A comment on my Eggshell dance: just say no! read “Right, so I love this article, and as you can guess, I am the eggshellwalker. My follow up question would be, how do you address the “explosion”. You can’t address it in the moment, because that triggers another explosion. If you deal with it the next day, then it’s possible to argue that the explosion was not nearly as bad as I experienced it.“
This is a very difficult situation. Sometimes the one who explodes knows that they do, but play it down the next day. Others do not realise how bad it was. The first is lying; the second is self-deceived. Neither is good, but the first is a more significant problem. If you get a lot of “It was not that bad” you may have to point out how bad it is when it is happening, just so you can discuss it later. I have heard of people recording an outburst to play back later. This usually results in attacks on doing that, but it does make the point.
If someone blows up often, it means they have learned to use anger as a shield. When you back down in response to anger with such a person, you reinforce the fact that anger helps them avoid dealing with things. If you want to change their use of anger as defence, you have to find a way to keep their anger from getting them what they want. The problem is they will react with more of what they know – more anger. If you are not ready to stand up to the anger, you will just teach them that when challenged, all they have to do it get more angry and you will back down. In short, dealing with their anger will mean having to get through an extra dose of that anger.
Make a real effort to remain calm. If you get upset they win, and it encourages them to keep using anger. Stay on topic – focusing on the anger means you are no longer dealing with the bigger issue. Even if you are talking about the anger, pointing out what they are currently doing that qualifies as anger is just giving them something to argue about.
- Think about what you want to say beforehand, and focus on that. If you started the conversation, then you choose what to discuss. When your spouse goes on to something else, gently come back to the issue.
- Do not yell.
- If your spouse interrupts, let them go, then start over. Show that you are not going to be distracted.
- You might ask if she treats others this way, and how she thinks they would act if she did. If you are the primary target of her anger, or she only uses this tactic with you, make her think about that.
- Give clear statements like “Yelling is unacceptable to me” and “I will not be treated _____”. You are setting boundaries, and expecting them to be honoured.
- If it is clear you are getting nowhere, table the discussion for later. Say something indicating that you will bring it up again, but you realise the current level of anger makes it impossible to talk now. Making it go away is the goal of the anger, so bringing it up again until it is addressed shows that the anger will no longer work.
- If several attempts fail to change anything, indicate that if the two of you cannot deal with this as a couple, you will seek help. Do not say, “we should get counselling” as this gives her the power to say no. If it does not change, you will seek help, with or without her, and she cannot stop you.
- Anger can lead to violence. If you see any hint of this, you need to get help.
A great book on boundaries, and that is what this is about, is Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I would suggest it before you try to deal with a significant anger issue, or as a next option if your first attempts fail.