Emotions and Spirituality
My husband often vents his frustration and anger towards me. I know he is very ill and things aren’t going well, but how can I respond?

This is a difficult and yet very common experience of caregivers. When someone is not well, they often take out their frustrations and anger on the person who is closest to them. Perhaps they feel it is a safe place to “just be themselves.”

In terms of how to respond, it’s important to recognize that anger is a natural and powerful emotion that impacts everyone in the situation. Part of responding is trying to understand the source of the anger and frustration. Your husband’s hostility is likely not meant to be hurtful or directed at you personally but may be more an expression of the fact that his world is turned upside down. He has experienced a number of losses and likely feels frustrated by a lack of control over the whole situation. Another very human source of anger is underlying fear. It is often hard to talk about fears so they may come out as verbal or physical outbursts. Plus, you may be experiencing a wide range of emotions yourself which can affect how you respond.

One of the biggest challenges is not to take the anger personally. You might try imagining yourself “being short and letting the words go over your head and not getting lodged in your heart!” This of course is easier said than done. And this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t share your own feelings with your husband. Acknowledging that he is angry and needs a safe place to vent is a good first step. You could explain that you feel angry as well, and that you know you are both really angry at the situation, not each other. The key message is that anger is normal and expected, better addressed than avoided. You could also let your husband know that you are with him, not against him, in terms of re-focusing the anger and facing this challenge together.

We encourage you to talk to the health care team looking after your husband or your own doctor. It is important that they are aware of his behaviour and the difficulties you are encountering. Ask them for advice and assistance in referring you and / or your husband to the emotional support services that might be needed, such as volunteer visitors, social work, spiritual care or counseling. It is important to find someone to talk to, a safe place for you to share your thoughts and feelings.  It may also be helpful to connect with others traveling a similar road.

Finally, make it a priority to take care of yourself.  Give yourself permission to take more breaks and share the caregiving load. Consider exploring eligibility and availability of home care services to assist in your husband’s care and respite for yourself.

See also: Self-Care

Whatever you do, if your husband’s anger persists and you feel threatened or harmed in any way, reach out for help. This might mean getting in touch with your health care team, a local crisis line or police.