Another great question in the comments on another post sparked this post:
What if you can find the evidence that your spouse loves you by what he has said, but the way he says it is delivered in a frightening way, such as by yelling, cursing, and slamming doors? How do you handle that behavior?
Yelling, cursing, and slamming doors are ways to feel better inside (they are a great physical release for anger), to get your attention, or to feel more powerful. They are inappropriate in a loving relationship, but we humans sometimes do inappropriate things, and if we’re lucky, we’re still loved anyway.
If the only time your spouse shows love for you is while yelling, cursing, or slamming doors, I would strongly recommend seeing a marriage therapist, together or on your own.
Also, if these ever escalate to violence, the best thing you can do for yourself, your spouse, and your relationship is to find a safe place to live while your mate gets professional help with whatever underlies this anger and loss of control. Often, it is addiction to drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, it’s mental illness or damage to the brain. Sometimes, it’s a lack of tools to use to manage anger. Always, it’s nothing you can fix for your spouse or make easier to fix by waiting.
If you are in danger of violence, find a psychologist or social worker and some strong friends or relatives or a shelter to help you. But put enough space between you to make it nearly impossible for your spouse to hurt someone he or she loves while finding the courage to make the changes needed to regain self-control.
More Usual Situations
OK. We’ve addressed the dangerous situations. Let’s say you have a spouse who shows love in other ways but often yells, curses, and slams doors, too. You might try some things on your own.
If you can discover the source of the anger, the need for attention, or the feelings of power imbalance in your relationship, you have the power to change the triggers for outbursts neither of you likely enjoys.
The first is to look for patterns.
- Do these outbursts generally occur soon after coming home from work? If so, check your coming-home conversations for things that trigger a work problem. One woman found that declaring her sovereignty in the kitchen when he made dinner suggestions right after work was closely tied to the horrible lack of respect he was getting from customers at work. All she needed to do was stop when he came in and remind him how important he is to her, and he could keep his work problems from becoming marriage problems.
- Do they occur mostly on non-work days? If so, listen more carefully. Are you inadvertently giving orders to get chores done or ignoring invitations to play? A more direct approach to chores or play might draw you closer and stop the noise.
- Do they generally occur in a particular room of the house? If so, try shaking things up in that room. Change what you talk about there. Change who initiates things there. Change the level of neatness or comfort or personality there.
- Did they start right after some significant event, like an operation, a parent’s death, or the loss of a job? You know your spouse well. What issue might have welled up into something big and nasty then? What does your spouse need to tame it again?
- Do they follow or precede doing something you enjoy that your spouse does not or is not included in? Look for a Third Alternative that meets both your needs and not just yours.
If there are no patterns, check whether you pay attention and cater to your spouse’s needs or do things you resent doing when these things happen. If so, see if you can ignore the noise and go about your business, then pay attention to your spouse’s needs or do nice things at a different time, like right after a kiss or after a kind word. It will feel awkward at first, but you will both learn the new dance fairly quickly.
And remember that your marriage can be a great one even with a good bit of nastiness as long the good stuff outweighs the nasty stuff by a ratio of 5 to 1. When you add nastiness to nastiness, you never even the score. Instead, you add another 5 measures of good stuff to what it takes to have a happy marriage.
Thank you for your response to my comment Patty. I found it very helpful and I’m pretty sure we have the 5 to 1 ratio going on, so that is reassuring.
Looking for patterns is a great idea. I would also look for conversational patterns. For example, do they tend to yell when they have been asked a difficult question, or when they feel they aren’t getting a response. People sometimes start yelling and cursing when they feel frustrated, so it might happen when communication is not going well.
Indeed! John Gottman’s research tells us communication breaks down more often when the conversation has a harsh startup. And Steven Stosny and Patricia Love report that oxytocin improves men’s communication abilities, so more hugs and gentle stroking may also affect these patterns.