 which is 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 than 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 will 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 walk you through my proprietary step-by-step process of rebuilding your marriage from the ground up. We’ve been continually refining this process by working with countless couples over the last 20+ 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.