Lessons in Love and War: How I’m Learning To Better Process Anger


I love when my husband gets mad. He immediately screams, jumps on his phone to post something aggressive, writes a scathing letter to the newspaper editor, tells you why you’re wrong and he’s right… you name it.

Just kidding. This isn’t even close to what he does.

Actually, what he does shocks me even more. When my husband gets mad, he gets really quiet. He walks away from the situation, takes a moment (or two) to process anger, and then revisits the conversation when he’s better prepared to articulate just how he’s feeling.

I remember when I first started to learn how different he really was. How even I might need to rethink how I process anger

Two people arguing while sitting at a table, both using their hands to communicate.
Photo Courtesy of Pexels; Alex Green

Early on in our relationship, it was all rainbows and butterflies. We got along well, looked forward to those flirty texts or late night calls, and couldn’t wait to meet up after a long day of work. Life was good and each kiss felt like the first. It was what most people refer to as the “honeymoon phase.”

He and I got along so well that we moved in together after only 5 months of knowing each other. It was then that we truly began to combine our lives, learning each other’s quirks and idiocracies and how the other liked to fold (or not fold) their laundry. Let’s just say we have different philosophies about wrinkles and stains.

Arguments eventually became unavoidable as we were forced to confront each other’s annoying habits.

The first fight was a silly one, and yet it represented months of pent-up frustration about the things we were choosing to ignore or hoped would change over time. I began to unload EVERYTHING I was feeling, while he stood there, deflated and detached. Then, he walked out of the room.

…Did I miss something?

After regrouping a few hours later, we eventually were able to talk through our argument. In this conversation, I first saw how he processes conflict. He is slow to process anger. He chooses his words carefully, and rather than engaging immediately, he likes to walk away and check out until he knows just what he wants to say.

On the other hand, I like to get it all out there. I think out loud most of the time and like to express everything at once because I just can’t keep it inside a second more.

Along with learning how we each argued, we also learned how the other person perceived our actions. When he walked away, he learned I felt abandoned. His actions represented to me a lack of caring or thoughtfulness. When I raised my voice, he quickly felt overwhelmed. My unloading made him feel unable to get a word in and he was unsure of what I was saying.

Over time, we discovered we had to borrow from each other’s conflict-management styles. He had to learn how to voice his confusion and need for a timeout, while I needed to learn how to parcel out my thoughts and feelings. We also both needed to agree to talk more, and not allow problems to fester.

It’s these lessons in love and war that I hold onto so tightly, nowadays. Especially as I watch the world become more divisive over our perceived differences and dichotomous thinking.

I wonder if we all had a little more of my husband’s temperament and understanding if we wouldn’t live in a more inclusive, welcoming environment.

Regrettably, I am unable to clone him 7 billion times.

Instead, I considered what advice I could take from our past struggles and share with the world.

Regardless of whether we’re challenged by our partner or the troll online, how can we all learn to respond a bit better so as not to fall victim to the limiting binary of “This or That,” “Left or Right,” “Love or War”? How can we better address our frustration, especially when it’s all but boiling over? Is there another solution available aside from walking away OR word vomiting all over the next unsuspecting victim?

I imagine for a minute that my husband is there beside me, being the second pair of eyes I need for that email I’m about to hit “Send” on. He’s not telling me to calm down. Rather, he’s modeling and showing me how I can gain more from pausing just a few seconds more.

Two people holding hands accross the table with teacups and a cupcake
Photo courtesy of Pixabay; ScottSnap

Here’s what he might tell me at that moment to help me process my anger:

Be slow to anger (or post)

Some of my best work is done when I’m feeling impassioned. The words flow out of me and I naively trust that I’ll always feel exactly how I felt in that moment. But then a few hours go by, and I change my mind. Or my perspective gets broadened. Or my cold, cold heart softens a little.

I have learned over several regrettable outbursts that hesitating to share, especially when I’m angry, helps me to consider whether what I’m saying is really true or simply a knee-jerk reaction to something I’m experiencing. Allowing a cooling-off period and scheduling out a post, an email, or even a text, really helps me to reel in my feelings and ensure that I’m providing a helpful, meaningful interaction (most of the time!)

Stop Telling People How to Think

A new thing I’m practicing is not telling people what to do or believe. Instead, I opt to share my vulnerability and help them to see how they shape me. I still want to advocate for causes I believe in, but I want to do so without alienating my family and friends. Shaming them doesn’t do much to build community or change their mind.

Consider how someone else might receive what you’re saying

This one is a hard one for me. Because no matter what you say or even post, you might have someone come after you and negate what you’re saying. For example, I could comment, “Hey, I really like broccoli!” and within minutes someone would respond, “Did you know broccoli is killing the earth and damaging the soil? #Earthmurderer” (Don’t worry, I don’t think that’s true.)

I also want to be mindful of my own blind spots and do my best to acknowledge how the advantages I’ve experienced have shaped my understanding of the world. Speaking for an entire population or assuming someone else has walked the same path I have is simply not okay. This is why it’s usually best to speak in the first person. I also continue to educate myself about diversity and inclusion to help inform my opinions.

Woman standing in front of whiteboard with the words: How, What, Why, Where, and ?
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay; geralt

Get Curious

How often do I start an argument with what I believe, unable to hear the other side? I’ve spent the necessary hours (or minutes) developing my argument and counterargument, so I can be prepared to negate whatever the other person has to say. It’s as though all those years of mock debates and Model UN have finally paid off!

But, I’ve started to approach my arguments or perceived enemies with curiosity. What makes them feel this way? What experiences have they had that have shaped their differing perspective? Are there parts of their story that I can relate to? I feel that this approach will help me build a bridge, instead of destroying all chance of dialog.

As I reflect on how far my husband and I have come in our communication, I also realize how much personal growth is still ahead for both of us. I know the days of getting offended by someone else aren’t behind me, nor will they ever be. But, I hope that I can exercise more patience and time to process my anger, like my role model, my husband, and show people just how well I can get mad.

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