Supporting a spouse during anger management therapy
September 27, 2016 1:17 AM   Subscribe

My husband will be undergoing an anger management therapy program. How can I best support this process?

The longer story: he doesn't get angry often, but when he does, it's quite frightening. He has some trigger areas which can be all too easy to step into accidentally (some of them stem from his childhood in the hospital with a chronic illness, for example). Following a recent incident which occurred in public place and which our child witnessed, I gently suggested to him that perhaps the time had come to seek help on this. He has agreed and will be undergoing an anger management therapy program.

The two options we found locally were for a class which has ten modules and occurs in a group setting, or a class which involves one such session, then a meeting with the therapist to work out an individual program. He has not decided which option he will do. I think he will be more likely to stick with a scheduled class so I am encouraging the first option, but my primary concern is that I really want this to work! I want him to use this opportunity to actually improve the way he deals with his anger. I want him to be able to fight fair and get upset at someone without scorching the earth and leaving trauma in his wake.

So, how can I, as a bystander, best support this process? How can I be involved but not pushy, and best help him to hopefully utilize his new skills in the heat of the moment when he's upset with me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the best thing you can do is set boundaries for yourself and hold him accountable for not managing his anger.

Are you seeing a therapist?
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:28 AM on September 27, 2016 [21 favorites]

Let him pick whichever he wants; otherwise it's too easy for him to blame failure on you.
Realize this is going to take a long time to fix regardless of which option he does.
Plus what snicker doodle said.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:07 AM on September 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'd have a read through Lundy Bancroft's stuff, in particular Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.

I also think seeing a therapist on your own would be a good idea. As would be letting go of the idea that you need to be very supportive and encouraging -- this is his problem to fix. Things are quite serious if he is flying off the handle in front of your child. He needs to make the choice to change things here, and hand-holding by doing things like helping him choose which program, etc, sound like they could easily be a step too far towards enabling.

He should have his own therapist too; ten weeks will not be enough to change that troubled a personality.

Like snickerdoodle said -- you can support him by setting boundaries. Like SyraCarol said, expect change to be slow if it comes at all. In my limited experience with this, it is rare to see an anger management class that is not primarily for people in trouble with the criminal justice system. Expect to see some very, very elementary stuff using very simple words. If it is so simplistic that it strikes you as a program a child could complete, insist on private therapy afterwards.

Focus on supporting yourself and your child. Your husband is an adult who can make choices for himself and seek help himself. Your child can not.
posted by kmennie at 5:41 AM on September 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

Wow. Having a temper is not an unscrubbable stain or even particularly uncommon flaw. That he is willing to work on it seems like a great thing. It doesn't sound like you had to cajole him, so he obviously wants to be better. That is great! I know when I am trying to make a change, some light nagging is the best help my husband can offer. I get motivated but ongoing habitual change is easy to let slide, so having someone else poking me in the right direction and reminding me why I am doing the hard thing is really great.

Also, look, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but your kids aren't going to die if sometimes their parents get angry and show it. I come from a people of temper and while I could have maybe used some lessons in not letting it get the better of me, I never felt terrified or unloved. Frankly, teaching kids that you have to repress all your anger isn't great for them either. That's how you get adults who can't deal with expressions of strong emotion from others and really — that is not an adaptive position.

So help him sustain the changes he needs to make and maybe help him feel like it is a fixable flaw, not a sign of doom from which you must withdraw and shield your child. He's part of your family, too, right? And families work together to improve? That's the lesson I'd want to pass.
posted by dame at 6:36 AM on September 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

Therapy for yourself, yes.

And...for him, also, yes? That's part of this? Because while managing anger is a skill of its own, managing the underlying anxiety is critical to it actually being successful.

Be wary of classes that may exist only as revenue streams for court-appointed box-ticking. I'd go looking for references before committing to a specific class.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:25 AM on September 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would highly recommend marriage counseling in addition to his therapy. A marriage counselor can help you do additional work on how BOTH of you handle arguments, without making you feel responsible for keeping him cool.

And I don't want your post to become a referendum on the pros/cons of anger, but I will say I grew up with a not physically violent, but still angry and unpredictable parent and only years later am I actually connecting some of the resentment and strain I feel. It's fine to have a parent show anger; it wasn't so fine for me to feel like despite apologies, the behavior never really changed, and the unpredictability was more harmful than the actual number of events.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:00 AM on September 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Frankly, teaching kids that you have to repress all your anger isn't great for them either.

Anger management does not teach people to repress their anger; it teaches people to express their anger earlier often, actually, in a more respectful way. Consider the difference in yelling "I am so angry right now!" and then working to calm down as opposed to going ballistic on some bystander or something.

To address the question -- I think really letting your husband own his responsibility to manage his own anger is key, but you could ask him mildly what he's getting out of it and see if you can support some of the tactics the class or therapist may be suggesting. But really, this is not something you can do for someone else. Agree with the advice around boundaries and support for you.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:23 AM on September 27, 2016 [17 favorites]

After the anger management class, whichever he chooses, I hope you both know this is an ongoing process because improving yourself is all there really is in Life. The good news is there are zillions of techniques and practices to learn, try, and employ. Treating the underlying trauma is huge and should not be overlooked, talk therapy is not the only route there and is proving not as helpful for trauma as other routes to wellness.

Daily meditation for both of you. Because scientific studies abound prove this one simple practice will support both of you.

I think it is AWESOME he's addressing this. Just wonderful. Best to you both!
posted by jbenben at 11:32 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

My husband will be undergoing an anger management therapy program. How can I best support this process?

By not taking responsibility for his emotional state, positive or negative.
posted by lazuli at 7:23 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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