Dear Dr. Yael,
Let me begin by saying that I love my wife and children very much. So, why am I writing to you? My wife has serious issues with anger management. I don’t necessarily blame her; growing up she heard and saw lots of fighting between her parents. On the other hand, my parents divorced when I was 10; they both remarried and have an amicable relationship. It is like we have three sets of parents – both my step-parents are very nice to us and to our children. I have siblings from both of my parents’ second marriages and step-siblings. We all get along.
Honestly, the only time there is any discord is when we go to my in-laws who have been married to each other for over 40 years. The fighting is out of control and upsets my wife very much. I have suggested that we either stay home or just go to my parents, but my in-laws make my wife feel guilty if we don’t come.
However, the experience is so negative and there are serious ramifications for our family. My wife overreacts to everything after we have been there and it makes things more difficult at home. When I have discussed it with her, she says that when she gets angry it’s because she has been provoked by me or by the children. She doesn’t seem to see that she reacts to what goes on at her parents.
My wife loves your column and we read it together every Friday night. I think it would be so helpful if you would address this issue in a future article. I changed enough details so that people will not recognize our family.
I know my wife does not want to be this way. She is a very ehrliche person who tries hard to work on her middos. Other than this one issue, we have a wonderful relationship and marriage.
I hope you can help us.
As I write this column, we are about to begin the Yomim Noraim period with three cycles of two-day chagim. This is stressful for everyone, even those who are in highly functional families. Those who are part of the sandwich generation and must deal with aging parents and married children find it even more difficult. As do those who are single, couples struggling with infertility, divorced mothers, divorced fathers, those who are struggling financially, etc.
In other words, we all go through this period of time dealing with more stress than usual. And so working on our middos during these days is a must, though not easy.
Today, we will discuss anger. Developing a strategy for anger management is not easy to do, but it is doable. The first step is admitting there is a problem. If your wife can’t do that yet, perhaps you can sit down and have a calm and loving conversation with her. Start with saying something like, “I love you very much and appreciate everything that you do to keep this house running! I noticed something that I think we could work on that can benefit the family. Sometimes, when the children or I seem to be stressing you out, I feel that you become very upset and yell. I know you don’t mean it and that you love us all very much, but it makes me feel bad when you yell and I think the children are also being affected. Maybe we can think of a silly/secret word that I can say when I see you becoming upset that will remind you to calm down. What do you think?”
Hopefully, your wife will accept what you are saying and you can come up with a word or phrase together. However, even if your wife becomes defensive, understand that she has heard what you say, she is just not accepting it yet. Do not turn this into a fight; just ask her to please think about what you said and end the conversation.
In time, if she truly is the good person you describe, she will understand how her actions affect all of you and work on a plan with you.
Another good idea is working on breathing exercises. This is something you can do together – tell her it’s something you read about and want to try.
- Take ten deep breaths – in through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then breath out slowly through your mouth.
- Close your eyes and imagine a calming scene.
- Give yourself a time out.
- Say out loud that what just happened is not the end of the world and everything will be okay.
As to your in-laws, it may be prudent to come up with a game plan for that situation as well. For example, decide that if x, y and z happens, then you will do a, b and c. If you prepare for a variety of situations in advance, you and your wife may be better able to deal with what comes up.
Hatzlocha and have a good Yom Tov!