7 Tips For Communicating With An Angry Spouse (Without Making It Worse)

Communicate with your angry spouse without inflaming the situation.

Communicating with angry spouse dimaberlinphotos | Canva

Anger is a difficult bedfellow in oneself and one’s closest relationships. And nowhere is it more potent than in a marriage. Knowing how to communicate with your angry spouse, let alone without making things worse, can be frustrating and even frightening.

Here are 9 tips for communicating with your angry spouse without making it worse:

1. Understanding anger is the first step

Anger is a natural emotion. We all experience it and know the adrenaline rush that acts like armor for situations of perceived threat. As offensive and off-putting as anger can seem when unleashed, it does come bearing gifts. Power, energy, and protection can be strong motivators to someone who otherwise feels powerless, weak, and vulnerable. When trying to figure out how to communicate with your angry spouse, it’s important to know if the anger is contextual or chronic.


Couple trying to communicate without making it worse Crime Art via Shutterstock

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2. Consider if a sensitive topic triggered an angry response

Did something trigger their anger temporarily, or is your spouse always brooding with anger that can easily be triggered into a more uncontrolled response? People who are resentful or chronically angry tend to see the world from the viewpoint of a victim. The world is unfair to them, and they are therefore offended because they don’t get what they believe they should get. They also blame others for their emotional state. They can’t self-regulate and therefore need a place to dump responsibility for how they feel. And, if you’re the spouse, guess who’s getting dumped on?


Even if you don’t consider yourself an angry person, it’s important to recognize the potential for anger within yourself. Taking personal responsibility for your triggers and how you respond to them will help you respond to your spouse’s anger healthily.

Think about those moments that have sent you emotionally over the edge. Those triggering topics or behaviors push the start button on a cascade of physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses. Thanks to the adrenaline rush, your heart races, and your breath quickens and burns in your chest. You lose sight of any collaborative treaty because you are now in fight-or-flight for yourself and your cause.

All bets are off once anger is in the driver’s seat. Part of you wants the anger (and its trigger) to go away. And the other part is just waiting to be challenged by an angry opponent. By recognizing how anger works in all of us, you can make choices to lower the temperature and restore the potential for cooperative problem-solving.

3. De-escalate and neutralize

This primary effort is directed at bringing down the temperature and decreasing the emotional intensity. It’s only natural to want to lash back at an angry outburst or expression of blame. However, if you've done the work of dealing with your own emotions, you'll better be able to mitigate your spouse’s intensity. Keep your focus on the cooperative light at the end of the tunnel. And don’t add to the intensity by fighting fire with fire.


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4. Be assertive and respectful

Resorting to anger is, in large part, due to a mismanagement of primary emotions. People don’t know how to say, “I’m sad… I’m afraid… when you do (this), I feel (that)… I’m ashamed…” Anger becomes a wall-building way of digging in their heels and blocking the vulnerability of going to “that place.”

If you don’t want to escalate an already intense situation, you will need to learn how to respectfully express your feelings and assert your needs. Being honest doesn’t have to be “brutal.” It can and should be direct, authentic, and respectful of the other person’s feelings. This confident but measured approach is essential to the growth of compassion and understanding. You have to pay attention to everything — what you’re thinking and saying, and how your spouse is responding.

Sometimes just slowing down and thinking before speaking can put out a fire in very little time.


5. Be patient and compassionate

Patience and compassion can feel like tongue-biting concessions when you’re in the line of angry fire. But remember anger is just what you’re seeing. One of the beauties of intimacy is it has the power to heal old wounds. Marriage affords an opportunity like no other in this regard. But you have to get to the wounds to heal them. And that means breaking through all the scar tissue that covers them. Compassion inspires the quest for understanding. And patience gives your partner a safe space to explore and express a more genuine response than anger.

@happyspouse.happyhouse Replying to @amanda_patterson1023 #greenscreen How to communicate when your spouse get angry or shuts down #healthymarriage #marriage #happyspousehappyhouse #marriageadviceforwomen ♬ Summer day - TimTaj

6. Listen for what's stirring under the surface

Learning how to communicate with your angry spouse is, in large part, about learning to listen. That doesn’t mean you accept abusive outbursts of blame and disrespect. It means you commit to actively listening — with your heart and body language — for the underlying messages.

Seek to validate emotions that are genuinely, vulnerably expressed, and that risk going deeper into painful truth. “What I hear you saying is, that must have felt awful. I am so sorry you experienced that.” This is about employing patience and compassion with intention. You're seeking vital information to help heal your relationship and one another.


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7. Establish boundaries

Being patient and compassionate doesn’t sign you up for being a victim of an angry assault on your dignity and emotional safety. Part of being assertive is establishing boundaries that protect everyone, including your marriage.

Some boundaries will be for you alone: “Regardless of what they say, I won’t say or do (XYZ).” Some will be for your spouse: “I won’t stay here while you scream or call me names.” And some will be for your marriage: “Perhaps we should take a two-hour break to cool down and come back when we’re both calm.”

Theya re communicating and not making it worse mavo via Shutterstock


8. Pick your battles

When latent emotions remain unacknowledged or mismanaged, it’s easy to fixate on anything that could be wrong. “You did… you didn’t… you don’t… you never… what about this… what about that…” You could spend the rest of your lives battling for power and tossing blame. Decide what’s important to work through and learn to let go of those differences that don’t matter.

When you focus on your priorities, you may notice the smaller issues resolving alongside the bigger issues. At the very least, they won’t matter as much anymore.

9. Get help

Trying to enrich or even save your marriage when anger is always rearing its horned head can feel like a daily uphill battle. Please be kind to yourself and remember that emotions aren’t taught. Most people come to marriage with little awareness of their unattended emotions, let alone how to deal with them. Some experts have devoted their professional lives to helping loving, well-intended couples save their relationships. When you know better, you do better.

Few people go into marriage knowing how to communicate with an angry spouse. More often than not, couples resort to fighting fire with fire. It all happens so quickly, and wounds get inflicted on top of scarred-over wounds just begging to be healed. Recognize that you have both come to your marriage with different histories and different modeling of emotional expression.


You probably never imagined the happy couple walking down the aisle while pulling wagon loads of bottled-up feelings. But that’s how marriage often starts when couples haven’t developed skills for recognizing and managing their emotions.

As with any relationship skill, responding to anger calls you first to respond to your own emotions. Only by learning to stand in your confidence and self-accountability will you be able to see through your spouse’s anger.

After you have asked (even silently while listening), “What’s under that? And what’s under that?” you will finally get to the simplicity of a heart that yearns to be loved… and to love.


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Mary Ellen Goggin and Dr. Jerry Duberstein offer relationship coaching for individuals, and offer private couples retreats and couples counseling. They are co-authors of the book "Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too."