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Anger in Relationships
Improving Your Quality of Life
Anger in Relationships: When an individual or couple enters into therapy looking to create a safe and healthy atmosphere for themselves and their relationship to prosper, I like to take a look into their relationship with anger. Not only individually – how they deal with personal anger, but also how they manage the anger of others.
If you or your partner struggle with anger, it’s important to know that you’re not alone! It’s actually quite common to not know how to “deal” with anger both personally and as an outsider.
While anger is a normal human emotion, it’s important to be careful about how anger might show up for you in your relationship, as you don’t want to later regret what you said to your partner. Additionally, anger in relationships can also be linked to aggression and potentially cause harm. This may also contribute to negative cycles of anger between partners and destructive behavior.
Today I want to discuss with you anger in relationships, the danger it can bring and how to improve the cycle that might be destroying your most important partnerships.
The Danger of Anger in Relationships
As mentioned above, anger is a normal emotion and while it is dubbed a “negative” emotion more frequently, it’s healthy and okay to feel anger or be angry. The emotion itself isn’t bad, where things get dicey is when this emotion bubbles up and the reaction to the emotion becomes toxic.
If you find that anger is the downfall to your relationships, it may be a good time to take a step back and evaluate how you are expressing your anger and processing it. Here are few signs that you can look for that encourage growth in this area:
- You have trouble controlling anger and often have regrets over what you said
- You begin to feel or act aggressively or violently
- Anger disrupts different relationships or areas of your life
- Turning to substances to cope with anger
If you want healthy, lasting relationships but find that you may be processing your anger in a toxic way there is hope and help for you and your relationships!
Where Does Anger in Relationships Come From?
Anger can stem from unresolved conflicts, how you’re interpreting situations, miscommunication and/or resentment towards your partner. Anger can also come from triggering moments in which we might feel attacked, threatened, invalidated or even treated unfairly.
Breaking the Anger Cycle
For some, anger is evoked in relationships when you feel mistreated by your partner. This anger then motivates a reciprocation of similar treatment which can result in a cycle of damaging behavior and resentment.
An individual can break this cycle of anger between themself and their partner by reassessing their partner’s behavior more positively. This can disrupt the self-perpetuating cycle of how you interpret your partner’s behavior which can lower the feelings of anger from within.
When you are expressing anger, focus on expressing it in a more constructive way. For example, when communicating why you’re upset, focus on describing your own feelings and avoid using profanities or words like “never, always, etc”.
As with any cycle, they aren’t easy to break. You will need to consciously make the effort to show up for yourself and your partner when practicing constructive ways to express and process your anger. If you find that you are having a difficult time doing this on your own, working with an experienced therapist or coach could help provide you with accountability as well as helpful exercises through this growth experience.
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Controlling Anger and Improving Your Quality of Life
When it comes to managing anger and how it shows up for you, I like to share these following tips with my Denver therapy clients:
- Use “I” statements when describing your feelings as opposed to “you” For example, “I feel angry when the trash hasn’t been taken out all week. Is there a way for us to have a better system in which this happens? I know I would feel more relaxed if we did.” vs. “I am so mad that you forgot to take out the trash again! We have already talked about this multiple times, why isn’t it taken out?”
- Practice active listening by confirming what you understood from what your partner says and validate some of the emotions they communicated (i.e., “I can understand why that may be frustrating for you”.) This way, conversations can promote clarity, understanding and emotional safety. Additionally, you are slowing down the conversation (reducing escalation), and it encourages an immediate check in that the message they intended to communicate is what is being heard (lowers the chance of negative interpretations).
- Take time outs. During conflict, we can sometimes say things that we don’t mean because we are in the heat of the moment. Instead, communicate to your partner what is happening for you in the moment and what you might need. For example, “I’m feeling really frustrated by this conversation. I need about 30 minutes to cool down and think about what I want to say so we can have a more productive conversation.” By communicating this need for time, your partner will be assured that this conversation will happen while also giving you the time you need.
- Connect physically. Touch is a fundamental human need and with couples, we can feel more connected with our partner through touch. From a simple physical act (hugs, hand holding, cuddling, backrubs, stroking hair, etc), one’s blood pressure can be lowered and oxytocin (the love hormone) is also released. Couples who then reciprocate touch with their partner are more likely to have healthy long-term bonds.
The Healing Journey
Managing, working through, and healing your anger can begin by exploring how you currently cope with your emotions and how you react to or interpret situations. Some of these pieces may stem from childhood and are influenced by our upbringing. Ask yourself, “When I was a child and became upset, how did my caregivers manage or interpret my emotions? How did I witness the adults in my life manage their emotions? Was I taught to not complain?”
Anger can also stem from past experiences or particular situations that may make you feel angry such as bullying, abuse, or traumatic events. This anger may still be present as you potentially weren’t able to or didn’t know how to safely express yourself.
Additionally, if you are experiencing difficulties in life right now, you may notice yourself feeling more angry or more easily frustrated than usual. Learning about what makes you angry/what triggers your anger can be one of the first steps in healing along with finding healthier coping mechanisms or ways to express this anger.
Implementing Coping Strategies
As you’re working through and understanding where some of your anger may come from, it can also be helpful to think about coping strategies for when it may show up again:
- Make a list of your triggers (a reminder of past trauma) and review them frequently. By reviewing your triggers and being aware of what they are, you are more likely to notice them before they can become a problem.
- Practice deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable position and place a hand on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose until you can feel your hand rising (4sec). Hold the air in your lungs (4sec) and exhale slowly through your mouth (6sec) with your lips in an “O” formation. Continue this cycle for 1-3 minutes.
- Use Distractions. If you can distract yourself for a small period of time, the likelihood of dealing with your anger in a healthy way increases. Please know, you can always come back to the origin of the anger after, you’re just taking a different route before working through it. Some examples may be: going for a walk, play with a pet, calling a friend, taking a bath, practicing a hobby, rearranging a room, listening to calming music, etc.
If you find that you could use a little extra support, don't hesitate to reach out to a licensed therapist or coach who you trust and who is experienced in working with anger and anger in relationships.
Neha Prabhu, M.S., MFTC is an open-minded relationship therapist and life coach with an authentic approach. She believes you are the agent of change, and she can help you activate systems that lead to achieving your goals.
If you are struggling with anger personally or in your relationships, she can help you establish healthy coping mechanisms and work through the root of where your anger stems from.
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