Why Is My Wife Mad At Me? 5 Steps to Figuring Out What You Did From a Millennial Hostage Negotiator

For all of the nonsense involved in being a millennial man, there are plenty of things that we’re better at than the generations before us. We’re more open-minded, more creative, and better communicators.

But, we’re still men.

Millennial men often have issues with emotions. While our generation has come leaps and bounds from those before us, we still struggle with our partners’ and our own feelings.

As a former Crisis Intervention Team Member and an FBI-Certified Negotiator, navigating emotions was sort of my jam. I found that the quicker I could get someone to the root of their emotion, the faster I could get them the help they needed without a fight. It’s actually somewhat of a badass skill, if I do say so myself.

But what if you just pissed off your wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend, and you have no idea how? Why are they mad at you? Whatever you did seemed small to you, so why are they so upset? Get to the bottom of it with these five steps.


So here’s the deal: If you want to figure out why your partner is upset or why your buddy’s  pissed at you, these steps will help. But, if someone is in real emotional or mental health distress, you NEED to call the police for help. Don’t take that on yourself.

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1. Start On the Surface

Your first step in figuring out what’s going on with anyone’s emotional state is to identify the surface emotion.

Most people have three  default emotions;  happiness, sadness, and anger. While that seems very simple, it’s essential to identify which emotion someone is expressing before you dive deeper.

In my experience, it’s crucial to understand that someone’s default emotion isn’t actually what they’re feeling. It’s how they’re expressing how they feel. This might seem like psychological mumbo jumbo, but I promise you, there’s a difference.

2. Ask Why

When you’re trying to navigate someone else’s feelings, ask why they’re experiencing their surface emotion. What happened to make them feel that way? Did someone piss in their Cheerios? Did something not go as planned? Did someone drop some bad news? Did they lose something? Did you insult their mother?

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Identifying what happened gives you some context to work with. Without this bit of information, it’s like trying to solve for X without any other values (Is that possible? Algebra wasn’t my thing).

Knowing what happened to trigger that emotion enables you to go deeper.

3. Show Empathy and Build Rapport

Put yourself in their shoes. Since you’ve already established their surface emotion, use it to build a bridge or rapport between you and the other person. This step is part of the psychological “game” you have to play.

You want to use yourself as an example here. Saying something along the lines of “I feel like that would make me very (insert their surface emotion here),” can be all it takes to connect with someone — especially if they’re upset.

Don’t bullshit them. Emotionally-charged people don’t want to trust anyone. If you offer them a line of crap or feign empathy, they’ll smell it a mile away. If you can’t confidently say what their surface emotion is, don’t. You haven’t dug deep enough yet.

4. Ask why the event causes their surface emotion. But use tact.

You’re asking tough questions here, so expect some backlash. They’re expecting you to take their surface emotion (usually anger) at face value, but you’re digging into tender territory. There’s a chance they’ll tell you where to stick it.

Ask them why the event makes them sad or angry. Be direct, but be on your toes. If they push back, explain that you’re just trying to understand how they feel. 

Don’t tell the person you’re trying to help them. If someone is upset, they don’t want to hear that you have their answer. That minimizes their situation, and you come off like an arrogant prick in the meantime.

Be sure to listen to their answer. At this point, their surface emotion doesn’t matter. You’re getting to the root of what makes them tick, and that’s layers below the surface.

5. Walk them around their answer.

Even if they answer you in Step 4, you probably still haven’t struck the vein that holds the answer to why they’re feeling the way they are. But you’re almost there.

If you built some rapport, the chances are that they described how they’re feeling to you. It’s up to you to see those symptoms and help them diagnose their own core emotion.

Walk them around their answer again. Saying something along the lines of “You said XYZ. I think that would hurt me,” “I think that might actually scare me,”  “I think I’d feel alone,” or  “I would probably feel hopeless,” might be all it takes to bring them around to how they’re actually feeling.

Realizing how they’re really feeling is usually the point at which they’re ready to let something go or ask for help.

Analyze your own emotions.

If you’re in a good headspace, you can analyze your own emotions using the same steps. 

  1. Ask yourself how you’re feeling
  2. Ask what happened to make you feel that way
  3. Ask yourself why the situation makes you feel how you do
  4. Look at the symptoms and determine your actual driving emotion

Once you’re able to get to the bottom of your own emotions, it’ll be easier to determine if you should let something go, express yourself to someone, or look for help.

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Fair warning

There are a few things to understand with these techniques.

Your partner is going to catch on

If you’re using these techniques to manipulate your partner, trust me, they’re going to figure it out. The first few times you act vulnerable and empathetic, they’ll appreciate it. After a while, they’ll realize you’re manipulating them and they’ll make you pay for it.

Ask me how I know.

Instead, use this skill to figure out what you did and create a sincere apology. Because it’s probably your fault.

Other people’s problems will wear on you

If you go around seeking to be the problem-solver in all your relationships, it’s going to wear you out. While it’s great to be there for the people you love, actively seeking out other people’s issues will take an emotional toll. Use these techniques at your own emotional risk.

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