Emotions are “catchy.” When someone is calm and happy, they lighten the mood of everyone around them. Similarly, when someone is agitated, they put everyone around them on edge. It is then understandable that someone may react in kind to another person’s anger. If a wife, for instance, starts shouting at her husband, he is likely to “catch” her upset and express anger to her. His anger-style may differ from hers; he may sulk instead of shout. Nonetheless, it is her mood that he is all too likely reflecting.

And yet, people can overcome the natural tendency to catch another's mood if they want to. One important incentive for "wanting to" is to be able to succeed in creating a peaceful home. "Peace is priceless for G‑d's name is Shalom" (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:18). The attainment of shalom bayit, a peaceful home, is not a matter of "luck." Rather, it is a matter of constant focus. It is a matter of vigilance against anything that would interfere with it. Even when one's own spouse is interfering, one who sincerely wants peace will devise ways to preserve it.

Therefore, when a spouse expresses anger, a peace-seeker can learn not to catch the emotion. An excellent strategy is to respond to someone's rage with sincere interest and curiosity (provided, of course, that the rage has not taken a violent turn and physical safety is not an issue!). One could say, for instance, "You're so upset! What is it about this issue that makes you feel so much aggravation [or pain]?"

Keep in mind that spouses get angry about odd things – a small mess in a corner of the room, an item forgotten on a shopping list, a missed phone call. The angrier the person is, the more likely it is that there is more to the issue than meets the eye. In fact, the angrier the person is, the more likely it is that the issue ties into old pains and traumas from childhood, currently being triggered by minor neglects (or, sometimes, by serious spousal misbehaviors). Trying to learn about the underlying frustration or pain can bring husband and wife closer together. On the other hand, responding to the surface issue defensively – "I was only ten minutes late! Stop hassling me!" – only aggravates the situation further and continues to mask important underlying communications and feelings.

Sometimes the deeper conversations about anger and upset have to wait until emotions are calmer. Still, taking one's spouse seriously enough to investigate the causes of his or her anger – whether immediately or within a few days – is a good way to come to a deeper mutual understanding and an excellent way to prevent further argument and dispute. Don't fight back. Instead, find a way to try to understand. If this approach isn't sufficient to end a cycle of marital fighting, enlist professional help – it really can help!