Debbie came to me complaining that her husband would lash out in anger without warning and she felt like she was no longer able to cope. She told me that she finds herself walking on egg shells, hoping that her next move will not trigger another meltdown. And while these outbursts did not happen every day or even every week, when they did, they caught her off guard and left her feeling devastated. She told me that her husband was a good man and would eventually apologize for his words—an apology that at this point holds little regard.
Debbie doesn’t know what to do. She feels her marriage is fairly good with the exception of her husband’s issue with anger and looked to me for help.
This is not an uncommon story. We have all been guilty of angry outbursts at one point or another in our lives. Some of you will relate to Debbie’s story, knowing how hurtful and confusing these scenarios are and feeling helpless on what to do about it. Angry outbursts are typically unexpected, undeserved, and unnerving. And while common sense tells you that your significant other should be able to control their anger, in reality, this proves easier said than done. So what can you do?
It is important to first take some time to understand what is at the root of angry outbursts. They occur most often when a person is out of touch with themselves, unconscious to the dynamics at play. Factors that contribute to angry outbursts include…
- Unexpressed frustration that has been building up for a long time
- Extreme fatigue, hunger, or other physiological (and/or hormonal) pain and distress
- Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or other mental illness
- Exaggerated need for control
- Circumstances that trigger guilt, shame, or defensiveness
- Fear, fear, and more fear
If you are dealing with someone who has intermittent angry outbursts, here are some questions and suggestions on what you can do.
- How often do these outbursts occur? If this is something that only happens on a rare occasion, then you might want to simply forgive and move on. Everyone is human and is entitled to a bad day, especially if they are dealing with very stressful and temporary circumstances. Usually in these cases, taking an empathic approach while setting limits will result in an apology and a commitment to engage in more effective self-care, communication, and problem solving.
- Have you ruled out medical explanations? Sometimes, a real medical issue or prescribed medication may be wreaking havoc. I recommend getting a complete and thorough medical exam to rule out any physiological causes.
- Does your significant other take responsibility for their problem? An important predictor for change is a person’s ability to acknowledge the problem. The second is a commitment to understanding what the primary causes are, and the third is a willingness to get help. If you and your loved one are in agreement that there’s a problem and a plan is in place to effect positive change, then make sure you both work the plan and assess if the plan is working at regular intervals.
- Do you have a plan in place for self-care? Some people are simply unable to completely eliminate their angry outbursts. Either their psychic pain is too deep and they are unwilling to do the work, or they have a medical or mental disorder that prevents them from controlling their outbursts completely, or they simply fall into the category of “normal” human imperfection and on the rare occasion and under certain circumstances will express a burst of anger. Regardless of which circumstance applies to your situation, if you have decided to stay with your mate, you will need to implement a plan on how to take care of yourself emotionally, psychologically, and physically when an angry outburst occurs.
- Are you able to do a reality check? When putting a self-care plan in place, there are a few things you need to include. First and foremost, don’t take it personally and don’t internalize anything that is said. Put the outburst into its proper context—that of an underdeveloped emotional response similar to a two year old’s temper tantrum. Second, set limits and remove yourself from your significant other as much as possible until your partner has been able to calm him or herself down. It is important to protect yourself from the anger. And third, once the emotions have settled down, address any issues that you believe need to be addressed. If you’ve determined that this is just another meltdown based on something irrational, then you may want to simply let go and move on. Trying to be rational with someone who is not, is a lose-lose proposition.
- Are there enough positives in the relationship to compensate for the negatives? It is really important to accept others for who they are. If your significant other demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to change, you will need to decide if this is something you can live with. At the end of the day, if you are not able to deal with these behaviors in a way that is conducive to your well-being, you may need to leave. Sometimes the positives far outweigh the negatives and you may find a way to deal with your partner’s imperfections in a powerful and healthy way for you. On the other hand, sometimes relationships are not meant to last and you don’t want to let fear or doubt stop you for living your best life.
These are not easy issues to deal with, both individually and collectively as a couple. Many people struggle with angry outbursts. And help is available. If you or someone you know is struggling with this issue, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am here to help guide you through the process and determine the best course of action for you and your relationship.
As always, I’m here to support you in creating strong and powerful relationships.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
Retrieve Your FREE Relationship Assessment Quiz and see if YOUR Relationship is on track at www.julieorlov.com
Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com