Someone once said that the quality of your life depends on the quality of the questions you ask. So, first of all, asking, “Why am I so mad at my spouse during this pandemic?” is such a quality question!
You could have asked: Why is my spouse such a jerk these days? What’s their problem? Why are they so annoying, unhelpful, boring, and not the person I married? Instead, you placed the focus squarely on yourself (Why am I so mad…) and you put the problem in its appropriate context (…during this pandemic). HIGH-FIVE! You’re on the right track!
Someone else once said that the answer is often right in the question. Let’s break the question down and see if we can find a reasonable answer.
Why Am I So Mad…
Anger is a normal emotion. It’s okay to feel angry. But, try to understand how it works and how it can affect you and your family. In that moment of anger, (his dirty clothes on the floor AGAIN, she had THAT tone, we’re BOTH supposed to help put the kids down for bed) your brain is flooded with stress hormones that override your pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that controls higher-order thinking skills such as decision-making, impulse control, focusing your attention, planning for the future and predicting the consequences of your actions. It also controls your ability to use logic and process feelings of empathy, shame, compassion and guilt. In that moment of anger, if you react, instead of pausing and responding, this is like handing over the keys to the part of your brain that is deciding between “fight, flight, or freeze.”
If your spouse has done something that triggers “flooding” in you, it is physically and mentally impossible for you to have a reasonable conversation. You are literally incapable of rational thought. Your heart might be racing. You might be sweating or even crying at this point. Mentally, you won’t interpret and process the words and actions of your spouse accurately.
This is definitely NOT when you want to address issues or problems in your relationship.
This is why we say and do things when we are angry that, later, after the pre-frontal cortex gets the keys back, we totally cannot believe we said or did. It is also why the way we handle that 90 seconds or so of our brain “flooding” is so important. It’s why you’ve never heard of “Happiness Management” classes, either.
Marriage researcher and relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, found that it takes about 20 minutes for the “floodwaters” to recede and explains this process and how “self-soothing” like taking a walk or calling a “timeout” can help. (More on that later.)
Even though anger is a normal emotion, it is not one to take lightly or ignore. We don’t want to camp out with our anger. In a very real sense, anger is a “Gateway Emotion.” Anger that isn’t dealt with often leads to bitterness, contempt, resentment and apathy. These feelings can wreak havoc even when we’re done being mad. People often take these feelings out on their spouses, their children, and even on themselves. Plus, dwelling on your anger sends a signal to your brain to start flooding all over again. This is not where you need to be. This is not your “best self.”
What do you do with your anger? What do you let your anger do to you? How do you handle your brain being “flooded?” Have you considered that anger is often a “secondary emotion” that masks the real issue? Have you reflected on what the real issue could be—not feeling appreciated, not feeling heard, not feeling respected? Are you really jealous, lonely or hurting?
Are you taking proper care of yourself?
At My Spouse…
Your spouse might, in fact, be acting very differently right now. But why? They might process stress, fear, conflict and communicate it differently than you do. That’s okay. Opposites attract, right? But you might be seeing some real opposite-opposite behavior at the moment. Your spouse might really be struggling. They might be flooded or they might be withdrawn because stress makes them shut down. They might be irritable because of what their employer is expecting from them or they feel like they are failing you and the family.
Dr. Gottman found that 69% of conflict in marriages is about “unresolvable, perpetual problems.” That is NOT a discouraging statistic. That is what we call marriage—two unique individuals with their own unique needs, personalities, ways of communicating, handling conflict, and let’s say… quirks—spending their lives together, trying to fail better tomorrow. That’s love. It’s beautiful.
Get real honest with yourself—is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved? Is your spouse a convenient outlet for your anger? Are you leaving room for them to be them? Are you spending too much time together cooped up? Not enough quality time together?
This is a time for patience, grace, and empathy.
During This Pandemic?
The stress and fear that comes with quarantine and a global pandemic can keep us in a perpetual state of “brain flooding.” Think about that a second. We may be trying to be employees, tutors, parents and spouses while we are worrying about the future, finances and getting COVID-19. Add to this that we might be stuck in the house and cut off from our normal routines and the usual ways we “blow off steam” and have fun.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, (including you and your spouse) are their best selves right now—no matter how your friends appear on social media. We are all in Survival Mode. Everything is magnified right now. Everything is intensified. An off-hand comment that wouldn’t have phased you before now is a personal attack. Don’t let this “thing” we are all going through drive you away from your spouse. Be determined to handle your anger in a way and deal with conflict in a way that drives you toward your spouse.
Make it a goal to come out of this better and closer on the other side.
Understanding Is Important, But Here Are Some Practical Tips.
- Learn to recognize when your body is telling you that you’re flooding and have a plan. Find a healthy outlet for your anger. Journaling. Going for a walk. Calling a timeout. Take the reins of your brain and remind yourself of why you got married and your spouse’s awesome qualities and traits. Control your thoughts and emotions, don’t let them control you.
- If there is a problem or issue that you and your spouse need to work out, remember that is a normal part of marriage. Don’t attempt to resolve it when you are angry. Pick a time when you can have a productive, constructive conversation about it. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Listen to your body—don’t escalate and don’t be afraid to call “timeout.”
- Are you and your spouse connecting creatively with each other or crossing paths chaotically? Is it time for a special in-house dinner date? A movie night? Some yard work together? A walk around the block? Just enjoy each other’s company.
- This is not the time for any harsh conclusions or permanent judgments, and definitely no big decisions—specially when you throw anger into the mix. Take responsibility for yourself and for what you can control.
Why am I so mad at my spouse during this pandemic? Remember, the quality of your life depends on the quality of the questions you ask—and what you do about the answers.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***