Dear Dr. Yael,
I have always been an avid reader of your column in The Jewish Press which is why I am writing to you today. My husband is great person and very loving, but when something doesn’t go the way he wants, he throws a major fit. Everything that is on the table will fly in all directions. He has never been physically abusive, but I am nervous about the future. There is no way he will agree to therapy, so how can I get him to control his anger?
Dear Concerned Wife,
I wish I could say that yours is a unique situation, but many therapy clients are dealing with a difficult spouse. Some of them are even men who are seeking help to deal with a difficult wife. Unfortunately, many people who are in therapy are there to learn how to deal with people who should really be in therapy.
Which means that even though your husband will not meet with a therapist, you should, as there is much you can learn that will make your marriage a happier one.
For example, we often speak about changing the script or countermoves. In a countermove, a spouse will change the way he or she normally reacts in a given situation.
Many years ago I dealt with a situation in which the husband had a hard time controlling his anger; although he was working on it, there were times he had irrational outbursts.
One night, he yelled at his wife because one of the children had crawled into his bed and had a bedwetting accident.
In the past, the wife would have pouted, cried or yelled back. This time, however, she was prepared to make a countermove. This time she empathized with him, changed the linen and, matter of factly, told him she was sorry it had happened without taking any blame. He continued to scream, but she remained cool, calm and in control.
After a while, the husband shared that he felt like a fool. How could he fight with someone who wasn’t fighting back? In a subsequent therapy session he said that he felt as if I was in the room with them because of how his wife reacted and how nice and calm she had been even though he was acting inappropriately.
There is a saying, “Maaneh Rach Yashiv Cheima” – someone who answers softly and calmly to someone who is angry will actually quiet the other person’s rage.
Often when people yell they delight at our yelling back. When we answer calmly and rationally, we actually steal their thunder. They can’t say, “Oh, you see how crazy you are when you yell back at me” because we aren’t. Sometimes you will actually win an argument by speaking calmly when someone yells at you. They will feel ridiculous while you maintain control.
You seem to love your husband and you say that for the most part he is loving to you. That is why I think you may be successful at dealing with his anger in a creative way. That is why I encourage you to seek professional help; don’t try this on your own. The proper therapist will help you become a stronger person who can cope with this challenging situation.