Overcoming Anger -- the non-ADD Spouse

As I've mentioned in many of my posts, I am by nature an impatient, angry person, not at all shy of conflict.  I've always felt that there was so much that I needed and wanted to do with my life, and nowhere near enough time to do it.  I like people and having a  good time, but to enjoy myself and fulfill my life responsibilities, I needed everyday life to move right along.  I had a fairly short fuse, and anybody who got in my way or made it more difficult made me mad.

When my husband and I were first married, his ADD was "in remission" (in his extended family, those with ADD are affected by hormone levels -- their ADD abates in puberty, then returns in middle age). Neither of us knew he had ADD.  Years later, when his ADD reasserted itself, his behaviors began to create a lot of problems.  It all took time and energy that I didn't have to spare.  We'd talk about the problems, but they kept happening, nothing got fixed.  My natural impatience came out in force and I became more and more strident and angry.  By the time he was diagnosed with ADD in his early 40's, I was constantly frustrated and yelling at him a lot of the time.  Even though his medications and counseling helped, there were still plenty of problems, and I wanted them fixed right away.  When that didn't happen, I was angrier still.  Even though over time, I came to understand more about the natural constraints of ADD, my impatience and the anger that grew out of it remained.  Finally, a few years ago, we separated, but we both still wanted to fix our relationship if we could.

My husband's counselor suggested that since we had so much trouble communicating anymore, and it was so stressful, we should set up formal meetings several times a week to discuss whatever household matters, chores, responsibilities, issues or conflicts we needed to talk about, and leave all the rest of our time for pleasant non-controversial talk.  Along with the expected results of creating a structure for discussion, and making more of our time together pleasant, it had the unexpected result of concentrating all the yelling into this zone of interaction.  The concentrated yelling was producing such a strong emotional reaction in my husband that he literally couldn't think at all at these times, and so our discussions weren't making any progress.  It became obvious that only way we could hope to get anywhere was to stop the yelling.

I'm incapable of being angry without expressing it -- if I had to keep my feelings all to myself, I'd explode.  So, it seemed to us the best way to try to cope was to learn to express my anger without yelling.  But in order to express myself calmly, I had to keep a firm lid on my anger.  I still felt it, but I had to stop it from running away with me.  This was extremely hard for me to do.  My natural habits often kicked in -- sometimes I would catch myself and stop, take some deep breaths, and then continue as calmly as I could manage; other times my husband would say (calmly, non-accusingly) "You're yelling again" and metaphorically throw cold water on my fire.  Mostly I was just very determined to do my part and make this change.  Much of my motivation came from my conviction that if I couldn't change *my* behavior to benefit my marriage, I had no business asking my husband to do the same. 

For me, this effort had an unexpected result:  I couldn't tap the power of the anger if I was expressing myself calmly!  This helped me not yell, but the feeling of powerlessness that I experienced during this time of re-training my reactions was devastating.  I felt like I had no control over anything; but in reality I was giving up the illusion of control that the power of anger had given me and instead was gaining real control -- over myself.  After a surprisingly short time, we began to make real progress in our meetings, as well as in his followup after the meetings.  The better the meetings and followup went, the less anger I felt, and the less I was inclined to want to yell. After a little less than a year, we ended our separation.

An additional benefit of these efforts was that my husband could see how hard it was for me (since despite my efforts, at first I would periodically start an angry outburst and have to stop myself, not infrequently dissolving in tears), and this brought home to him far more than my anger had how upset I was over his behavior.  (I believe this occurred because my high degree of emotion was evident, but it wasn't directed at him, so he didn't throw up any emotional or mental barriers to block its impact.)  It also helped him feel more a part of a partnership to see that I was working on my part of our dynamic just as hard as he was on his.  For my part, it brought home to me how hard it is to change lifelong deep-seated behaviors! And it made me more tolerant of his sometimes slow progress.

I'm still trying to find a new balance and solutions to deal with the conflicts between the time imperatives of fulfilling my own goals and ambitions and my marriage's need for me to be more patient with the problems that still arise at times from my husband's ADD behaviors. But now, since I spend less time and energy fighting my husband and instead working cooperatively with him within his abilities, I'm actually more likely to achieve more of my aspirations.