Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: anger

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    How Not to Hate Your Husband

    Tamara’s second child was six months old when her best friend invited her to read How Not to Hate Your Husband After You Have Kids by Jancee Dunn.

    “I was in the thick of raising two children. Both my husband and I worked full-time jobs and the biggest thing I was struggling with was feeling like I was doing everything," Tamara said. "I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to get my husband to jump in and just do stuff without me having to ask. He was very willing to help, but he just wanted me to tell him what to do.”

    After reading the book, Tamara felt like she was armed with some tangible ways to engage with her husband differently.

    “We actually sat down and divided up chores,” Tamara said. “Clarity around responsibilities was huge for us. He does the dishes and puts them in the dishwasher. I unload the dishwasher. This used to be a huge point of tension for us. I don’t mind letting dishes pile up in the sink and he can’t stand that. Now we’ve got our dance going.”

    They realized that the chore one of them liked the least, the other one didn’t really mind doing. Clarity around who was going to be responsible for doing what removed a lot of frustration from their relationship.

    Another huge takeaway for Tamara was to stop correcting her husband every time he did something.

    “I used to go behind him as he was doing things and either redo them or point out that’s not the correct way to do whatever,” Tamara said. “Like the time he took initiative to sweep our hardwood floors... but his sweeping technique was subpar in my opinion, so I waited until he was finished and then swept after him and took a picture of the huge pile of dirt and hair that he had left behind to show him that if he's going to do something, he needs to do it all the way, not half-heartedly... (I'm not proud of myself.) Talk about creating tension between the two of us. I totally did not stop to think about how it would make him feel. He just basically started backing off because what’s the point in trying to help when the person comes right behind you and does it their way? Letting go of that was big!

    “Probably the most valuable takeaway from this read was understanding that we needed to learn how to actively listen to each other instead of allowing our conversations to get hijacked by our emotions,” Tamara shared. “I think everybody could benefit from learning this.”

    Tamara said she was reminded of her high school anatomy and physiology class discussions about the brain being the center of logic and emotions and the limbic system, more specifically, the amygdala, processes emotions such as fear, anger and the “fight or flight” reflex. The prefrontal cortex controls judgment, logic and thinking.

    Guess what happens when our amygdala is firing on all cylinders? The prefrontal cortex stops working at optimum levels. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol rush through our body, causing us to turn into something close to The Incredible Hulk. Our body is physically preparing for “fight or flight” from the perceived threat. This makes us hyper-focused on our goal of survival, which makes it next to impossible to actually understand or even hear what other people are saying. Think of a child’s teeter-totter on the playground with emotions on one side and rational thinking on the other side: When emotions go up, rational thinking goes down.

    “Maybe the biggest takeaway for me from the book was learning how to deal with my anger differently,” Tamara said. “When things went south with us, both of us could ramp up very quickly. Harsh tones and hurtful words resulted in even more tension. The book talked about exactly what is happening in our brains when we are so angry with each other and it said I needed to handle the situation as if I were an FBI hostage negotiator. Say what?”

    What would an FBI hostage negotiator do? They would use the Behavioral Change Stairway Model. It involves five tried-and-true steps to get someone to be able to understand your perspective and change what they’re doing. These steps are:

    1. Active Listening - Listen to their side and let them know they have been heard.
    2. Empathy - You understand where they’re coming from and what they are feeling.
    3. Rapport - What they feel in return from your empathy; they start trusting you.
    4. Influence - Work on problem-solving and come up with an action plan.
    5. Behavioral Change - One or both of you does something different.

    Many couples immediately jump to number four before they do the first three steps which can and usually does sabotage the process of coming to a resolution. Hostage negotiators will tell you, active listening is the most important step in getting someone to calm down. 

    Here are six techniques to actively listen like a boss:

    1. Ask open-ended questions - You want them to open up, so avoid yes/no questions. A good example would be, “You seem upset. Can you help me understand what exactly is bothering you?” If something is bothering you and someone asks this question, seek to avoid responding with, “Nothing is wrong.”
    2. Effective Pause - Try remaining silent at appropriate times for emphasis or to defuse a one-sided emotional conversation (since most angry people are looking for a dialogue.)
    3. Minimal Encouragers - Let them know you’re listening with brief statements like, “Yeah” or “I see.” If you show a lot of emotion in your facial expressions, seek to keep those to a minimum.
    4. Mirroring - Repeat the last word or phrase they said. This shows you are trying to understand them and encourages them to continue. (Note: Don’t overdo it… mirroring could become really annoying, really fast.)
    5. Paraphrasing - Repeat what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. Not only does this show you are truly seeking to understand, it gives them an opportunity to clarify if you don’t quite have the whole picture. 
    6. Emotional Labeling - Give their feelings validation by naming them. Identify with how they feel. It’s not about whether they are right or wrong or completely crazy; it’s about showing them you understand and hear them. 

