I have been married to my husband for more than 10 years. He's always had issues with controlling his anger, but lately it has become more intense because he hates his job. When I fight back, it becomes a miserable yelling match. When I back off, I feel like I am letting him run me over. We have a young son, and I love my husband and want to stay married to him. But I'm worried. He is a great father but loses his temper easily. I don't want my son seeing us fight like this. What can I do?
Love, Not War (female, 35)
Dear Love, Not War,
According to a recent Gallup poll, the vast majority of Americans today are unhappy in their jobs. And for many of them, especially the men, there is enormous pressure to "bring home the bacon" and provide for their families. This is a recipe for feelings of anger and loss of control.
Don't fight back when he's in a rage. Stay calm and give him time to cool down. Know when to walk away. You and your child deserve to live in a home that's safe and respectful, and it's never OK for him to degrade you. But you won't resolve any problems when he's seeing red, and you risk adding fuel to the fire. Assert yourself — just do it at the right time, when he's able to think rationally.
Be mindful that fights over money or lack of family time can trigger his underlying frustration with his job, as can efforts to change him. People who cannot manage their anger are usually not in the driver's seat when it comes to their emotions. Anger is often a mask for fear or sadness. It allows him to feel in control. When he shows signs of anger and defensiveness, try to validate him by listening and repeating what he is saying.
His anger may also be a result of untreated mental or physical illness or basic health issues. Low serotonin or testosterone — and lack of sleep or proper nourishment — can all lead to irritability. To get to the root causes, seek help from a health care professional if possible. And if you ever feel at physical risk, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for help.