Q. I get so angry at my ex-husband and others that I act foolishly. Last week, my ex returned our daughter late, and I began to scream at him. We yelled so much that the neighbors called us. How can I control my anger?
A. Most people who respond in anger later regret the words or actions. Anger is impulsive. People feel or perceive that they are threatened in some way and lash out with their tongue, fist or weapon. According to Dr. Pavel Somov, in his book “Anger Management Jumpstart,” one must understand anger as an impulsive need to act before one can effectively learn to manage it.
The first step in learning to control anger is to do nothing. Freeze the moment, and give yourself time to self-regulate. Every year, many people are killed or hurt over domestic issues and disrespectful comments. If the people involved walked away, noticed the effect of the anger, and did nothing but calm their own body and mind, there would be much less violence and fewer families broken apart needlessly. Revenge only heightens emotions and makes the situation more volatile. It resolves nothing.
Learning self-regulation does not mean allowing people to take advantage of you; it means knowing how to control your anger, to avoid violence and to use words to resolve problems. There are many other methods of settling disagreements without yelling, fists or guns.
Walking away from a disagreement is not always possible. If your ex-husband returns your daughter late, tell him in a firm voice that you were worried about her. Never get into a screaming match. Children should never hear their parents in a heated argument, and the neighbors should never be involved. Sit down together and attempt to have a civil conversation. Try the phrase: “I know I sound angry, but I’m very upset right now.”
There are many excellent self-help books on anger management. I suggest that you take time to find one that is right for you. I also suggest that you meet with a mental health professional to discuss your anger issues.
Q. I think my husband is passive-aggressive. He thinks I’m a nag. Could you explain passive-aggressive behavior to him and tell me what I can do?
A. According the Mayo Clinic website, passive-aggressive behavior is “a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of addressing them.” It is a way to “sugar coat” anger instead of recognizing underlying feelings of hostility. Some of the trademarks of a passive-aggressive spouse are:
• Procrastination — He promises to do something when the football game is over, but it never gets done
• Pretending not to hear the requests — You ask him to walk the dog or take out the trash. He says he never heard you.
• Intentional Inefficiency — You ask him to hang a picture. He does it, but it’s in the wrong place at the wrong angle.
• The silent treatment — He responds with “fine” or “OK” when you make a request, but does nothing.
• Sulking and withdrawal — He retreats to his man cave, and you do not see him for hours.
There are changes you can also make to lessen his passive-aggressive behavior. Talk to him about it. He may have some suggestions for you. Are there times of day when he doesn’t like to be disturbed? Would it help if you give him a list instead of making demands? Be certain that you are stating your requests clearly in a neutral and assertive tone. Do not become angry because then it turns into nagging.
Generally, these problems can be resolved with discussion and work on the part of both partners. Many times couples fall into negative behavior patterns without realizing how destructive they can become.
Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a private practice in Pine Bluff. If you have questions pertaining to mental health, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.