How Do You Deal With Angry MilSpouses?

This spouse swept into the waiting room wearing her anger like a billowing cape. “How relevant is marriage anyway?” she demanded. “Young people today are asking themselves if it is even worth it to be married!”

I didn’t know what to say to that. We were both waiting to be interviewed about military marriage. I am all about the long military marriage and how to get one. This spouse was all about getting divorced from her servicemember.

That didn’t surprise me much–the military divorce rate is not significantly different than the civilian divorce rate. And it didn’t surprise me that she was mad about the whole thing—there is an element of unearned luck that goes into a lasting marriage. What surprised me was that this spouse was so angry that she was almost spitting words, like teeth. She was just so angry that her anger was all there was of her.

I did not know what to say. I never know what to say to the angry people in our military culture. We do have plenty of angry people around here.

Spouses get legitimately angry that the deployment is extended. They get angry that their servicemember is gone at a moment when the family needs them most. They are angry when someone cheats, angry when they cannot sell their house in time to PCS, angry when their servicemember is acting like a total jerk. I went through a very long, very angry period myself when our son was diagnosed with autism.

In real life, we get pretty good at dealing with momentary anger among the people we know. Get the car started. Replace the broken tool. Call and apologize. Solve the problem and the anger dissipates.

But so many of the things that make people angry in military life are problems that cannot be solved. Sometimes it seems like the anger never dissipates. What do you do with that?

Spouse who wear that cape of anger all the time that flummox me, stifle me, silence me—the same way I flummoxed and stifled and silenced the people around me when I was angry.

Because that kind of anger is not just anger. That kind of anger seems to be what people feel instead of feeling fear, sadness, anxiety, or grief.

One of my workmates says she just avoids angry people at military functions. “You smell them coming and you run, run away,” she told me. “It’s hard enough keeping your own head above water.”

My girlfriend Terry says that the only way to deal with angry spouses in military life is to kill them with kindness. “You can’t be too nice,” she said. “No such thing.”

Later Terry called me back to tell me that wasn’t quite what she meant. “What I really mean is that any time I have offered support to an angry spouse, that seems to make them a little better over time. Babysitting to the ones who are too much alone with their kids. Agreement with the ones who are mad about the schedule. Angry people just want someone to acknowledge what they are saying is true.”

I thought back to the spouse in the waiting room. I didn’t really support her. I didn’t acknowledge that what she was saying was true. Instead I was pretty sure it was my job to convince her that a lasting relationship with one of other person is the one factor most correlated with happiness.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking. No wonder she was so, so mad.

 How do you deal with angry people in your life?  What about in your command?



About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • StarlaRose

    Anger is such a powerful emotion. It can double for sadness, and so many other emotions. I have to agree with your friend. We offer support to spouses who suffer from depression, suffer from the fear of the unknown. But anger is a whole different beast because we sometimes take it personally when we shouldn’t. Perhaps the only emotions they can convey is anger because sadness is too hard to bear in front of people?

    My husband is such an amazing person. If you’re angry or sad he will try to get you to smile. I think the same way now. I do agree that they just need to be heard, and have sort of validation as to why they are angry. We validate those that are sad from deployment, and we should validate the ones who are angry.

    I think people are scared to help someone who’s angry because they themselves do not want to become angry, or get hurt by said person who’s angry. If we look at it objectively we can help them overcome that anger, even if it takes time. I give someone who’s angry the benefit of doubt because they could be going through something they really cannot deal with and it’s the only way they can express their feelings. If they say something hurtful I explain to them that while they may be angry I am not a punching bag. But, I will do all I can to help them overcome the DEEPER emotion that are having trouble with.

    Everyone, angry or not, needs a chance to be heard. We cannot bottle up our emotions.

    • T.J.

      Most of the time the anger has built up and is now just reaching the overflow point. I have been married for 52 years to a retiree who was in the military for 28 years. I was one of those angry people and it wasn’t the fault of the military. My expectations were more than he could deliver. He was 80% military, 15% husband and 5% father …… and he couldn’t do any better. His focus was on making a living for his family, so that we could have “stuff”…… he didn’t see that we needed him to be more involved in the family – because that was how he was raised. So I changed. I made sure my children were involved in activities, I went to work so that I was not so dependent on him for my happiness. I made a life for me and for the children that did not depend on him to do anything – when he did participate, it was a bonus! Now, when our grown children and I are discussing things that happened when they were young, he will ask “where was I ” When we see old friends that we knew from long ago, we have to introduce him. I ended up with a wonderful career that I would not have had if I had remained at home and angry.

  • jenschwab

    Anger is normal, and sometimes a very healthy reaction to a situation. But I think the key is to ask the pivotal question: What are you going to do about it?

    My husband doesn’t want me to go with him to a military function. And he’s got good reasons, as he’ll be working the event and wants to focus on his job and not me. But I was mad as hell! Why don’t I get to go to the ball?!?

    But he had a good reason, and I can’t change that…so what am I going to do about it? I got someone to watch my kids for the night, and I’m going to have my own me time/girls’ night time – something I can get excited about too.

    Angry people are often stewing in their own rotting pile of anger and outrage. Get them to move into the action phase – to find the areas that they can control and affect, and move forward through the anger into action.

  • Rquick

    Anger is a hard emotion and we all deal with it differently. I don’t like to be angry so I become distant and indifferent. Which to my husband is worse. He wishes I would just own my anger and let the healing begin but sometimes I want to hold onto it and sometimes I want to ignore it. I agree about avoiding angry spouses and that for some it just radiates off of them. We all deal with things differently though some is real anger and some is another misplaced emotion.

  • Your best piece ever!

  • Liz
  • JC. L.

    Terry is so right! When a spouse is angry and decides to take the risk of opening up to you and you just make excuses for the unit/spouse/whatever is causing the problem, that makes them about fifty times more angry!

    It’s best to be understanding, acknowledge that you understand their problems and that these things happen and it’s SO not fair, then change the conversation in a positive direction to something else. Kill them with kindness! Best advice ever. Chances are, they will forget their anger for a while and you will brighten their day. It also teaches them that they can do the same thing to help others.

  • ita

    Anger is an emotion that is best released without harming another human being, because it can bring regrets that can last a life cycle and stunt our growth.