    “Reading this book made me more aware on so many levels,” Tamara said. “Even recognizing that it is important for me to do things that refuel my tank, but also actually telling my husband I need reassurance from him that he is good with me doing things with friends or going to work out because I can let “mom guilt” get the best of me. He actually told me not very long ago, ‘Taking time for yourself made you a happier person, happier mom and wife. I can see the change in you.’ That made my heart happy for sure.”

    Tamara's advice to new moms? Read the book, but recognize that implementing the strategies takes time and intentionality.

    “I think both of us would say we have seen significant improvement in the way we engage each other and that has been a really good thing for us and for our children,” Tamara said.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 18, 2019.

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    Mad About Us, Part 2

    Read Mad About Us, Part 1 here.

    Almost daily, unhealthy anger causes some kind of devastation. It could be anything from child abuse or domestic violence to road rage, or to children methodically preparing to harm their teacher. The emotion of anger in and of itself isn’t the problem, though. When people allow themselves to be controlled by this powerful emotion, it can become unhealthy and cause harm to others.

    “We have to continually remind ourselves that anger is energy and energy is neutral,” says Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist and co-author of Mad About Us: Moving From Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse, with his wife, Carrie. “We have total control over how we choose to express our anger, so we can choose to express this emotion in unhealthy or in healthy and constructive ways. Plus, we can choose to spend the anger-energy by expressing it in ways that hurt ourselves and others. Or, we can choose to invest the anger-energy in building a healthier relationship.”

    The Olivers believe that anger can be an alarm or warning sign that we need to look at some aspect of our lives or relationship. It can serve as a powerful source of motivation. Healthy anger provides the power to protect loved ones, and healthy anger can lead to more intimate relationships.

    “Disagreements usually involve the emotions of fear and/or hurt and/or frustration. These are the primary emotions that lead to the secondary emotion of anger,” Oliver says. “Anger sets most people up for conflict - and most couples don’t know how to do conflict well. Couples can choose to spend their anger-energy by dumping, blaming, attacking or walking out. Or they can choose to acknowledge the fear, hurt or frustration and invest their anger-energy in seizing the opportunity to better understand their spouse.”

    For example, Oliver spoke with a couple in the middle of a serious conflict. The husband made a comment at a party, and his wife responded with a joke about it. Her response embarrassed him in front of their friends. He was making a serious point and, she spoke without thinking about how it would impact the situation. Since this was not the first time she had done something like this, her husband was hurt, embarrassed, marginalized and frustrated.

    When they headed home, the wife asked him what was wrong. Although he initially denied being upset, he releases his frustration after several questions.

    In working through Oliver’s seven conflict management steps, they discovered that the wife had no idea he was being serious. The husband realized that his wife didn’t intend to make him look bad, but his friends started laughing and he felt naked, exposed and embarrassed in front of them. As they talked, the wife truly felt bad and apologized. This was a landmark conversation for them because they were actually able to talk through what had taken place and understand each other. Then they set a new direction for how to manage their conflict.

    Couples who develop the healthy habit of working through differences often find that listening, asking questions, listening again and asking more questions leads to understanding. Additionally, it provides a window into each other’s hearts and a pathway to greater intimacy.

    “When you know someone loves you enough to take the time to understand you rather than take a walk out the door, you know that person’s love is not a shallow, superficial, conditional love,” Oliver says. “That type of love makes a person feel safe and secure. This type of security leads to an increase in trust, which creates the perfect environment for deep levels of intimacy to grow.”

    If you're seeking to more effectively manage the conflicts in your marriage, try these seven steps:

    • Define the issue. Listen and seek understanding. Whose issue is it? Is there more than one issue involved? What is my spouse’s core concern? What is my core concern?
    • How important is it? On a scale from 1 to 10, with one being low-ticket and 10 being high-ticket, how important is this?
    • Ask yourself, “What is MY contribution to the problem?”
    • Do I need to apologize or ask for forgiveness?
    • Choose radical responsibility. Don’t wait for your partner to reach out and seek understanding—be willing to take the first step.
    • Choose what both of you can do differently.
    • Make changes and review them.

