His Temper May Be Fiery, But Your Criticism Is Explosive Fuel

His Temper May Be Fiery, But Your Criticism Is Explosive Fuel December 8, 2014

Dear Shaunti:

My husband has an anger problem, and I don’t know how to handle it. We’ve always had “intense discussions,” but lately he’s been getting furious and walking away. Last night, we got into a fight on our way out of a restaurant, just because I told him that he shouldn’t have eaten so much, and he definitely shouldn’t have had dessert. He actually walked away and left me standing at the door! It was a good thing I had my keys in my purse or I would’ve been stranded, as well. He is like a little kid who can’t handle criticism and throws a tantrum. How do I get him to handle his anger better?

-The Only Grown-up

Dear Only:

I just have to ask: have you ever considered that maybe-just maybe—it isn’t only your husband who needs to handle things better?

I’m not saying you’re to blame, but you can’t just continue to sit back, cross your arms and say that your man needs some Anger Management 101, without examining why he’s getting so angry. A lot of women don’t realize that a man’s anger is often very legitimate: an outward signal of very real internal pain.

In my research, I’ve seen that anger for men is like crying for women. When we are hurt, we women often find tears leaking down our cheeks – and we want to be able to cry without being judged for the tears. In a similar way, anger is often a man’s signal of being hurt — and they don’t want to be judged, either.

What “hurts” our big, strong men? Well, underneath that outward strength they often have a soft heart and a deep need to be respected. So what hurts, usually, is the feeling that he’s being disrespected by those he most cares about. In my surveys, more than 80% of men agreed that this was the source of their anger during a fight with their wives.  Above all, a man wants to measure up in her eyes. And it is excruciating when he feels that she is saying, instead, “you’re inadequate” or “you failed.” Or, even, “grow up.”


Here’s what often happens next. In response to that intense hurt, intense anger rears up and a man wants to punch something. But because he loves his wife, he has to control his anger. Beyond a certain point, unleashing it in words or actions would be damaging, hurtful and unhealthy. So the only thing he can do in that moment of fury is to get as much distance as possible, so that he doesn’t handle it poorly.

In other words: when your husband withdraws, leaves you with the keys, and walks home, he is probably doing it in order to process his anger in a better way than his initial instincts would lead him to.

Does that mean your husband was right to leave you at the restaurant? Does that mean he always handles his anger well? Not necessarily. But this pattern you’ve described doesn’t necessarily mean that the anger itself is wrong, either.   Let me bring in a biblical perspective for a second. The bible says “in your anger do not sin.” It doesn’t say anger itself is a sin. There certainly is inappropriate anger, and any man who verbally or physically abuses his wife needs intervention, fast. But that doesn’t seem to be what you are describing here.

Maybe you simply didn’t realize that your husband – like most men — would see your critical comments as saying “you’ve failed.” Maybe you didn’t realize he would feel humiliated. Well, now you know. And now you know that when you see anger on his part, it is a signal of legitimate hurt.

Since you care about your husband, you need to learn what is legitimately painful to him – just like you want him to learn that his anger and withdrawal is painful for you. Hopefully, you can learn ways to raise issues (like how much he ate at dinner) in the right way and at the right time, in a way that won’t hurt quite as much.

And if you do have an argument, and you’re feeling hurt as well, perhaps this new knowledge will help you learn how to respond in a way that brings you all closer together. After all, when things get heated, and our own female pain runs high, our faces and voices can signal even more disrespect. Maybe your voice gets higher and more staccato, or your facial expression changes. Maybe your words became guided missiles aimed at a vulnerable target: your husband’s surprisingly soft heart.

So the next time anger arises, think about how you are coming across as well. Take some deep breaths to bring your voice back into normal range. Maybe take a break from the discussion until you can respond well. Start with a respectful tone and words. If appropriate, apologize (“Honey, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking about how that might embarrass you.”). And it will begin to heal the wounds if you find a way to affirm your respect and appreciation for him. (“I know you’ve been working hard to get in shape, thank you for doing that.”)

Once we learn to see our man’s anger as a sign of pain, it truly does change how we see the situation. We certainly can’t accept abusive anger. But otherwise, let’s give our men room to be human; specifically, room to be male.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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  • Katrina Brooks

    Oh my word! Who in the world tells someone that they ate too much? Sorry to be so abrupt, it’s just shocking that someone would say that to their husband. We would never tell a friend that. I think a girlfriend would respond the same way if she had told them “you ate too much & you shouldn’t have had dessert.” And if her husband said that to her, I would imagine she would have a very similar response. I just don’t know anyone that wouldn’t be shocked, humiliated, angry, & deeply offended at that.

  • Kari Russell

    “…this pattern you’ve described doesn’t necessarily mean that the anger itself is wrong, either. Let me bring in a biblical perspective for a second. The bible says “in your anger do not sin.” It doesn’t say anger itself is a sin.”

    Actually it does. The Bible makes very clear that any anger that is not RIGHTEOUS anger is a sin. I definitely believe this woman should examine herself and look at other possible areas in her marriage where she is being needlessly, overcritical of her husband. However, you are practically giving this man an out for fulfilling his biblical responsibilities as a husband and putting far too much of the weight on the wife. If you read Ephesians, this is actually the opposite of the biblical marriage model given to us in the Word of God. How much of that section of scripture is addressed to wives vs husbands? The truth is, husbands bear the greater responsibility and the carry the larger burden. It does not give us wives a free pass of course, we must take our command very seriously. But the brunt of the burden lies with husbands. Truthfully, I do not envy them. Loving your wife as Christ loved the church? Big shoes to be consistently striving to fill. But that is what the Word commands of husbands, and that is our standard. The Word, not the world.

    Let’s flip the script: imagine if Christ loved the church the way this husband showed loved to his wife in this scenario. That is a scary thought.

    Did Jesus get angry? Yes! Absolutely! But it was righteous anger. Was this man angry because he was grieved by the holiness of God being disrespected, for example? No. You cannot cherry pick one scripture to say that anger in general is not a sin. Again, righteous anger is not a sin. The Bible makes it very clear that beyond that, our anger is rooted in things such as pride and self-righteousness. I am not here just to criticize you. I lovingly (truly and genuinely – iron sharpens iron) implore you to set aside your credentials and hear me out as one sister in Christ to another: are you using the Bible to shape your views or are your views shaping your interpretation of the Bible? I know you say you have hard truths that some might find difficult to swallow. But I believe the harder and yet more true, well, truth comes straight from the Word of God.