Anger in Romantic Relationships
Anger is most commonly triggered by people who we like or love. It can make the person with whom we are closest seem like an enemy. It can take the person who we love the most and make it appear as if they are attempting to hurt us. But, most people don’t want to view their partner as an enemy; they want to treat them with love and respect. The problem is when anger gets in the way of that.
Anger makes us want to be right versus doing what is right. It pins you against your partner, as opposed to pinning the two of you against the problem. Naturally, this only makes the situation worse. Anger gets in the way of productive conversations. Think about times when you were angry with your romantic partner. Did you yell, scream, and curse? How did it pan out? Did you try other approaches? How did those approaches work for you? Have you ever successfully controlled your anger in those conversations? If so, great! Think about what you did that allowed you to do so and make a list of what worked. If you haven't been able to control your anger there are a few things you could try.
1. Plan ahead. One of the most common topics that lead to an argument is money. As such, if we know that we are going to speak to our partner later about money and are aware that that it may lead to an argument, then let’s plan ahead. For starters, let’s create a list of hot-button topics that often trigger an argument. Secondly, let’s plan when to have the conversation. If you often come home from work stressed, then let’s plan to have the conversation on a different day or after you have had a moment to destress. Whatever plan you come up with is fine, as long as it is communicated and you two are in agreement.
2. Walk away. Staying in a conversation when we are angry is often not helpful. Many times our anger makes the situation worse, but it is very hard to walk away when we are irate. For example, if we are an 80 out of 100 (with 100 being the angriest we could feel) it is unrealistic to think we could walk away at that point. Instead, let’s walk away when we still have control over our emotions and behavior. We may still be able to regulate our behavior when we are at a 40 out of 100, but once we are at a 50 or 60 it may be hard to do. So, let’s walk away when we are at a 40. Of note, it is important to communicate this to our partner prior to the argument, as well as during it so they don’t think we are walking away out of spite.
3. Take deep breaths. Deep breathing is an effective short-term and long-term solution to anger. Repeatedly engaging in deep breathing can decrease our anger in the moment. When practicing deep breathing, we don’t want to engage in shallow breathing, nor do we want to exhale too quickly. The research shows deep breathing can decrease our anger and anxiety if we inhale for approximately 3 seconds and exhale for approximately 5 seconds. The more we practice deep breathing, the more effective it is in the long-term also. Deep breathing makes us more aware of the muscle tension in our body and can make us better aware of our anger so it doesn’t feel as if we are going from 0 to 100 in a split second.
4. Coping statements. Sometimes our anger gets the best of us and our ability to regulate goes out the window. We give into the urge, despite loving our partner. It is important to remember that how we talk to ourselves can help decrease giving into the urge. If we create a coping statement and consistently say the coping statement, similar to a mantra, that can help decrease succumbing to the urge. In the coping statement, make sure you include why it is important to you to not give into your anger and what you want to do instead. You don’t want to focus on the absence of a behavior (e.g., “I don’t want my anger to make me yell”), but instead think about what you do want (e.g., “I want to speak to my partner with respect and love”). Below is an example of a coping statement; feel free to change it as you see fit. “I want to be respectful and show Mary that I love her. Mary and my family are important to me and I want to speak to her in a calm manner.”
5. Use I statements. When we are angry, we want to yell, curse, insult, and blame our partners, but we often regret it after the fact. Instead of yelling and cursing, take a deep breath (see tip #3) and use I statements. I statements refer to speaking about you and how you feel, not insulting your partner. Instead of calling your partner a jerk or inconsiderate, we might say “I felt hurt when you made plans for me this weekend, assuming I would be free. I already had something important planned. Next time I would appreciate it if you spoke to me first.” Notice that this statement conveys that you are hurt, are referring to a specific behavior that your partner did, and are telling your partner exactly what you would like them to do in the future. It eliminates the unproductive insults and is not intended to be said while yelling or cursing. Using I statements doesn’t mean that your partner will always do as you like, but they are more likely to do it than insulting them. It also builds a better relationship and increases communication skills. Many people who get divorced have poor communication skills, and using I statements increases your communication skills, which also helps you in the long run. Additionally, expressing the fact that you are hurt shows vulnerability, and vulnerability is disarming. Someone was telling me the other day how they were vulnerable and apologized to their partner. Once he did that, their partner, who was originally irate, didn't know what to do. She seemed confused by the apology initially, but her anger quickly dissipated and they worked through their issues. In sum, instead of yelling and cursing, be vulnerable.
These are just five tips that can help us and the more we practice them, the more effective they are. If it doesn’t work the first time, that’s okay, keep trying it. It is unrealistic to think that we can all of a sudden manage our anger. We have to be patient and invest time and practice. Similar to going to the gym, the more we go, the better the outcome. If you find that you still have difficulty giving with your anger after these tips, it might be helpful to reach out to a professional.