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Angry is the Easy Answer

By Hildie Westenhaver

One of the charming games my husband and I play to keep our marriage exciting is called, “My Life Is Harder Than Yours”. (Not to be confused with “You Squeeze the Toothpaste Tube Wrong” or “Why Isn’t The House Clean? What Have You Been doing All Day”, a couple of our other favorites.) This game is played by complaining about how your life is more difficult/taxing/unfair than the other person’s; the louder and more defensive you can be, the better. The game is won by making the other person burst into tears or slam the door. Perhaps you are familiar with this game? Or play a version of it at your house?

Ok, so this isn’t really a game. More like a tired argument my husband and I have had more times that I would care to admit. The most recent occurrence was last week. With our church callings, large family, full-time employment (my husband) and grad school (also my husband), our life is full to the brim and always percolating with stress.

After the last bout of cross words I stood back and looked at the situation. What exactly are we getting so angry about? Yes, we’re both stressed out and busy, busy, busy. So why are we yelling about it? Why has this turned into a comparison about who has a harder life? Why do I need to make my spouse feel bad in order to validate myself?

I have no idea.

Sometimes I feel like my husband and I treat each other like the enemy instead of being the teammates we promised we’d be for eternity. We are so dumb.

Getting angry is always the easy answer. It’s the one that is always hovering and ready to leap out of my mouth at the first hint of friction. This is not good. I’m not an angry person and I never meant to be like this. I hate that I am always on the defensive instead of looking to make a difficult situation filled with understanding and love.

I’m not going to get into why marriages have problems and start blathering about how we need to respect each other. I know this. In my head I know how to have a perfect marriage. The marriage in my head and what comes out of my mouth have very little in common, though. Instead I’m going to teach myself how to put the mean games away and, as Dieter Uchtdorf has so cannily said, “Stop it”.

When my husband walks in the door and announces how his day was totally crappy and how I’m so lucky to stay home with the kids, I will not give him the laundry list of all the wretched things I had to deal with. (This isn’t a contest, remember!) Instead I will say, “You’re right. I am lucky to stay home with the kids. But it sounds like you had a super bad day. What happened?”

I am 99% sure that we will both feel a lot happier by the end of the conversation.

I need to practice saying, “I’m sorry you’re so stressed out. How can I help?” and “You’re right; you do have a lot on your plate right now.” Let me just tell you that saying these things is so not natural for me. It’s going to feel really forced and contrived. But it will be coming from my heart. I want to be the kind, caring wife again.

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

16 thoughts on “Angry is the Easy Answer”

  1. This argument rarely gets off the ground because if he says my job is easier I respond, "great, quit your job and I'll go get a job." And when I say his job is better, he responds, "middle managers and HR."

    It helps our employment backgrounds are both in the same industry. It's easier to sympathize with the trials of his job having experienced similar trials myself.

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  2. Such a good reminder–anger is the easy way to react to situations and it's a bad habit to get into. When my kids are stomping around, getting huffy with each other, and generally being sassy and impatient, I hear myself in their words way too often. Am I modeling how to speak kindly and patiently to them? Not always, but I'm going to work on it.

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  3. Now coming back after screaming baby.

    Op is right that anger isn't the correct response when feeling self defensive particularly when the attacker isn't really intending to demean or belittle.

    Jessie above added a great point about modeling behavior. It is startling how much my little tot reflects my own behaviors and manner of speech.

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  4. Hildie, you are so right. Love is not a contest, except maybe to see who can outdo the other in being kind, thoughtful and considerate. I remember a story many years ago of a General Authority who went on a camping trip with what I seem to recall was a Boy Scout troop. The first morning, the G.A. remained in the bunk room after the boys had left for breakfast and made up all of the bunks or bedrolls or whatever they were sleeping on.
    The next morning and from then on, it became a contest among the boys in making up each other's beds.
    Applying this same mentality to a marriage will work wonders. But, yes, it is so easy to make it a negative contest. I think that your idea is the better way,

    Glenn

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  5. I love this plan, your gracious response. yes, it does help to practice. This is making the miracle.

    And maybe in a couple months, if he hasn't done so by that time already, would you advise him that he can share how crappy his day was WITHOUT making it a comparative to what he imagines about yours?

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  6. You will never regret heeding Proverbs 15:1–"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger."

    To head off the easy route of blaming each other in anger, my grandparents (both widowed before they married each other) "blamed" their late spouses. She'd say his first, late wife must have mislaid this, or he'd say her first, late husband must have forgotten to pay that. They curtailed anger in other areas, too. If a driver cut them off, one would say to the other, "Look, dear, that poor man must be in a hurry to visit a sick friend. How nice of him."

    I used to get angry when my husband interrupted the telling of my day to tell me of his. Instead of yelling, I'd purse my lips in a passive-aggressive sigh of frustration. When his mind became too ill to work, though, he required 24/7 supervision, so his days became mine and vice versa; there was no longer any point to such exchanges. His six-foot frame remained strong, but his reasoning … not so much.

