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?