You see emotional sparks flying but he's really sending up emotional S.O.S. flares.
Our society, unfortunately, teaches boys to shut down their emotions. As a result, they grow into men who typically struggle to express what they truly mean, for fear of looking weak ... and because, never taught to communicate their feelings, they now lack the emotional vocabulary to effectively do so.
Please understand, violence and cruelty (verbally, physically, emotionally) are never acceptable behaviors and in no way should you tolerate mistreatment from your spouse. But in an everyday sense, if your man's default emotion is anger, he's likely trying to communicate more but is unsure how to do so. Here are seven ways men use anger to communicate deeper feelings and needs:
1. When he feels he's not getting what he wants
It feels frustrating that when your husband wants affection, he acts defensive and accusatory. "Why don't you ever give me a hug?" he'll snap at you. Hardly makes you feel cuddly toward the man. But what he's really trying to say is: "I miss hugging you and yearn to have you initiate some long hugs; I would feel so much more connected to you."
The solution here is hugging him more often, looking for moments to share honest, heart-felt affection.
2. When he's tired and lacks bandwidth to deal with life's complications
We all feel weary at the end of the day, sometimes. The problem is, men sometimes struggle to just own that and say it. So, as the feeling of depletion builds in him, he lashes out, almost helplessly, at anything in sight. Is it fair? Not in the least. But, often exhaustion and exasperation lie underneath that snappy after work outburst.
The solution to preventing this is setting up after work decompression rituals, as a couple. He gets 15-20 min to change clothes, collect himself and shift mindset. Also, agree to a plan for how you'll handle stressed out days in advance to protect each other from any lashing out.
3. When he yearns to feel loved for who he truly is (not what he does or provides)
He snaps at you after you make (what you thought was) a harmless comment. But what you don't realize is that you're possibly the umpteenth person who dissed him this week (or even today) — thus, he's had it and can't take it anymore.
Let him know that, in spite of the anger you feel, you think he's the best man and you're proud of him. Appreciate that he's handling a great deal and show him some appreciation before you ask anything more from him.
4. When he experiences flashbacks of childhood hurt, shame or abandonment
Some things that happened to us in our childhood stick with us and flare up when we experience similar situations of embarrassment or feeling powerless. Likely, he's unaware that he's afraid of being abandoned or, like he was when his parents got drunk at the bar and stayed up until all hours, leaving him at home alone at night. Whatever that hurt was that's showing up again now.
Tread lightly in these moments and simply ask if there's anything you can do. Later, when he comes back to himself you can tactfully ask if the experience today reminded him of an experience before and give him room to talk about it if he opens up.
5. When he doesn't know how to ask for what he wants
If he experienced trauma in the past, the heaviness likely made his brain go "off line" and the ability to attach words to the experience is likely too difficult when he slips back into that state.
Make a pact to talk about it at another time, when the intensity settles back down and share hunches (but not definite clarity) about what you think he's possibly yearning for in the situation now.
6. When he feels depressed
Depression is a terrible feeling. It's overwhelming. And your partner may feel powerless to change his situation and yet hate himself for that because "men are not supposed to feel that way." As his shame grows, his depression deepens and he likely takes his frustration out on you.
Offer reassurance that you know the depression feels all encompassing, but it won't last forever. Brainstorm resources that might help to give him leverage to get going in a new way.
7. When he feels completely dismissed and misunderstood
Men often get enraged in this situation. He feels disrespected and unloved — that combination flares anger and egos in a terrible way.
In this case, the solution is practicing active listening. Reflect back to him the dismay he feels from being overlooked or bypassed; then, validate that you would feel similarly, in a like situation or that you can understand how he feels because you know his values or vulnerabilities.