Updated: Mar 5
Written By: Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart, MS, MAT
Have there been times when your spouse has hurt you, and in your effort to share
your hurt so your spouse can repair it and come close, you become angry? And in
response your spouse becomes defensive, angry and pushes you away. The
opposite of what you really wanted and needed. How does our hurt too often get
mixed with anger when we try share it with our spouse?
Jack and Diane had just sent their last child off to college, and on the ride home she
felt a little blue. She reached for Jack’s hand, to which he responded, “No, I’m all
sweaty.” Yes, in her mind she knew how nervous he was saying good-bye to their
daughter, but deep inside she felt vulnerable. His comment felt rejecting. She really
needed a bit of comforting but instead of telling Jack, she folded her arms and
silently looked out of the window. Her longing to be comforted was tangled with
her hurt from being rejected. And her hurt over being rejected began to brew into
anger. Jack asked if she was okay. What Diane found coming out was her irritation
as she said, “what do you think? You drive fast, don’t want to stop for lunch-what do
you expect?” Jack yelled, “just stop it will you!” and then sat quietly the rest of the
way home. Diane caught herself and thought, “I am a grown woman. I know he loves
me, so why am I so angry by his not wanting to hold my hand? Why does it feel so risky
to just tell him I am hurt?”
Most couple’s arguments arise out of a spouse’s ‘protest’ to the partner’s seeming
unavailability or hurtful comment or action. The protest is usually filled with hurt,
frustration, and yes, anger. We get angry, John Bowlby said, in hopes our spouse
will see our hurt and move toward us to repair the rift. The ‘anger of hope’ says, “I
am angry that you hurt me or were not there for me. But I have hope that if I let you
know of my hurt, you will repair the hurt.” Diane hoped Jack would see her hurt and
hold her hand. But her anger became a coating around her longing. And all Jack saw
was her anger, which caused him to match her angry reaction with anger and then
stay away. Couples often get stuck in powerful angry protests, all the while longing
to be seen, heard and understood.
Spouse’s can quickly go from enjoying each other, to being hurt and then getting
angry. Anger in relationships can quickly escalate and become destructive. If you
feel your husband or wife reacts with anger, don’t match the anger, don’t add fuel to
the fire and escalate the argument. Walk away and come back and talk about it
when you are both calm. If you feel your spouse’s anger is destructive, make sure to
take steps so you are both safe, set boundaries and rules for discussing hot topics.
And if you are the one who is quick to get angry, it might be a good time to get your
anger under control.
Here are a few steps we walk couples through during the Safe
Haven Marriage Intensives:
1. Share your hurt not your anger. Share what you really want your spouse to
*You hurt my feelings
*I don’t like when you do that
*Can you understand my perspective on this?
*Can you do that differently?
*I need you and feel you are not here for me
2. Wait before reacting with irritation and anger.
When you feel the heat of your angry emotion arise, pause. Get centered before you react. It might feel good in the moment to get angry, criticize, yell, and tell your spouse a thing or two. Or to get up,
slam the back door and storm out. Inevitably, when the burst of adrenaline that
fires you up to fight or flee drops, you are often left with a sinking bad feeling, even
regret. Never mind your spouse’s bruised heart in your wake. So when you first get
triggered, ask yourself before reacting, “do I really need to react this way to be heard
3. Recognize and take responsibility for the way you react.
Most couples justify their reactions. “If my spouse hadn’t done what they did, then I wouldn’t have to react the way I do.” It might be true that your spouse hurt you, but you have control over
how you react. Your anger and quick and abrupt outbursts is hurting those around
you, and it is time to change it. As we have repeatedly said, it takes character to love well in marriage. And it takes self control, courage, grace and patience to manage your angry reactions. But
gaining a better understanding as to what is your softer more vulnerable heart
behind your anger will change the way you love in your marriage and most
Proverbs 15:18 “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient
calms a quarrel.”
Adapted from Sharon May, Ph.D., “How to Argue so your spouse will listen.”
Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 2007.