Have you tried to talk sense with someone who is hell bent on being right? Have you tried to say “no” to someone only to acquiesce in order to calm him down? If you are in a relationship with an angry person, you know just how difficult it is to set a boundary, ask for something you need, or say “no” to something he wants.
Dealing with an angry person over long periods of time, can end up making you feel down, hopeless and even depressed.
That’s why setting boundaries with angry people is absolutely necessary to your emotional health. Anger can be used to control you with fear and threats. You may feel intimidated to hold an angry person accountable for fear of reprisal. Angry people use their angry, threatening persona to keep from having to take responsibility for their actions.
Women in relationships with angry men often feel small and insignificant, as though their needs and opinions are less important than their husband’s. Sometimes I hear women say things like, “It’s just better to be quiet,” or “I walk on eggshells,” or “Nothing I say is ever right.” This dynamic slowly erodes a women’s sense of worth and joy, leaving her to live in quiet fear and depression.
Setting boundaries is a crucial step when trying to change a relationship power imbalance. The practice of setting boundaries can actually return a sense of value and empowerment to the woman setting them.
What is a boundary: a boundary is a limit or expectation placed between two people. Neighbors have property lines. Business partners have shares. We operate under spoken and unspoken agreements all the time. Problems arise in relationships when the boundary lines are disrespected, unclear, or manipulated for the gain of power. The best way to understand healthy boundaries is simply having the ability to share an opinion, need or limit with the expectation of it being respected and accommodated for.
- Step One: Without sharing anything with your partner yet, identify your needs, wants and limits. Explore them, legitimize them and journal them. What is it that you need, but are afraid to ask for? Give yourself permission to value your own needs, wants and limits. Be specific. What do you need financially, emotionally, physically, personally, spiritually? Do you need your partner to get help for his addiction, his anger, or his anxiety? Allow yourself the freedom to brainstorm about your own needs and wants.
- Step Two: Research ways to meet your own needs and limits. Explore your options and resources. Put some effort, investment and time into honoring and meeting those needs and limits. Do you want your own gym membership? Your own bank account? More privacy? More space? Hired help for the house or kids? Marriage counseling? Weekly massage? Look into ways that you can get the support and self care you need. The more options you give yourself, the more power and freedom you will feel. Now wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute. I know what you’re thinking. “He’s just going to say “NO” to anything I need or ask for!” You might be exactly right. But right now, you are exploring your needs and limits, and what you believe to be reasonable. Resist the temptation to filter your needs through his approval.
- Step Three: Get Support. It is advisable to invite a third party into the conversation. Whether pastor, friend or counselor, a third party can help you verbalize your needs, and help your partner hear with an open mind. You may feel unsafe or afraid to set a boundary without the accountability of someone your husband respects. If so, that is a good signal to invite extra reinforcements. Some women will skip this step because, “Talking about his anger problem with the pastor will only make him angrier. I’ll pay for it once we get home.” This may be very true. This can be a very scary situation that calls for a safety plan, especially if your partner has ever abused you or threatened to abuse you before. (Click here for helpful information to keep yourself safe.)
At this point in the steps, you still haven’t had to confront your partner yet. You are still in the Planning stages of discovery and support. There are four more steps to setting strong boundaries with an angry person, but Google and Bing like bite-sized blog posts, and so do millennials. (I see you, 20 somethings.) That’s why I’ve separated this post into two parts. These three steps are worth spending the extra time on, so I feel ok stopping at this point (sorry, not sorry.) It’s tempting to just skip to the part when you “Tell him the boundary already!” However, without doing the necessary leg work of these three important steps, your boundary could come out befuzzled, and go kerplunck as soon as it comes out. You know what I mean. You “kinda” set the boundary, “sorta” ask for what you need, and beat around the bush until you back-paddle and hide. Or you do the opposite and make demands, chasing them down with character assassination. No Bueno. Neither work, and neither is healthy adult functioning.
Spend some time on these first three steps until your needs and wants seem boringly normal, not lofty and unattainable. Be so sure and so solid of your own value that no amount of anger could shake you loose from your inherent worth.
Words of Warning: People who have a pattern of anger, hostility and emotional or physically abusive behavior need psycho-therapeutic intervention. Without it, nothing will change. And even if counseling is engaged, there is no guarantee that he will put the effort in to truly changing. The process of setting boundaries with an angry person is less about whether he changes or not, and more about giving yourself what you need. If the angry person gets more hostile as a result of your insistence for respect, then consider legal advice, a no-contact order and supportive intervention from a third party.