    “Healthy conflict is good,” Oliver says. “When a couple has a disagreement and one person takes the time to listen even if they think the other person is wrong, that says to their spouse, ‘I value you and you are important to me.’"

    It isn’t always about agreeing on something. When you know your spouse is trying to understand what is going on, it increases your sense of value and safety.

    One of the best ways to go from being mad at each other to "mad about us" isn’t reading books on new sexual positions. Instead, it's about creating a sense of trust and safety within your marriage. A spouse who feels understood will feel safe and be willing to trust. Consequently, that trust leads to the deeper levels of intimacy every person longs for. Guaranteed!

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    Mad About Us, Part 1

    Over the past 30 years, Gary and Carrie Oliver have worked with literally thousands of couples. Some were preparing for marriage while others were trying to figure out how to make their marriage work.

    “Every couple we have worked with began their marriage with a proclamation of their love and commitment to stay together ‘until death do us part,’” says Gary Oliver, psychologist and co-author of Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse.

    “In many cases, the couples we worked with talked about being madly in love with each other. But over time the madly in love feeling turned to feelings of being mad at each other. The vast majority of failed relationships have at their core the inability to understand differences, deal with the emotion of anger in healthy ways and engage in healthy and constructive conflict.”

    Close to 90 percent of people say they want to marry. Clearly, people want to be in relationships. Most married couples will tell you, however, that differences that were so fun and attractive while dating tend to cause marital conflict.

    “More than 96 percent of the people we have worked with view conflict as negative and something to be avoided at all costs,” Oliver says.

    He has spent thousands of hours playing referee for couples who do not understand that there is both unhealthy and healthy conflict. As a result, responding instead of reacting can make all the difference in the world. He says that conflict pushes buttons of fear, hurt and/or frustration, and things tend to get very personal. "When people feel misunderstood, the relationship doesn’t feel trustworthy or safe. Needless to say, this does nothing to build intimacy in a relationship.”

    Misunderstanding anger is one big issue the Olivers deal with as they counsel couples.

    “Anger is a complex emotion,” Oliver says. “One of the major reasons why the emotion of anger has gained a primarily negative reputation is that there is so much misinformation about what anger is and can be. We only tend to hear and read about unhealthy expressions of anger. It’s tragic that the mostly incorrect and inaccurate misinformation far outweighs the true and accurate facts regarding this powerful and potentially positive emotion.”

    Consider these common myths (and facts) about anger.

    Myth: If you don’t look or sound angry, you don’t have an anger problem. 

    Fact: Just because you don’t look or feel angry, or because your friend wouldn’t describe you as an angry person, does not mean you don’t have an anger problem. Anyone who does not understand and appreciate the potential value of anger may have a problem with it.

    Myth: Anger always leads to some form of violence, so it is never good to be angry. 

    Fact: Anger does not always lead to violence, nor is it always a bad thing to be angry. The key is to understand and control this emotion rather than letting it control you.

    Myth: Expressing anger to someone you love will destroy your relationship. Anger and love just don’t mix.

    Fact: Being aware of your experience of anger and choosing to express it in healthy ways can actually increase mutual understanding, It can also help, strengthen and enrich your relationship.

    Myth: Spiritual people don’t get angry.

    Fact: Anger is a fact of life. Everyone experiences it. If you want to be smart and healthy, choose to understand your experience of anger, then express it constructively.

    Myth: The best way to deal with anger is to stuff it. Expressing anger breeds even more anger and leads to loss of control.

    Fact: When in doubt about what to do with your experience of anger, don’t stuff it. Healthy expressions of anger allow you to deal with the root issues and decrease anger. They are constructive and lead to greater control.

    Myth: The best way to deal with anger is to dump it. Just get all of that anger out of your system. You and everyone else will be better for it.

    Fact: When you are angry, take the time to understand your experience of anger. It can help you express it in a healthy and constructive way.

    “Most couples we worked with were surprised at the degree to which they have believed many of these myths and the degree to which these myths have negatively impacted their marriage relationship,” Oliver says. “In fact, my wife and I both realized that neither of us grew up with models of what healthy expressions of anger looked like. Learning how to express anger in healthy ways tore down walls of fear, hurt and pain. It also helped us build bridges of understanding and trust that became the pathway to deep levels of intimacy in our marriage.”

    Read Mad About Us, Part 2