Anger doesn’t need to be avoided.
When you talk about anger in relationships … most people want to just not ever get angry with their significant other. Besides being unrealistic, that’s also not healthy.
Anger is not to be avoided … it’s an important emotion. Anger lets you know that something is not right.
Perhaps you get angry at the injustice in the world … seeing people in poverty, being mistreated, abused. You feel that anger is justifiable for the greater good of humanity.
However, getting angry for “selfish” reasons is good, too.
If you feel threatened, attacked or judged wrongly, you have a right to feel angry. Feelings of powerlessness, being marginalized or when our feelings are minimized also warrant getting angry.
Anger is a protection mechanism … something is not right and it needs to be fixed.
Often whatever triggers us to get angry makes us lose the ability to be rational. It makes sense that you react the way you do, but how can you discuss why you’re mad with a loved one when you really just want to fight back, yell or avoid the situation?
Fight or flight kicks in and our thinking/rational brain turns off. The emotions flood the brain, the body is in a defensive posture … so what do you do? The first step is to breathe.
Some cleansing breaths to gain access to that rational brain again would be good.
Even if you can’t be zen, hopefully, you can acknowledge that you’re playing a part in the conflict. A trigger happened and you got angry. So, what is the trigger? If you can’t do this while you’re angry, then do it when you’re calm. Often our triggers stem from one or two main themes.
My personal trigger is that I need to be heard. When I was young I went through abuse and felt shamed and silenced throughout my childhood and young adulthood.
I broke that silence and vowed I would always have a voice. So, when situations arise in my relationships, or work environments, where I don’t feel “heard” or that I’m not being listened to fully … inner rage boils.
Over the years as I’ve identified that trigger, I am more adept at recognizing it earlier and changing my rage to being able to state my need to be heard. What once would’ve been a yelling fit, or left me red-faced with anger and uncontrollable tears, now can be a calm conversation. The trigger is still there, my response has changed because I understand it.
That’s your first next task … figure out your trigger(s). Know why you get so upset. That will help you discuss it, or express your needs more clearly, which is the third step.
The way you express your needs or why you’re angry is just as important as the need to do it. If you let anger bottle up it leads to resentment. Many relationships end due to resentments that build over time. That doesn’t have to happen.
Anger in Relationships
There are a few common approaches to dealing with anger:
1. You can be passive and allow the other person to get what they want. That’s the victim role or the “submissive” role. The stance of the other person being more important than you. This not only fosters resentment but can lead to depression as well.
2. Being passive-aggressive is an immature way to handle anger. You’re not brave enough to speak up for yourself, but you want to let your partner know you’re mad so you throw a little temper tantrum.
Bang doors, be loud, don’t speak to them — behavior reminiscent of toddler years. It only serves to fester more anger and not resolve anything.
3. Another approach is to be outright aggressive. Blame the person wholly and take no responsibility for your actions.
Demand what you want or need without caring about the other person’s feelings.
Overgeneralize and make statements like, “You never do this…” or “You always do that…” Your position is that you know better, you’re right so it’s only right that you get your way. Another immature response that brings to mind teenage mentality.
4. The mature response is to acknowledge your trigger, express yourself and ask for what you need. To be assertive. People often fear assertiveness confusing it with aggressiveness. Very different behaviors.
To assert yourself, you acknowledge your own part you play and try to understand the others’ point of view as well. You look for ways that you both can “win” from this situation and how you can learn from it so it doesn’t keep happening. You use the emotions that were evoked as a tool to understand the situation.
You use language to express your needs, “I need you to listen to what I have to say before you tell me why I’m wrong.” “I need to feel heard, so please don’t try to fix the situation, just listen to what I’m sharing.”
Then you seek your partner’s input on why they responded or reacted as they did.
By mutually listening and sharing with each other, you could find ways to not only honor your partner but protect them. When there is conflict, anger is a sign of not feeling safe. Even if the threat is not physical, it is a threat and in loving relationships, it shouldn’t be there.
You can work together to figure out how to resolve the threat. How to resolve the situation when the trigger happens. What each of you can do to prevent the other from not feeling safe, or recognizing the anger for what it is and resolving it sooner.
In my family, we teach the rule of, “Safety first!” It’s not only about physical safety. Emotional and relational safety is just as important.
Your anger is a clue that you don’t feel safe … it’s a trigger to fight or flee. Use it as a tool to be informed and to make your environment safe again. You can do that together.