Relationship Anger

by Dr Cheryl Dusty

Anger turned inward becomes depression. We turn anger inward when the anger is hidden and unresolved. Anger also causes stress, manifests itself into disease and health issues, illnesses, and has a close tie to breast cancer.

A bad relationship can cause depression and unless you end the relationship, it's a never ending cycle. Are you dealing with an angry partner? There are things you can do to help the situation! One word of warning: you can only fix yourself and how you react to the situation. Anger issues have destroyed many relationships, and the angry party will ultimately need to deal with the anger issues with the help of a professional counselor.

Healthy relationships provide a framework for partners to calmly discuss disagreements, conflicts, and small irritations. These issues are discussed without casting blame and negativity. However, even in the best of relationships, disagreements occur which become emotionally charged. I'm not aware of any relationship that never has arguments, and these disagreements can provide a platform to clear the air before the issue becomes chronic, destroys trust and intimacy, or results in lies by omission (I didn't lie to you, I just didn't bring it up because I knew you'd get mad).

Remember, sharing feelings, not just facts, provides an atmosphere of being able to share and receive acknowledgement and acceptance, helping to build intimacy and trust.

Schedule Regular Meetings With Your Partner

A meeting with my partner, you ask? You bet! We take the time to have meetings at work, or call companies that we use in our lives, so is it any less important to make sure you and your partner are on the same page? For some couples, it may be a once a month meeting, or bi-weekly may be required. With experimentation, you will discover what works for you! When you make agreements, share important facts or schedules, write them down to avoid misunderstandings at a later time.

If you are unable to resolve a particular issue, you can always create written agreements that offer concessions from both parties, similar to "if I do this, you'll do that" or "if I don't do such and such again, I'll agree to do that". It can and may be a negotiation.

Emotions can and do come to the surface when couples discuss issues. Set the ground rules which include:

  1. Not interrupting your partner.

  2. Really listen and make notes if it is an emotional issue which tends to rob us of clear thinking.

  3. Agree to no name calling or deliberate put downs.

  4. Stick to one subject or issue at a time.

  5. If after your partner has spoken you find that it has been a simple recitation of facts, ask "how did that make you feel?" or "how did you feel when I did that?" or "how were you feeling while that was going on?" To really solve non-business issues, you need to know where you partner's head was at during the incident.

  6. Shut up. Nothing from your mouth while your partner has time to think and respond. And don't move on until you've heard their answer. There is an old rule of thumb that really good salesmen use: he who speaks 1st (after asking a question) looses. It's true here too!

  7. Now most importantly, you need to verify that you understood the communication. Many of us, especially when emotions are running high, tend to add our own mental reaction or defensiveness to the mix. To avoid this ask your partner "if I'm hearing you correctly, you feel or said such and such" and recap what they've told you.

  8. You only speak initially to verify your partners story or position. You are making no judgments.

  9. Now you have your opportunity to comment on the situation and your partner will also verify your communication. Believe me when I tell you that this technique (called a mirroring technique) will avoid misunderstandings and help you come to a solution or compromise.

  10. Attempt to dig down and discover what happened before the issue occurred. This will help you identify what may have triggered the situation in the first place instead of getting tied up in how things are after if reached a breaking or boiling point.

  11. To be able to resolve issues, there are rules of engagement that need to be followed. No yelling, no name calling, no generalizations like "you always", interrupting your partner, getting off subject and bringing in other issues, bringing up previous issues that you thought were resolved, living in the past (because if you follow these suggestions as you go along, there is no reason to bring up the past), manipulating your partner with pouting, withdrawal (physically or emotionally), giving ultimatums (don't make me choose because you will loose), ect. These are all non-productive behaviors which will simply escalate any issue.

After you have discussed an issue, remember that this meeting is not a never ending discussion. Unless a number of different issues have occurred since the last meeting, try to limit the issues that you will resolve right now. Everybody has a limit about how much emotional upheaval they can deal with in one sitting.

End you meeting on a positive note. Make a list of things you might do to make things better or behaviors you can change that are detrimental to your own life and to the relationship. The goal is to make your partner feel more loved, more secure and to remove the stress.

Recognizing Anger Triggers

There are signs that you can learn to recognize before anger becomes out of control. You may notice someone becoming tense, breathing more rapidly, getting red in the face, verbally snapping, becoming sarcastic, withdrawing from you physically or conversationally, blowing up over little things like dropping something, or ignoring requests that a chore or action be done. Many of these are passive aggressive behaviors used by people to manipulate others. They use it to gain attention or to make you pay for a real or imagined slight to them. They use it because they are insecure enough that they will not tell you outright what problem exists. They use it because of emotionally immaturity. They use it because at some point in their life, their feelings were invalidated and it does not feel safe to openly discuss problems. This is a highly destructive behavior that needs to be addressed in counseling if the behavior continues.

