The Most Helpful Thing To Do When You’re Annoyed With Your Spouse

It’s normal to get frustrated with your partner. Because of course it is. What matters is what you do when the feeling rises.

Couple at breakfast looking frustrated at one another

If you never get frustrated with your wife or frustrated with your husband, well, you should host a seminar or sign yourself up for some sort of scientific evaluation. Because you are a true anomaly. It’s 100 percent natural to be annoyed with your partner. When you share a life with somebody, you book a front row seat to all the good, bad, ugly, and oh-so-strange parts of them, and vice versa. And some tendencies or choices are bound to press your buttons because you are a human being with a busy life and kids who gets tired or cranky or stressed and is this really time to bring up that? And do you have to chew so loudly? It happens. The important thing, of course, is what you do when you feel that frustration bubble up. Because it’s easy to let it guide you into an unnecessary fight, which is never ideal. Below, nine therapists offer their guidance for what you can do when you’re feeling annoyed. Keep it in mind the next time frustration sets in.

1. Ask Yourself, Are You “Kicking The Cat”?

“You can explore your frustration with a partner by asking yourself, Are they really to blame? When we’re feeling frustrated, we often ‘kick the cat’. This describes the act of releasing our frustration by snapping at an innocent party. We can’t always vent our frustration directly at the person or event that has caused them. So, when we get home, we ‘kick the cat’ and snap at our partner. Next time you feel frustration rising, take a deep breath and decide whether your partner is really to blame. Voice it to them. You can explain that you’re feeling frustrated and you’re on the verge of snapping at them but you know that they’re not to blame. They’ll thank you for it, and your communication will improve.” — Georgina Sturmer, BACP Registered Counsellor

2. Locate The Buried Emotion

“Yes, we all get mad, which is valid and healthy. However, anger masks every other emotion. Sadness, anxiety, guilt, embarrassment, overwhelm, shame — anger is a defense mechanism that can help us get through a challenging time with these emotions. For example, if you make a snarky comment about how you’re always stuck doing all the diaper changes, you’re not necessarily angry. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed with everything that goes into being a parent. These types of responses can often spark fights because some people don't know how to communicate their needs or even know how to ask for help. If we’re able to take a step back and really evaluate what we are feeling, this can potentially stop a fight in its tracks. In short, once you know and can articulate the emotion, you can better communicate your feelings and needs to your partner.” - Krissy White, MA, LPC

3. Take A Deep Breath

“When you are frustrated with your spouse, it is hard to hold back your feelings and not react. However, an impulsive response will not only make it more difficult for you to feel heard, but it will also potentially escalate the situation. The first thing to do is to take a deep breath and not react in the moment. Feelings come and go, and it is likely that a few minutes later, it may not even bother you.

If time elapses and you are still feeling the need to share your frustration, check in with your spouse and see when they are available to talk. By making an appointment, you are demonstrating respect and making it more likely your spouse will make themselves emotionally available to truly hear what you have to say. Once your spouse grants your request, which may not always be immediate, do your best to share your feelings in a constructive way. You will curb the possibility of resentment when you feel your spouse can receive your message instead of getting reactive.” - Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, licensed clinical professional counselor

4. Chill Out, Then Problem Solve

“Sometimes, the best thing to do when you’re feeling frustrated is to take a break from the situation and calm yourself down. This can help you avoid saying or doing things that you might regret later. You can take a walk, listen to music, meditate, or do anything that helps you relax. Just make sure you let your spouse know that you need some time to cool off and that you will come back to talk when you’re ready. When you are, and you’ve both shared your perspectives, try working together to find solutions that address the source of your frustrations. Don’t focus on who is right or wrong, but what can be done differently in the future to prevent resentment. Brainstorm ideas that are mutually acceptable, and realistic. You have to be willing to compromise, and always remember that you’re on the same team as your partner.” - Dr. LeMeita Smith, PhD, LPC, NCC

5. Deal With “Young” Anger Before It Becomes “Old”

“‘Young’ anger is frustration that has recently emerged. You feel it. You can access it. You haven’t suppressed it. You can deal with it. ‘Old’ anger is anger that has been simmering underground and often out of awareness for a very long time, leading to feelings like bitterness, resentment, and even disengagement. A key in marriage is to address issues of frustration (young anger) before they turn into old anger. The best time to do this is as soon as possible — often the same day that you become aware of them. This is often relatively easy to do because young anger isn't emotionally loaded and can be thoughtfully and calmly processed in a way that longstanding, old anger can’t be because it’s taken root and grown over time.” - Dr. Jim Jackson, licensed psychologist, author, Director of Behavioral Health at Vanderbilt Medical Center

6. Don’t Get Stuck In The Weeds

“When couples argue they tend to default to defensive communication. I usually call this ‘getting lost in the weeds’. During an argument, it’s difficult to step back and see the entirety of the issue. When we can stand back, we are better able to approach an argument objectively. And when we are more objective, we are more likely to understand what our part in the argument is. If your partner doesn’t like how you load the dishwasher because you cram it too full and he or she doesn’t believe the dishes get cleaned, your first, defensive response might be something like, ‘Do it yourself then! I’m just trying to get it done.’ If you can stand back and view things from your partner’s perspective, you might be able to create a more empathetic response like, ‘He/she is just trying to ensure we don’t need to redo the dishes.’ Examining your own accountability without getting defensive can help lessen the frustration for both of you.” - Katie Schubert, PhD, sex and couples therapist, CEO of Cypress Wellness Center

7. Face Each Other And Hold Hands

“You can instantly shift whatever negative energy or frustration you may hold towards your partner by facing them, looking them into their eyes, and holding their hands when you're feeling frustrated and angry. Doing so invites more intimacy and connection. Turning your back, keeping physical distance, and generally acting out your frustration in such ways sends the message that you're not open to repair and connection. Most matters between couples who are invested in each other can be repaired with emotional intimacy and vulnerability; but, both partners must be willing to open their hearts toward each other.” — Bryana Kappadakunnel, LMFT

8. Identify A Speaker And A Listener

“Defensiveness is not uncommon when frustrated. But defensiveness usually fuels more defensiveness, and this is a recipe for resentment and tension in a marriage. Instead, identify a speaker and a listener when addressing areas of frustration. The speaker can share their perspective while the listener recaps and has the opportunity to ask questions for better understanding. The goal is for the listener to put aside their viewpoint to flesh out their partner’s viewpoint. Instead of making assumptions, ask questions that show you are genuinely trying to understand their point of view. These are different from questions you would ask someone if you are trying to prove them wrong which never goes over well. Saying something like, “Help me understand…” goes a long way in promoting empathy and even if you don’t agree. Then, swap roles so that the speaker becomes the listener, the listener becomes the speaker, and everyone feels heard.” - Nicole Kleiman-Reck, MA, LMHC

9. Try To Lighten The Mood

“Communication, empathy, and working together as a couple are keys to managing frustration in any relationship. When appropriate, introducing humor and playfulness into interactions can quickly ease tension and lighten the mood, helping create more positive interactions and reduce frustration. Share an amusing tale, engage in playful activity, or find ways to bring laughter into everyday life and watch as your interactions lighten up! This strategy may create more positive interactions and less likely instances of arguments occurring between partners.” - Reena B. Patel, licensed psychologist, board certified behavior analyst (BCBA)