Deep Doghouse Communication for Angry Men

by : Newton Hightower

Many times when an angry or rageful man comes into the office to see me for the first visit, he is in a deep crisis. Such was the case with Jerry. He was in the “deep doghouse." He was separated from his wife and she had filed for divorce. A man is in the “deep doghouse" when his wife is very angry and most of the communication is her expressing anger, displeasure and criticism of him.

Although Jerry was deep in the doghouse, he was what I call an eager customer. He was not interested in spending the session explaining to me how he was right and she was wrong. Neither was he particularly interested in exploring his psychological make-up or that of his wife.

Jerry was an engineer with 20 years at a big oil company. Often, therapists complain of engineers because they are slow to get in touch with their feelings. However, engineers are my favorite clients because they put the pressure on me to provide something that works and works quickly. He wanted something to prove to his wife that he was making a dramatic change.

We discussed the importance of abstaining from the 15 behaviors that trigger rageaholics. Jerry said that he would work to control his behavior. He said that he would not be in this predicament if he had been abstaining from these behaviors all along, especially profanity.

The next week he said that things were no worse with his wife and he had not lost his temper. I complimented Jerry on his good work. He had done a great job of not exploding, even when his wife was cursing him and calling him names. Jerry went to great lengths to stop his profanity, name- calling, mocking and threatening, and he even kept a quiet voice.

When I asked him what he wanted to get out of the next session, he said, “I want to learn how to stop arguing with her, if that is possible." He said that they kept having very long arguments that went on for hours on the phone. I told Jerry that there were three words that would stop any argument: You are right.

These words will stop an argument because in order to have an argument, there has to be a disagreement. Without a disagreement, it is impossible to have an argument. Now these words go against some of our training as men. What we men have learned is how to hang on to being right. I was told that I should never give up when I was right. I was taught to stick to what I believed. And this idea of sticking with what you believe, never stopping, hanging on to being right, may be useful in many areas of your life, but I think you probably have found that it is not useful in your marriage.

The truth of the matter is, no matter what anyone says, you can usually find some smidgen of truth in it. You can acknowledge they are right in some way.

“You are right" does not mean you agree to change anything. I say this over and over again—and it is hard for most ragers to comprehend. Someone telling me that I am selfish, self-centered and egotistical is not a request for a behavioral change. These are universal, human frailties. I make no commitment to change any behavior when I agree with my wife that I am selfish, self-centered and egotistical. It is not the time to argue when you are deep in the doghouse and your wife is ranting and raving at you.

When deep in the doghouse, you should not explain your behavior, not defend your behavior and certainly not counterattack. Deep doghouse communication is about receiving the message and validating her point of view. It is about receiving, not sending. Arguments get started when you try to send back when she is still sending. If you say, “Well, you haven’t always been around here either--How about the two weeks you went to visit your mother?" that is gasoline on the fire.

Many of you may be thinking, “But what if she isn’t right? Am I supposed to lie?" I suggest that you:

  1. Say the phrase, “You are right."

  2. Find some truth in what she is saying and agree with it.

  3. Get your “but" out of the way. Don’t say, “You are right, but…"

You can state your opinion when you get out of the doghouse.