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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology in private practice
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I cannot communicate with my husband without him getting angry.

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I cannot communicate with my husband without him getting angry. When I ask him to confirm that I understand what he is saying I am always wrong and he gets very angry that I did not understand him. He accuses me of not listening and then when I say I was listening he calls me a liar. If I answer his accusation with the least amount of upset in my voice ( even a tiny tiny amount) he asks why I can never talk to him without getting emotional. The he starts shouting, name calling and banging on the cushions. The gets angry if I suggest we carry on the conversation at a time when we are less emotional. Its like he has set a trap and no matter what I say or do his anger elevates. He seems to be angry at me for not understanding him. Is there some way to keep a conversation amicable when the other person is determined to escalate into verbal violence? We agree and get along in every other way. He seems to feel it is evil of me to misunderstand him.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 5 years ago.

Hi, I believe I can be of help with this issue.

First, let me say I can imagine how frustrating and worrisome this situation must be for you. You seem like a very fine, strong, and compatible couple that are having a problem of emotional communication. It is coming out as a problem of verbal communication, but this seems symbolic of a lacking of emotional communication between the two of you.

And this is actually the key to the answer that I will be giving you that you need to consider and to implement. There is a blockage in your marriage. That blockage is in the communication system. I am pretty certain that this did not just start with this incident but has become a pattern of behavior: things go okay and then something happens and you two get into the "I can't understand you and what you are trying to tell me", "You just don't listen to me" cycle. The cycle escalates quite high. It is possible that you are correct and the cycle relates to something that triggers him, though this could easily be subconscious or only semi-conscious and would not be productive to try to bring out on your own.

The problem is that the techniques you are trying do not promote communication, which is a movement toward closeness, but promote separation even more. And this is exacerbated by his being emotionally very sensitive and stubborn. So you need new techniques.

You clearly love him and want to help him learn better ways to express his displeasure with you when it occurs rather than letting it get this far out of hand. But it will take work by both of you. This would be SO much easier with a competent couples therapy. If he would be willing to go with you, please consider Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. I work with three main types of therapy modalities with couples. This one is the one I would use in your situation. Why? Because it focuses on how there have been created emotional barriers and how to get through those barriers. Please consider it before you take other action.

Here is the web address for their therapist finder:

On the website you'll also find excellent books by the founders, Sue Johnson and Leslie Greenberg. I hope you do, but you may not find an EFT therapist in your area. So if not, the other therapy is Gottman therapy. Seek a therapist who is certified by the Gottman Institute. Here's their web address for finding a therapist:

Why? Because John Gottman is the foremost researcher in marriage today and his couples therapy model is the most straightforward model available and you may need that because there isn't much time to see if he will move closer. So if you don't connect with EFT, use this therapy. I hope that therapists working in these types of couples therapies are listed for your area. If not, find a couples therapist who makes you feel confident in his/her skills and values.

Well, that would be the easiest route in terms of wear and tear on you. The do it yourself methods are going to be tough on you emotionally. But here's one that may speed things up.

Ask him to go to Starbucks with you when it's not crowded there for a quiet chat. It needs to be a neutral site. Take my answer and have him read it too. Ask him what he thinks of it, especially this part: that I had written above about the cycle of getting hurt by each other's communication troubles.

Let me talk to him now: can you see the basic outlines of this cycle in what goes on in your marriage? Maybe I'm wrong. If so, start telling her what IS going on inside for you. It doesn't have to come out perfectly or even coherently. She's here because she agrees she's going to try to not be judgmental and to be on your side emotionally. So, get started by just starting to talk. Anything about why you're upset with her. And go from there. She's not going to get it perfect the first time. But if you keep talking, she'll learn what you need. She wants to! And please consider the couples therapy. I think it will help you so much.

Okay, I wish you both the very, very best!

Please remember to click the green accept button. Feel free to continue the discussion; my goal is to get you the best answers possible. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue, just put "for Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, XXXXX XXXXX

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