What do you do with your anger, after your spouse’s affair?

This Week’s Question:

Dear Anne,

I will make this brief.  I get really frustrated and angry with my husband for his affairs and it seems to me that he plays the victim.  Not always but I don’t want to hear about his addiction.  Unfortunately my anger has gotten bad and I have been trying for several months to control it and not let it effect my kids.  I know sometimes it trickles down to them.  Just wondering what to do with this anger.

Anne’s Answer:

Anger is the appropriate response to injustice. For you, it’s not just your husband’s betrayal that makes you angry, it’s the fact that he is not taking responsibility for what he has done. He is not helping you heal, so you would be angry deep down about that. This may not be because he is “bad” or doesn’t care. Most likely he simply lacks the tools. He doesn’t know what he needs to do, and he doesn’t know how. People in general are not good at owning their mistakes. Blaming others instead of looking inside ourselves is the most commonly used defense mechanism towards the shame we feel, when deep down we know we have failed. Deep down your spouse most likely feels inadequate or unworthy.

The secret of handling anger healthy is to learn to find the right balance.

THE “NICE” PEOPLE

Some people hold their anger in, and try to be real nice, but in the end this doesn’t bring about the needed changes in their lives, so “nice” people are just ticking time bombs – not good!

THE “BITCHES”

Others lean towards emotional outbursts, where they do and say a lot of mean things that can do a lot of further irreversible damage. While you have been unjustly hurt, responding to the injustice with more mean and hurtful behavior, never brings about healing, for the relationship or for you personally.

Anger is actually addicting. There is a chemical release in the brain when we act in anger, that actually feels kind of good on the short-term like a drug. So people who act like this can easily be looking for things to get angry about to justify and bring on their next anger fix, and they don’t even know the are doing it.

This kind of reactive anger, while possibly feeling good temporarily, leaves us feeling worse, because we are acting against our own value system. We are mad at others because of their unethical behavior, and then we act mean, which is exactly what we are standing against, so deep down we diminish our own feelings of worth in the long run. Behaving in a way that is not in alignment with our own value system diminishes our self-esteem.

Worse yet, we don’t get the results we are looking for. The people, who are on the receiving end of our angry outbursts, tend to write us off, because of how “emotional” we are being. They, therefore, don’t take the angry person seriously, and thus they never make any of the desired changes in their behavior.

Anger is actually a good thing. Anger is merely your pain turned outward. (Sadness is your pain turned inward.) Emotional pain works the same way physical pain does. While painful, it actually helps us, because it is telling us something is wrong. For example, I put my hand on a hot stove, I will feel extreme pain resulting in me yanking my hand off the stove. This corrects the bad situation and saves me! The pain is a good thing! If I didn’t feel pain, I would burn my hand off.

So it is with emotional pain. It’s a good thing. It’s telling you that your life is not okay, and that you need to change something. That is the good purpose of your anger. To handle your anger healthy is to take that energy and to use it sensibly to bring about changes in your life, so you are no longer hurt in this same way. Your anger is given to you, so that you can take positive action to bring about needed changes in your life, so that you will be emotionally safe. It is also helpful to take some of this anger, and take positive action to help others, to provide comfort in the future for others who suffer in ways that you have suffered – like getting involved with BAN.

The healthy way of handling anger is to state it. For example you might say, “I am so angry with you right now.”

Physical releases for anger can be helpful, but you do these alone. You might go on a fast walk, or a fast stationary bike ride at the gym. Anger expressed healthy, does not do any harm to your relationship, to any person (not even emotionally), nor to physical property, nor to yourself, and it doesn’t even take on these risks.

When we are experiencing the emotion of anger, our judgment is impaired. So it is never a good idea to make decisions in this state. We may as well drink ourselves under the table, and make an important decision, because we are thinking that irrationally when we are angry.

But after your physical release of anger, you want to figure out, what can you change? Change that. What are you not able to change? Learn to accept that. Grieve your loss and move on.

WHAT IS THE CHANGE THAT NEEDS TO TAKE PLACE?

Usually we think in black and white terms of extremes, either this or that. When I work with individuals, I can help them discover a list of options. Seeing that you do have a list of options is empowering.

Some of the most obvious options include:

  1. Your husband stops having affairs, and learns to take responsibility for what he has done (instead of playing the victim and blaming you). Please know you cannot control your husband’s choices. You can create an environment most conducive to him making good choices, but there are no guarantees. I have seen some of the most beautiful, sweetest, smartest women with husbands who never choose to do the right thing. Likewise, I have seen wonderful husbands with wives who do not choose to end their affairs and do the right thing. (I’ve also seen betrayed women who have the most wonderful, remorseful husbands who are doing everything right, who still choose not to forgive.)
  1. You could get a divorce and move on.
  1. In some cases some spouses choose to accept the fact that their spouse will not be faithful, but feel it is still best to stay in the marriage, and they find other healthy ways to be fulfilled in life. And they get good at standing their ground, having good boundaries, and not being drawn into the unhealthy spouse’s craziness.

We can help you. I would ask your husband if he wants to be fully happy again, and to have a fulfilling marriage where the affair is behind you? If his answer is yes, ask him to join you on a coaching call with Brian and I. Let us take it from there.

With a heart to help,

Anne Bercht