When a hothead husband pushes marriage to the brink

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


Dominic and Gemma have been married for 20 years. Recently, Gemma has been considering leaving the relationship, as her husband has a horrible temper and gets angry about the smallest things.

Gemma says he screams and swears if the porter doesn't put his luggage in the car fast enough or if she puts his belongings in the wrong place. His tolerance has been getting worse over the years.

'He turns quickly from a loving husband into a real monster,' she says. 'It's embarrassing, as sometimes he launches his verbal tirades at friends, and some don't want to see us any more.'

Dominic is being controlled by his anger and admits he has a problem.

Anger sometimes arises from a need to assert power and dominance to maintain the illusion of control. It can often disguise insecurity: underneath there is fear and vulnerability, but feeling those emotions is more threatening to the person than the anger.

Most people have not been taught how to deal with their anger. As a child, Dominic was told it was inappropriate to feel anger and was shamed by his mother for being a sissy if he cried. He learned to suppress his emotions.

Children need to be taught self-soothing. If parents make their children's reactions and feelings acceptable - even the 'bad' ones - then children learn to release their emotions and develop a healthier relationship with them.

Children who are not taught coping strategies end up as adults who use food or drugs to deal with their feelings or turn to therapy because their partners complain they are emotionally distant. Repressed emotions grow up like weeds inside and kill the positive emotions.

Often when people with repressed emotions start to feel again, it can result in anger from the stored years of resentment. It can be frightening for the individual to feel anger, and there can be a lot of guilt involved, but it is much better to feel and deal with it than to try to repress it, which leads to depression.

Taking responsibility for anger is very important, especially if you feel it is others who are the cause of your anger. By blaming others, we feel justified in our behaviour and lose our control over it. We may even enjoy getting angry - but realise the effect it is having on your relationships and how it robs you of enjoying closeness with others.

People cannot be rational when they are angry: the brain short-circuits and communication with the logical side of the person is virtually impossible.

Dominic says: 'When I get angry, I feel this rage well up inside me, and I want to annihilate whoever is in my way. I really feel bad afterwards, but I can't seem to stop myself.'

Often, anger is about unmet needs, so stop yelling and figure out what they are. Do you need reassurance that you won't be late to the airport? Do you need a hug?

Dominic has learned to not repress his feelings, which leads to fewer outbursts. When he adapts his thinking, he gets control through this rather than trying to dominate others. He finds that he is enjoying life more now that he is not so bothered by things. Control for him is choosing not to get angry.

Another good way to deal with anger is to burn it off physically - go for a run, do a boxing class - but some people do this to avoid their feelings, which is not helpful in the long run. Writing letters you don't intend to send can also help.

Dealing with anger is difficult. Years of repression cannot be cured overnight. You may need professional help with it. Knowing that people care is helpful for a person with anger problems, as he or she can feel much guilt and shame. Tell your angry person you accept him or her and his or her feelings but not the behaviour. Let the person know he or she is not a bad person.

Hayley Thomas is a child, adolescent and family therapist who specialises in eating disorders. Her website is: www.relatehk.com