8 Dos And Don'ts Of Dealing With A Grumpy Spouse

When your spouse is upset, the bad mood can be infectious. Here’s how to deal, and strengthen your relationship.

Do: Identify the reason

We often forget, when dealing with a spouse who’s in a bad mood, to simply ask them why they’re upset, says David Kaplan, Ph.D., chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association. Talk to your spouse and try to find out what’s bothering them. Once you identify it, you can figure out the best way to handle it. Counseling, in particular, can be helpful if a prolonged bad mood is due to common issues such as difficulty adjusting to retirement or dealing with the aging process, says Dr. Kaplan.

Don’t: Take it personally

“Never take anything personally,” says Dr. Wendy Walsh, host of Discovery’s “Happily NEVER After” and author of The 30-Day Love Detox. Instead of jumping the gun and assuming your spouse’s bad mood is your fault, “comment on it in a constructive way by saying, ‘I see that you’re in a bad mood. Would you like to talk about it or do you prefer to be left alone right now?’” Dr. Walsh says. If your spouse says that their mood is because of something you said or did, “try not to get defensive, but rather seek to understand the whole situation.”

Do: Use humor

While you can’t control your partner’s mood, you can help shape it. Reader Susan M. tells us that when her husband is grumpy, “we can usually admit and joke about it.” Having a sense of humor can be key to diffusing tension, just be careful that the joking is appropriate and will be taken the right way and not make things worse. If you have words or stories that make both of you laugh, bring them up, says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., America’s “Love Doctor”. If you’re not sure how your spouse will feel about funny stories or silly words, best to avoid them, she says. 

Don’t: Put them down

Though it’s easy to go from bad mood to an argument, never react to your spouse’s mood with name-calling or put-downs, says Dr. Kaplan. It does nothing to help to your spouse’s mood or your marriage. Research shows that happy couples share a higher ratio of positive interactions than negative ones, so try your best to be understanding or at least neutral.

Do: Talk the right way

Talking about the cause of a bad day or mood can help, but figure out if your spouse just wants someone to listen, or if they want help problem-solving. Alex Lickerman, M.D., assistant vice president for Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of Chicago, learned over time that his wife wants his “understanding but not my help,” he says in Psychology Today. Figuring out what your spouse wants from you when they’re upset makes for smoother sailing the next time.

Don’t: Confront them (in the wrong way)

The way you confront your spouse about their bad mood matters. Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language, says Dr. Kaplan, and make sure to come across as caring and not combative or accusatory. Instead of saying “what’s gotten into you?” try saying “I see something’s bothering you. I love you and I’m here.”  

Don’t: Let it affect you

“Anger is like a hot potato. If someone punts it to you, it’s really easy to get hot yourself,” says Dr. Walsh. When your spouse feels bad, try not to spiral into their mood. Dr. Walsh recommends having boundaries, and taking it in stride. “If all else fails, go for a walk alone,” she says.

Do: Know what works

Relationship advice is not one size fits all. If something works for you, keep doing it, says Dr. Kaplan. If not, do something else. Talking is great, but some people might prefer a different tactic. Reader Barbara R. says “ignore him...he gets over it!” while Suzann S. prefers to give her husband space, then trying to talk to him. “It can take a few tries and a couple of days,” she says. As long as serious issues aren’t neglected, do what works best for your spouse and your unique situation.

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