I am newly married and very upset with myself. I know that marriage is not supposed to be easy and nobody is perfect. I knew that when I started dating and I promised myself that I would always love my wife and never get angry.
Well, I am totally failing. She is not at all what I expected. Sometimes her temper will explode at the tiniest thing—yelling at me and putting me down, while other times she will question me to make sure that I put something away or washed my hands.
I just want to be able to stay calm when she is doing these things but lately, I am sorry to say, I get very angry. Sometimes I even walk out in the middle of her questioning. I cannot tell you how guilty and disgusting I feel when I lose my temper.
I wanted to know what kind of hands on tips you can give me to not get angry.
– Huffy Hubby
Dear Huffy Hubby,
Ok, there is a lot going on in your question. Before we get to any hands-on tips, I think it’s important to talk about anger.
Anger is one of the six universal emotions that every human being is born with. It serves a very important purpose. It pops up when we are feeling like something isn’t right, isn’t just or isn’t fair. Anger usually gets us going and can be a motivating, mobilizing force. The feeling of anger itself is not a bad thing. We even see that Hashem “felt” angry. (When Miriam and Aharon were unjustly concerned about Moshe and Tzipporah’s lack of an intimate life.)
Yet, we’ve seen people get angry, and it doesn’t look pretty. That is something that we need to avoid, right?
Well, there are actually two kinds of anger.
There is the primary feeling of anger that I first described, and then there is something called reactionary anger. That is when we show a behavior that is a reaction to either primary anger or it could be an angry-looking behavior that is actually a reaction to a completely different emotion, like if I embarrassed myself and am feeling very mad, instead of shame.
The bottom line is that while I totally get why you are disappointed at yourself for getting angry at your wife, I think it may be time to be less ambitious with our goals. If you are a human with a pulse, odds are that you will feel anger on any given day. The question is: What do you do with it?
Are you calling her names? Are you throwing things at her? Are you shoving or hitting?
If that’s what you look like when you get angry, then yes, I am on board with you that this has to change.
If it’s more like “I am very angry right now!” or “This isn’t right!” or “PLEASE STOP QUESTIONING ME EXCESSIVELY!” Well, that sounds like primary anger without the reactionary behaviors.
Do you wish you could feel the anger but speak in a calmer, more pleasant way? That is a good goal, but keep in mind that takes a very long time to reach and in the meantime it’s not the worst thing if your expression of anger kicks things up a couple of decibels. While you may feel like a failure at the time, it actually can be a wonderful opportunity to connect later through repair. Something like, “I know I was upset before, and I still am not happy about that situation, but I just wanted to apologize for getting louder than I wanted. What was it like for you to see me so upset like that?”
That is essentially what makes the rhythm of marriage: Harmony, disharmony, repair. And with each repair, we can connect on a deeper level.
There is the famous story of the gadol who was at the levaya of his rebbetzin. When it was time to ask mechila of the meis, the gadol did not do so. When questioned, he said “There is nothing I need to ask mechila for.” People commonly take that to mean that he did not ever do anything to upset her. I think it’s more likely that when he did something to upset her, he asked mechila soon after and therefore was already forgiven.
Now, let’s see what triggers your anger. Does your wife wash her hands very often, or check and recheck things? These sorts of behaviors can possibly point to a larger issue and it may pay to look into this further and rule out any compulsive disorders. OCD and similar disorders are hard to live with but getting properly diagnosed and treated can make a world of a difference.
Therapy is an important next step for you two. In the meantime, continue giving to your wife, and make room for her to give back.
Aviva Rizel, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Aviva maintains a busy private practice in Cedarhurst, NY where she sees couples, families and individuals. She previously served as the Clinical Director of The Five Towns Marriage Initiative. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), the most effective, research-based model for strengthening couples’ connections. Aviva is also active in educating therapists and laypeople about EFT. Mrs. Rizel and her husband, Meir Rizel, MS, a Mental Health Counselor, enjoy co-lecturing across the tri-state area together almost as much as they enjoy raising their three children together in Far Rockaway, NY. To reach Aviva, email AvivaRizel.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-292-8482 To find out more about Emotionally Focused Therapy, go to iceeft.com.