3 Signs There's An Anger Problem In Your Marriage

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woman looking sad, hugging husband

The headline-grabbing trial that laid bare the relationship of former partners Johnny Depp and Amber Heard dispelled the notion that an angry marriage is in any way a healthy one. Arguments in court were rife with evidence of emotional and physical abuse — and assurances to one another that it was all just a normal part of their married life.

“The only reason we go for the throat is love,” Depp wrote in one text. To which Heard responded, “My throat is yours. You’re going to be the death of me, but I don’t care.”

Depp and Heard now seem to acknowledge that the destructive gamesmanship that defined their marriage was anything but normal.

Bouts of anger between spouses aren’t uncommon in marriage, and many people write them off as an unfortunate necessity of a long-term “healthy” relationship. Some even convince themselves that it’s a sign of passion or the strength of their love.

It can be hard for some people mired in such a relationship to see that fervor and passion have morphed into an anger problem. But here are some red flags to look out

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3 signs your marriage has an anger problem that needs to be addressed

1. A lot of out-of-control outbursts

The first and most common red flag is a burst of volatility, followed by a seemingly heartfelt apology and a genuine show of embarrassment. If you’ve been in a marriage long, chances are you can recall a time when you or your spouse followed that pattern. 

One harsh outburst does not mean there is a problem, but the red flag is the severity and frequency of the outbursts. 

Flipping your lid completely and being unable to calm down for long periods of time is a sure sign of an anger problem, and if you see it happening every couple of weeks or months, it may mean you and your spouse aren’t handling your disagreements in productive ways.

People often feel they’re being noble by “letting things go.” The problem is those feelings aren’t exactly evaporating into the air: They’ve got to go somewhere, and we often end up simply bottling things up. But bottles break.

After months of apparent marital bliss, you may suddenly find yourself in a heated argument with your spouse about a missed garbage pick-up from three weeks ago and a long-planned trip to visit your relatives.

It’s important to be open, honest, and direct about your intentions and feelings. It’s just as important (if not more so) to do everything you can to encourage your spouse to follow suit — if they feel like opening up will trigger an argument, they may simply opt to suppress their own feelings.

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2. Outrage and annoyance, everywhere, every time

How easily does your spouse get angry at others? Do they yell at the hostess at a restaurant when it’s taking longer than expected to get a table? Is a drive-through town ever safe from prolonged outbursts about “idiots on the road?" 

Everyone gets frustrated sometimes, but if your partner is almost constantly angry, and quick to find complaints about almost everything you do, and everything others do too, it’s a larger issue. If your spouse seems to take every inconvenience as a personal affront and acts out in kind, it may be a sign of a genuine anger problem.

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3. An inability to move past the past

We’ve all got shadows of the past that nag at us. If we’re lucky, we can even reflect on and grow from them. Some angry people, though, simply refuse to let sleeping dogs lie. In the worst cases, long-held grudges can become obsessive and toxic. They represent a refusal to move on from the past, which is seldom a healthy trait of a loving marriage.

Take for example a wife whose husband refuses to attend a Christmas party filled with their friends because of a meaningless dispute they’d had with one of the attendees four years earlier. Or a husband that can’t plan a romantic date night at the movie theater without his wife mentioning the time they went to see a movie and she caught him staring at a pretty girl in the fourth row.

If you or your spouse keep re-microwaving some perceived sleight from the past, even if it’s dressed up as some funny anecdote, it’s an anger problem.

The most insidious aspect of all these behaviors is how easily one can feed into another. A partner who constantly rages at every personal injustice may push their spouse to bottle things up until a breaking point

In relationships toxified by persistent anger problems, these behaviors very easily become a vicious cycle.

The only way to stop that cycle is to break it. If any of the above sounds familiar, sit down with your spouse to discuss the issue calmly, patiently, and honestly. Seek professional help as a couple, or if your partner won’t agree, individually. Self-care is crucial when living in a marriage with an anger problem, but doing nothing is not an option.

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Holly R. Davis is an accomplished and nationally-recognized family law trial attorney with over ten years of experience. A founding partner of Kirker Davis LLP, her legal practice focuses on high asset divorce, business and professional divorce, custody matters, and complex litigation.