Why Is My Husband So Angry?

I Have an Angry Husband…Why?

Why is my husband so angry? Here’s the bottom line. Men are different. When men are in a conflictual situation, they tend to get overwhelmed more easily than women, and these physiological changes, despite their best intentions, literal impair their ability to be their best selves. Men are evolutionarily designed to fight or flee and have a nervous system that is finely attuned to perceived threats.

Men who don’t explicitly learn how to calm themselves down will typically respond to criticism with the other three horsemen; stonewalling, defensiveness, and contempt. It takes a little psycho-education to understand that a man’s nervous system is often his greatest enemy.

why is my husband so angry?

Why is My Husband So Angry? Flooding and Diffuse Physiological Arousal (DPA)

Why is my husband so angry? Because when your husband feels like he is under attack, his body starts to change. His heart rate is over 100 beats a minute (or over 80 beats a minute if he is in superb athletic shape), his brain begins to release adrenaline and cortisol, his hearing and peripheral vision become impaired, his sense of humor evaporates, and he…well…talks kinda stupid. He repeats himself. Endlessly.

Please understand I am speaking about ordinary marital fighting. I am not speaking about the other end of the bell curve of men who take no responsibility for themselves and commit domestic violence.

The Three Reactions of Flooding

  • The first is the initial reaction to the critical “attack.” Remember what we said about the startle response. Startled men are angry men. They can’t help it. It is an evolutionary trait. Men evolved to be hyper vigilant about threats in the environment. Adrenaline is racing into his bloodstream. This explains why “softened start-up” is so critical.  Gottman’s research says that a harsh critical start to a conversation will end badly 96% of the time. It’s practically a sure thing. If you want to have fewer fights, have softer start-ups. Talk to your husband as if he were someone you loved. It’s more likely that you want to influence your husband than engage in inflammatory bickering.
  • Emotional Shutdown is the Stonewalling reaction. You think he could care less. Why is my husband so angry? The problem is he “cares” too much. Physiological processes are taking over his mood and his stance. Perhaps you can identify with that, and have some compassion.
  • Why is my husband so angry? Because once aroused, he can’t easily calm down or “self-soothe.” Not because he doesn’t want too. More likely because he doesn’t know how.

why is my husband so angry?


Get Out of the Flood Zone

Getting physiologically aroused is no fun. You can’t be creative, or empathetic. And you certainly can’t see things from your partner’s point of view. Here are some science-tested ways to get out of the flood zone and change your fighting style once and for all.

Why do couples only fight… or revive old dead fights as Franken-fights? Is there another way?

Why is My Husband So Angry? He Doesn’t Have Flood Insurance!

Douglas and Rachel Abrams, MD, used the term “flood insurance” in an entertaining book they co-wrote with John and Julie Gottman, “The Man’s Guide to Women.”  Flood Insurance is a perfect metaphor for the self-awareness and psycho-education that is required of men to gain mastery over these needless blowups.

When you are calm and connected (not during or just after a fight!), it would be a good idea for the two of you to have a conversation about acquiring skill in de-constructing your fights.

I call these conversations “fight autopsies.” I wrote posts on fight autopsies in the Gottman Model, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and the Developmental Model.

Fight autopsies are a relational skill that you both build together, and it will help you break your bad habits and stop what I call “Groundhog Day fights.”

Fight Autopsies are all about carefully taking fights apart, and cleaning up your side of the street. If you’re a wife who gets nasty when she criticizes, you need to admit that. If you’re a husband who says mean and hurtful things when flooded, you need to fess up to that too.

why is my husband so angry?

The Trauma Variable

We hear a great deal about vets and war-related PTSD, and the impact it has on their intimate partners. But there is another issue with men and trauma that we are far less comfortable talking about. Many men have Developmental Trauma from childhood neglect and sexual abuse.

As in the case of the veteran struggling with adult-onset PTSD, Developmental Trauma can be a force-multiplier for these men, provoking waves of intense rage, sadness, and paradoxically, dissociation. Working with male survivors of childhood sexual abuse is a key focus of mine, and I will be writing about more about men and Developmental Trauma in a future post.

What does Your Husband Need to Learn When He Gets Flooded?

  • He might need to call you out on how you’re starting the conversation. “Hey, Mary.. they way you put that leaves me feeling kinda defensive.. would you mind putting that another way?
  •  If you’re either unable or unwilling to look at how you are starting the conversation, he may need to tell you, in no uncertain terms, “I’m getting flooded.” Your best move would be to back off and let him self-soothe for twenty minutes or so.

How Your Husband Can Self-Soothe:

  • Engage in deep breathing. Count to 10. Oxygen in the blood will counteract the effects of adrenaline.
  • Tense and relax his muscles.
  • Imagine his tight muscles to be heavy and warm.
  • Close his eyes and imagine a calm and relaxed scene that would produce a relaxation response.
  • Once he calms down, He could reflect on the likelihood that your escalation probably did not take place in a vacuum.
  • Your husband may need to take a break from you and come back in twenty minutes or so. In order to stay emotionally connected to you, he’s going to need to calm down his autonomic nervous system.

James R. Averill, “Studies on anger and aggression: Implications for theories of emotion,” American Psychologist 38, no. 11  (November 1983): 1145-60.

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About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.

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