angry spouse

In our two-part series, “How to Deal with an Angry Spouse”, we look at why your spouse is perpetually angry and what you should and shouldn’t do when your spouse expresses anger.

an·ger (noun): a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

If you’ve been there, it’s a place you never want to go back to. If you’re there now, the only thing you want to do is to make it stop. When your spouse is in a never-ending state of anger, it affects your marriage, your outlook on life, and your family. It seeps into everything.

If your spouse is perpetually angry, and you do not know why, this is for you.

I’m not talking about a spouse who is angry because the two of you recently had an argument. That is a different type of anger for a different article. That kind of anger is based on a specific event, of which you are aware, and can be handled differently than the kind of anger I am talking about here.

In this article, I am referring to a spouse who is angry. Anger is their state of being. He or she seemingly wakes up angry, and the tiniest thing can set off a spark of fights, or maybe even a cold-shoulder. Their anger is disproportionate to what is going on around them.

Like many marriage issues, it feels like there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t control your spouse, you can only control yourself. So how are you supposed to handle a spouse who is angry?

Understanding the Basics: The Underlying Cause of Anger

Anger is rooted in hurt. When any person expresses anger, they are manifesting pain. And anger addressed at a specific person doesn’t necessarily mean that is the person who did the hurting. Sometimes people take their anger out on the safest target.

For example, it could be that the anger your wife directs toward you is based on hurt that you’ve caused her. Or, it could be the hurt that she’s caused herself. Or, it could be hurt caused by someone else, even someone who hurt her years ago.

When someone is in a state of perpetual anger, many times the hurt that underlies that anger has nothing to do with the marriage. Instead, it has to do with another situation happening in his or her life in which they have no control.

Ideally, if something happened in a marriage that caused anger, it would be talked about. Even if an agreement is not made, at least both parties are still aware of what is causing the issue. We will talk about how to deal with that kind of anger in Part 2 of this article.

One Source of Anger: External Circumstances

For example, if one spouse begins to experience problems at work that put his or her job security in jeopardy, then he or she has very limited control over that situation. It is much more difficult to have an open and frank conversation with a boss concerning feelings than it is with your spouse.

Due to the lack of perceived control over the situation, anger ensues and festers. Because of the lack of certainty about the future, damage to ego, and hurt pride that can come with job loss, the anger can continue to intensify.

That’s one example. There are other external situations that can cause anger such as (but not limited to) family problems, boredom with life, feeling unappreciated, fights with other people (such as friend groups), financial problems, parenting issues, or increased stress.

So, what do you do when a spouse expresses anger at you?

1. Stop: Don’t Be Reactive

As mentioned above, the reason that your spouse is angry may not have anything to do with you. Instead, the anger is being taken out on you because you are the “safest target.” In other words, you are the only person in your spouse’s life that he/she feels will listen without leaving or punishing. Therefore, if you react negatively to your spouse’s anger (which is probably not directed at you) then it will only make the situation worse.

Think of it as a cycle. Your spouse starts the cycle, and once you engage back with defensiveness and more anger, the cycle continues to spin and spin…until it turns into a tornado.

Does that mean that you should be quiet and accept inappropriate behavior? By no means!

However, you can stand up for yourself by not being defensive and without attacking your spouse. Saying things such as, “I am so sorry that you feel that way. I hope things get better,” is one way to calm tension. If your spouse’s anger leads to showing you disrespect, saying, “I understand you are angry, and I am here for you. Please understand the way you are talking to me makes me feel disrespected.”

2. Realize it is not about you

As stated throughout this article, many times the reason for the anger has nothing to do with you. Something else is going on. Perhaps you know what is going on with your spouse, but many times you might have no idea.

Once you can separate yourself as the target of your spouse’s anger and realize that something deeper is going on, you will be able to react stronger and calmer to your spouse.

3. Apologize

If there is something that you did to contribute to your spouse’s anger, apologize. Even if it seems trivial and minute to you at the time, if your spouse is already sensitive because of an external issue, then even small things can have a big affect.

Apologize if it is appropriate. Don’t apologize for something you didn’t do. NOTE: If your spouse perceived your actions or words in a certain way, even if that was not your intent, that still warrants an apology.

However, if you legitimately did not do something (e.g. your spouse is angry that you misplaced something when you didn’t touch it) then don’t apologize. You can say, “I am sorry you are angry about that.” But do not say, “I am sorry I did that” if you did not do it.

4. Analyze…to an extent

As stated above, sometimes you know what is going on with your spouse that is causing the anger. If so, keep that in mind. Other times, you may feel clueless as to what is going on with your spouse.

If this is the issue, there are two things you can do.

First, try and consider what might be going on. Don’t spend too much time on this, as too much analyzation can lead to fear, worry, snooping, control, and a myriad of other terrible things. If you can quickly put a couple of pieces together, do that. It will help you to accomplish the next point.

If your marriage is in a place where you can do this, ask your spouse, “what is hurting you?”. This can lead to your spouse opening up to you and taking down walls. However, your spouse may not answer this question (or may not answer it fully). We’ll discuss that further in step 5.

Second, if you cannot imagine what is causing your spouse’s anger, then don’t dwell on it. Move on to step 5.

5. Empathize: Important Now and Later

You may or may not know what is going on with your spouse. If you do, it is easier to empathize.

