How to Handle Anger Becoming Rage In Marriage What to do when anger turns to rage in a relationship conflict? BY SHARON M. RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
If your spouse goes into a rage, professional help is required.
When a couple is in a disagreement and one person becomes so angry and it becomes rage, how are you supposed to handle it? Do you walk away and let them calm down? Do you try to calm them down at that moment? I love my husband, but when we don't agree sometimes his anger turns to rage and itís very scary! Please, help me to understand.
There is a significant difference between anger and rage. Anger can be viewed as a scale that ranges from minor irritation to intense rage. It can be very scary indeed when the scale tips toward rage. Most of us donít have any idea what to do when someone we love becomes that angry. Do we leave them alone until they calm down? Will that enrage them more? Do you get angry back? Will that enrage them more? Can you even reason with someone who is that mad? Do you have to protect yourself from their anger? We may attempt to want understanding as to why our spouse becomes enraged, but itís not possible in the heat of the moment. What it comes down to is that if youíre scared, thereís a big problem that goes beyond your need for understanding.
Use this scale to determine your spouseís anger level, then use the tips to handle the situation accordingly.
Low Level Anger:
The lower end of the anger scale starts with minor irritation and annoyance. For instance, youíre late again, and your spouse has been waiting for you. When you finally arrive, their response might be, "Geez, why are you always so late? Itís so frustrating!" Note that your spouseís reaction in this situation could be viewed as minor, not escalating into something more intense.
Medium Level Anger:
The middle range of the anger scale now includes blaming, shaming and name calling. For instance, your spouseís response in the above scenario might be, "Youíre always so damn late. I canít trust you. I donít even know how you can hold down a job because you canít even get to dinner on time. Youíre so self-centered. It makes me not even want to make plans with you."
If medium level fighting seems to be the norm in your relationship, you need to establish ground rules for fair fighting now. These rules would include:
1. Take a time out until both of you have calmed down. This rule needs to be established ahead of time and adhered to no matter what!
2. Call a truce. This means that you agree to drop the conflict immediately so you can do what you have to do, but then set up a time to deal with it later.
3. Begin to address the deeper feelings underlying the "lateness" issue. You are both getting triggered and are in danger of slipping into the rage level of fighting. This could be accomplished by using my "First Argument Technique" of peel, reveal and heal.
If the above scenario now includes feeling scared and fearful, the argument has tipped the scales into rage. Your spouseís enraging response might be, "If you keep this up, youíre gonna force me to lose it! Iíve never been so mad at anyone in my life! You purposely did this to hurt me. Iíve had it!" (This does not include the fowl language that often accompanies these tirades.)
At this point youíre scared, and thereís no way to reason with your enraged husband or wife. This is a very serious problem that cannot be taken lightly. You should never be scared in your marriage. A disagreement with your partner never warrants rage. Rage is a form of abuse and is never justified unless it's in response to someone being raped, attacked or molested.
If this is the first time that rage has happened in your marriage, or itís a continual occurrence, there are no simple techniques to make everything right in that moment. It is not your job to calm this person down. It is your job to walk away and/or get out of the situation if you are scared. Itís a sign of a deep psychological problem that warrants immediate attention. Your choices are anger management classes, psychotherapy or consultation with a spiritual advisor. (If youíre really feeling in danger, you may need to leave temporarily until you can get professional help.) Yes, you both need help to break this cycle.
Remember, this isnít about never getting angry. Itís about where the anger falls on the scale. So check the scale and address the anger issues accordingly.
Sharon M. Rivkin, Marriage and Family Therapist, and author of "The First Argument: Cutting to the Root of Intimate Conflict," (www.thefirstargument.com) has worked with couples for 25-plus years. Her unique insight into the first argument was featured in "O: The Oprah Magazine" and "Readerís Digest," and has attracted people throughout the U.S. and abroad for consultation, workshops, and courses. For more information on Sharon Rivkin visit www.sharonrivkin.com.