Angry people need to find constructive ways to express emotions short of yelling, accusing, or making ultimatums. This is something that may have to be done numerous time a day until they learn more positive behaviors. One diffusing response is "when you do (whatever) or say (whatever) it makes me feel (whatever emotion you feel). It is very difficult to be angry with a person because of their feelings. The quickest way to escalate anger is to respond off the cuff with something like "now you've really pissed me off" or "quit being a jerk". It can lead to a never ending diatribe.

Word of caution: there is NEVER any excuse for physical violence from either party. Research has shown that violence only escalates in severity. If you are a victim of violence, LEAVE NOW and go to a safe place including battered women's shelters, the police station, or a friends house as long as you are not putting them in danger. Next, call the police and file charges against the perpetrator. Unfortunately, many people hesitate to help victims of abuse because there many, many times the women drop the charges and go back into the abusive situation after believing that the perpetrator is sorry for their actions and won't do it again, or falsely believe that the victim themselves caused the violence. Abusers do not change their behaviors until they have had extensive counseling and/or rehabilitation.

There is also a condition referred to as emotional abuse. Emotional abuse occurs when a partner continues a hurtful behavior. It is no less damaging than physical abuse. It simply lacks the physical marks. This is most common form is  infidelity, addiction/alcoholism, constantly putting down their partner, demanding in one form or another that the partner do things they are not comfortable with, requiring constant attention, ordering, living in constant chaos, and more. I will add an article on emotional abuse here.

If your partner seems to be angry, try a direct, gentle request to stop the behavior. If this approach is not successful, express your own anger and insist on solving the problem, making a compromise or negotiate the situation. Remember that you must appear calm to the angry person. Take a deep breath and begin counting until you feel you are more in control. If you don't feel, after first making an effort to calm down, remove yourself from the situation. You can leave, take a bike ride, go do something else, take a warm shower, whatever helps you be calm and centered. If you've left the situation, returned, and still don't feel calm, leave the situation again. It takes practice to learn to control our own anger. Remember that driving recklessly, using drugs, or drinking are not helping you control your angry reaction. You want to leave for short periods of time so that you are not consciously "punishing" the angry person. The goal is to lessen the length of time it takes you to respond rationally and eventually be able to work out the differences or calmly discuss the situation.

What's Causing the Anger?


Feelings of anger are a direct result of another issue. So the next time you feel angry (and please share this with the angry person AFTER they are again rational), ask yourself why do I feel angry? What is this in response to? Do I feel unloved, threatened, powerless, guilty, manipulated, hurt, betrayed?

Look at the situation and ask yourself if there is another way that the situation could be interpreted? Do I actually have proof? Did I ask the person if I correctly understood what they said? How much difference will this situation make in my life in another day, week, month, or year? Is it an important enough issue to take a stand on? (in other words, pick your battles...life is not always smooth and may not always go our way) Am I being selfish and forgetting about how I am making the other person feel? Am I using the anger because I'm angry about something that really didn't involve the person that I'm now angry with? What would someone say about this who was trying to help me?

You will want help in dealing with someone's anger issues. Ask for the help of family and friends, asking them to point out the anger in someone who might not even realize they are feeling that way. Bringing it to someone's attention increases the odds of realizing there is indeed a problem that needs help. Is there anyone who would be willing to talk you through it when you feel angry? This needs to be someone with their feet firmly on the ground instead of someone who will just take your side and validate the anger. You might also suggest, when you are calmly discussing the anger problem, a reward for a certain period of time without angry outbursts, providing that in the beginning the "good" period is fairly short. This can be re-negotiated after some progress has been made.

Anger issues did not come about overnight and they won't be improved overnight. When your partner is angry, make eye contact and responses like "uh-huh" to show that you are listening. Don't forget how to reframe what you hear them saying to make sure you understand the issue. Showing that you really do understand goes a long way in diffusing anger.

You begin with the smallest issues first, which will give you a better shot a negotiating a settlement of the issue. It makes it a win-win situation. But remember that although you can give in on small things, you must have healthy boundaries so that angry people don't think you won't stand up for yourself or that you wants and needs are secondary to theirs.

If someone has a habit of anger, you will need to reassert yourself many times to get your wants and/or needs met. The goal is to have your partner either back down or compromise with you. You must not appear scared or weak. You are also a person with needs, priorities, and a right to be treated with respect. Eye contact is more assertive than avoidance.

Remember, a good marriage or family therapist can help you negotiate anger in a safe environment.

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