Q. My wife and I have been married for 30 years. We’ve started arguing lots more recently. I get angry and scream at her. She has threatened to leave unless I learn some self-control. Give me some advice.
A. Since your anger has suddenly escalated, it is important that you examine the reasons. Have your health status, work situation or family responsibilities changed? If you have not had a physical check-up, see your physician and explain the situation. Many times men who have a sudden rise in anger are experiencing depression or a physical problem for which there is often treatment.
You must have an honest conversation with your wife. Both of you need to discuss the reasons that your anger has increased. She should also take some responsibility for the problem. It is my experience that one person is rarely ever the entire cause of marital discord.
When you have disagreements, you need to implement rules for fair arguing. Both of you should avoid yelling, name calling, threatening, interrupting, insisting on getting the last word and making hateful statements. Above all, do not attack each other’s character, bring up issues that happened years ago or use phrases such as “I don’t care” or “just forget about it.” At no time should you ever make her feel less than adequate, undermine her abilities or make her feel that you are superior. She should follow the same advice.
According to “Anger All the Time” by Ronald Potter-Efron, you should take four steps after an anger outburst. First, admit to yourself that you were wrong. Second, admit it to the other person. Third, apologize and attempt to repair the damage you may have caused. Fourth, commit to changing your behavior through meeting with a mental health professional, joining an anger management group or reading books relevant to your problem such as the one I suggested above.
Q. I am always angry because I have a new boss who is controlling and unfair. I don’t want to quit because I make a good income, but I’m taking my anger out on my husband and family. I feel like I’m becoming my father. What can I do?
A. You are displacing the anger you feel toward your boss onto your husband and children. As a psychologist, I often hear this scenario.
Tell your family that you’re having difficulty at work, and that you are aware that you have been treating them unfairly. Promise them that you will attempt to break this habit. Ask them not to tell you to “calm down.” Your job is to remain calm; they should not have to remind you.
Surround yourself with positive co-workers during this period of distress. Stay away from those who are always complaining about the new boss or the unfair rules. You already feel that way. Listening to them will only increase your anger.
You may find it helpful to plan ahead at work. If you know there is going be a stressful day, take time for yourself at lunch. Avoid the gossipmongers. If you have vacation days, take them and plan family outings.
You should also remember the damage that anger causes in a relationship and a family. Since you had an angry parent, you understand how it made you feel when you were the target of hostility. You don’t want your family to have this experience. Resentment will grow and relationships will become difficult to repair.
Perhaps the most important plan for you is to set positive goals. Attempt to resolve the work issues if possible. If not, begin to look for another position. Remember that although money is important, it is much more important to have a pleasant life with your family.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice for several years. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.