Anger is one of the major destroyers of relationships. People can say and do things when they are angry that are offensive, hurtful, even downright mean. But anger is a normal part of the human emotional makeup, and it’s only natural to feel angry sometimes. How can you deal with angry feelings without harming your relationship?
Being angry is different from being aggressive, mean, or threatening. If you have been in the habit of blowing your top when you get angry, you are probably aware that it does not work very well. Either you get into a screaming match and nothing is achieved, or you intimidate your partner into complying with your demands, but the long-term effects are pretty dismal: trust is eroded, intimacy fades, and love disappears. So even if yelling “to make your point” is successful in getting your immediate needs met, if you think a little more broadly you will likely agree that it’s not how you want to treat your relationship.
Note that I am not saying you should never be mad. But when you are mad, you have a choice as to how you are going to deal with it. You can scream and insult; or you can choose to tell your partner, with as much restraint as you can manage, that you are angry and what you are angry about. You can say, “I can’t believe you broke my mug again. I am so angry at you right now!” The message is the same, but the delivery is not – and you will find it works much better.
The truth is, this approach isn’t as cathartic. It doesn’t feel as good to restrain yourself and speak with control as it does to let loose and yell. But at the end of the day, it certainly feels better to have a relationship in one piece rather than in shambles on the floor.
Managing your anger
Of course, taming your temper is easier said than done. The critical point to recognize is that once you are in rage mode, there really is not much you can do about it. In order to be able to manage anger properly, you’ve got to catch it before you blow your top. That means paying attention to your signals that indicate your anger is mounting. This feels different for different people. Some people experience tension in their neck, back or hands. Some people get a headache or stomach ache. Some people start feeling hot or restless. Knowing your signals and being able to recognize them when they crop up is crucial if you would like to get a handle on your angry reactions.
When you notice that your anger is rising, find a way to take a break. Take some deep breaths, repeat a mantra in your head (e.g., “This is not worth getting angry over,” or “I can handle this,” or anything that works for you). Excuse yourself from the conversation and go for a walk. Do what you need to do to wind yourself back down. Again, this is more difficult and less immediately satisfying than just letting your anger go, but as you well know from experience, letting loose with your rage tends not to solve the problem you are trying to address.
Responding to anger
Being on the receiving end of anger is a difficult position. It is vital to remain calm when someone is angry at you, rather than getting worked up yourself. There is an important rule that both parties cannot be angry at the same time. If your partner confronts you about something he or she is angry about, that is not the time to get angry in return. You are perfectly allowed to be angry about the same situation or about anything else – but you can’t do it at that moment. Again, it just doesn’t work. Both of you will end up yelling at each other and at best nothing will get accomplished; at worst, hurtful things may be said that cannot be taken back.
The only way to extract something useful out of a situation when one of you is angry is for the other one to simply listen and accept that the other person is angry. (This assumes you are not in physical danger, in which case you need to properly protect yourself.) This does not mean you have to agree with their perspective or with what they are saying or how they are saying. It just means you have to accept that the other person is angry and has a right to feel angry, as anyone has a right to feel their emotions. That does not give them the right to behave in any way they want, but they do have the right to feel any way they want (see this post for more on this idea). Your allowing that feeling to exist without arguing against it or defending yourself is the best way to move forward and resolve the problem at hand. Getting angry in return is probably the best way to ensure that that doesn’t happen.
Dealing with anger in a relationship can be very thorny. A competent couples counselor can help you deal with angry feelings without allowing them to overtake your communication or do damage to your relationship. If you feel you need help handling the angry feelings in your relationship contact us today to see how we can help.