If your spouse is able and willing to talk with you about the reason for the anger, awesome! Move to step 6. But if your spouse is closed off and doesn’t want to talk about what is going on, then you can feel even more lost and confused. Don’t give up.

More than likely, there is something going on that either your spouse is a.) embarrassed by, b.) scared to tell you, or c.) your spouse doesn’t know the exact source of anger either. Don’t let this worry you.

Understand that all three of those reactions are normal. If your spouse is embarrassed, then he or she may dread talking about the subject, and if your spouse is scared to tell you, it is probably because he or she fears the consequences of opening up to you. If your spouse can’t explain what’s going on either, then he or she is probably experiencing a very complex issue that stemmed from a past hurt, and he or she isn’t putting all the pieces together right now because it is painful.

No matter what the reason, it is important to empathize.

How do you empathize?

  1. Be a safe place – This is the hardest part. You have to be safe place for your spouse even though your spouse is not being a safe place for you. Giving unconditional love even when you are not receiving unconditional love is the true manifestation of real love. If you can continue to be a safe place for your spouse, then when your spouse does finally soften, he or she will open up to you. Walls will come down, and your marriage will be transformed.
  2. Be consistent – There is a principal that is true in business which is also true in life: consistency is key. Be consistent about showing empathy to your spouse. If one day you are loving and kind and the next day you are mean and defensive, it is less likely your spouse will trust enough to open up to you. Does that mean that you won’t have bad days? Of course not, but in everything you do, be consistent in showing love and grace…even when you feel like your spouse doesn’t deserve it.

Empathy is important for while the anger is still going on AND for when your spouse opens up to you about the cause of the anger.

6. Be Patient

Your spouse’s anger won’t go away overnight. As I stated above, sometimes it takes years before you know what’s really going on. Live consistently and be deliberate about your actions and words in your marriage.

Be patient, but know that as long as you are consistent, there will be a return on your investment of patience.

7. Take care of you

During this time, you will be doing a lot of giving of yourself to your spouse, and you may not feel that you are getting much in return. Surround yourself with people that you can receive from. Get involved in a small group of people who are your own gender for laughter, fun, and support. Only speak about your marriage issues to mentors or trusted, neutral third parties, but lean on friends and family to bring you joy and laughter.

You’ll need it.

angry spouse

Anger is rooted in hurt. When any person expresses anger, they are manifesting pain. And anger addressed at a specific person doesn’t necessarily mean that is the person who did the hurting. Sometimes people take their anger out on the safest target.

For example, it could be that the anger your wife directs toward you is based on hurt that you’ve caused her. Or, it could be the hurt that she’s caused herself. Or, it could be hurt caused by someone else, even someone who hurt her years ago.

So, what do you do when a spouse expresses anger at you?

Don’t Get Defensive

Do not become defensive. Instead, genuinely say something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry that you are hurt”. Communicate that you are sorry for what they’re experiencing and not making it about what you did or didn’t do.

If you know that you caused hurt, admit that. Do it succinctly and don’t beat yourself up in the process. Rather say it sincerely like, “I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you by ____. I truly am.” Then don’t go on about it unless the spouse starts talking about what you did.

If your spouse calms down enough to have a true conversation, try asking them in your own words to express their hurt, not because you want to argue or defend yourself, but because you truly care and want to know what went wrong.

Listen Well

If your spouse does open up and talks about what you did to hurt them, listen very carefully to the hurt behind the anger and pain. Accept responsibility for anything that is true. Don’t accept responsibility for things you didn’t do. This can be tricky as you don’t want to get defensive like we discussed above, but there is a way to nod sympathetically without verbalizing any acceptance for the things you didn’t do. If you wish and it seems appropriate in the moment, you may say something such as, “I’m so sorry that you’re hurt and feel that way”.

Many times, you can calm a person by simply giving them a good listening to. Listening is key when it comes to dealing with an angry spouse.

Be Caring and Understanding

If your angry spouse comes to understand that you sincerely care and are trying your best to understand, it CAN lead to healing for the both of you.

We understand that walking in a caring and understanding attitude on your end may be one of the hardest things to do (especially if your spouse is in an affair, addiction, or something of the like), but we have come to find that listening is crucial and it may also lead to moving past the pain and on to a better relationship.

Dealing with an angry spouse is never easy and we are sorry for what you’re going through. Steer clear from being defensive, train your ear to listen well, and display care and understanding toward that spouse. Doing these things can very well help your spouse’s anger to subside towards you.

Click here to learn more about how anger can affect your marriage.

We Can Help

Are you needing help as you experience an angry spouse in your marriage? Or are you reading this and realizing that you are the angry spouse? We would love to help. Our Marriage Helper Workshop is a great place for any marriage whether you’re on the brink of divorce or dealing with issues like anger. Or if you would like to speak to someone, please fill out this form here.


We do not advocate for people to stay in an abusive marriage. If a person is abusing his or her spouse or children, remaining in that marriage is unwise. Abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or a combination thereof. We have seen marriages reconcile after the abuser got proper help, but even then strict boundaries were put in place to ensure that no more abuse could occur. If the abuser does not seek or accept the help he or she needs so that their bad behavior is corrected, living with them is not a viable option.

We also know that marriage problems are not easy to ‘roll past’- from our own experiences, as well as the thousands of couples we’ve worked with. It’s hard, it hurts, and it takes a lot of work. Still, we’ve seen so many marriages saved, even in the worst of circumstances. That is why we encourage people that there is hope for their marriage!

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