    One night after a frustrating, exhausting siege of handling his still-undiagnosed mental/neurological symptoms (which worsened during the two years following his 45th birthday), I lost it. Lost. It. For the first time, I spoke out (translation: yelled) in anger over the situation, even thinking as I did it, "I know I shouldn't be talking to him like this. He can't help it. But I'm so stressed!" I would wait until I calmed down, and then I'd apologize.

    But he died. Within that hour. Without warning.

    "They" say never to let the sun set on anger between you and your partner. I now say waiting for sunset is waiting too long.

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  7. Thanks, Lisa. When I see couples bickering now I want to step between them and say, "Really? Is this whatever-it-is important enough to for you to be disrespectful to each other?" It's cliché but true that life really is "too short" to sweat the small stuff, or even the seemingly big stuff, either.

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  8. It's amazing, looking back, how very selfish my husband and I were 7 years ago. We expected the other one to make us happy. We didn't play the "my day was harder" game until I started staying home with our first child and then we added in the really awesome "look how selfless and cool I am" game. Then we both, separately, went to therapy for unrelated reasons and things have been remarkably better. We still lapse into our stupid games, but garnering the tools to focus on what makes life better has really helped us both. Also, my getting a job at his company has really expanded my view on things. However, sometime soon we're going to have the "please respect my occupation as much as yours" conversation. 🙂

    You are so right, Teresa. I hate that I let my anger sit for hours. I really want to let it go sooner. Sometimes it's buried under the other layers of emotions that I have to deal with first, though. It's very difficult to dispel anger when you can't figure out the root cause of it. I sometimes have to lie down and peel off the layers of every emotion that I'm feeling so that I can move on, but it just takes time. With that in mind, it would be a good thing for me to just apologize right away while I'm dealing with things. Because you never do know.

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  9. Ah Hildie. I don't know you but you should know how much I admire you.

    Thanks for addressing the hard issues. I appreciate your willingness to step back and put someone else first (your spouse). I think that must be one of the KEY things we are here to learn. Sometimes I look at my life as a mother, particularly as a mother of lots of children and think it is good that I am backed into a corner as often as I am so that I can learn what is really important, rather than what APPEARS to be important. (For the record, I think there are LOTS of ways people can learn this lesson, I just happen to be learning it through being the mother of a devouring hoard. 🙂 )

    And Teresa, thanks for your comment. I went upstairs and apologized to my 16 yr old daughter after I read it.

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  10. The older I get the more I realize we can ACT the way we want to FEEL. When I was younger I would see that as being dishonest. Now I see it as being in control of my life and who I want to be and how I want my day to go.

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  11. I recently started asking myself "is this worth getting into a fight over?" For some reason, we are fighting less, and I don't seem to think that my husband needs to start therapy after all. Hmm.

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  12. I'm really good at rage. I hate it, but 2 things I've learned:

    1) Anger is addicting.
    2) If I stop and take time to understand WHY I'm angry, I'm much more likely to address a real problem rather than raging at a fake one, which helps dissipate my rage and make me rational again.

    But it's hard. So hard. We make a joke in our marriage about who holds the position of higher moral authority. When my husband says, "So you hold the position of higher moral authority, got it." it helps put things in perspective—that either I'm trying to be validated for something (in which case I say, "YES! I DO have the position of higher moral authority so where is my friggin' gold star already!") or that I'm acting irrationally. Sometimes we just need to be validated, and sometimes we just need a mirror to reflect back our own ridiculousness.

    Great post, thanks.

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  13. When I'm starting to lose, my sweet husband often holds up his hands and says two words which both infuriate me and calm me: "Same team."

    It makes me madder because I KNOW that! And I hate that I'm acting like he's the enemy over something that is probably not that big of a deal, because I am having a hard moment.

    Calms me though, you know? He usually tries to hug me after he says it, and it's his way of telling me that whatever it is I'm freaking out about is not as important to him as I am, as our marriage is, as our friendship is, as our covenants are.

    Today is our 18th anniversary, and can you tell? I'm still madly in love with him. How I got so lucky? I frankly don't know <3

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  14. I quit arguing about who's day was harder. I just quit working so hard when he was gone so everything looked great and was running smoothly by the time he got home. If he comes home to a clean house and dinner on time every night he thought I sat around in a nice house all day. If things were just a bit messy and I didn't bust my butt to get dinner done on time he walked in and thought, "she must have had a hard day". Not sure why but it worked. That and leaving him with the kids on Saturdays from time to time.

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing this–it touched my heart. And I love the part about your grandparents too. For many years my kids and I have always said when someone drives by and is fast and rude "they must be having a baby" or "his wife must be having a baby." One day we happened to follow the rude driver for long enough that we saw his truck pull into a CVS parking lot. Then of the kids said "his wife is having a baby in the CVS parking lot???"

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