If you’re a human being and you love someone, you will feel angry from time to time. Anger and frustration are natural feelings that come and go in any close relationship.
The goal for loving couples is not to turn away from differences, but to address them in a way that doesn’t threaten the emotional or physical well-being of either partner.
Giving in, burying resentments or fearing that every fight will destroy your marriage will not help you build a stronger union. Keep in mind that if it’s not safe to be angry in your relationship, then by definition, you do not have a safe relationship.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN COUPLES FIGHT
When partners get into an argument, they are under the control of what is sometimes known as “reptile brain”. This is the part of the brain that is triggered when we’re scared or enraged, setting in motion the reactions known as fight, flight or freeze. In this state, our hearts race, we breathe rapidly and logical thinking goes out the window, making it harder for us to keep our cool.
But this doesn’t have to happen every time you and your loved one disagree. If you discuss and adopt strategies when you’re feeling calm, you will be able to prevent the wild escalations that can lead to an unproductive fight. Here are 5 suggestions for managing anger in a way that enhances support and trust.
- ESTABLISH AN EMOTIONAL SAFETY NET
You can create an explicit understanding that you love each other, you value your relationship, and therefore you will not threaten or physically harm each other. Your agreement may include a promise that you will not say terrible things that can’t be taken back – and that you will protect each other’s privacy. With this safety net affirmed through words and actions, you will be able to manage anger better when it arises.
- STOP AND OBSERVE WHAT’S HAPPENING
It takes two to tango. When you feel anger bubbling up, pause and ask: “What am I feeling and why?” If you use this strategy often, you will be able to take a step back and find out why you are reacting this way. Maybe you’re tired, stressed or hungry. Or perhaps you’re overreacting to a hot-button issue that needs further exploration. Maybe you’re just picking on your partner because you’ve had a terrible day.
Clarifying for yourself the reason you feel angry can shift how you’re feeling. Clarifying your feelings out loud with your partner can keep things from spinning out of control between you.
- SHOW CONSIDERATION FOR YOUR PARTNER
When something bad happens, you might feel like blurting out: “Why in the world did you DO that?” But your accusing tone may well trigger an angry, defensive response.
Ask yourself: Can I see this from another perspective? Is my partner allowed to make mistakes? Could this be coming from a simple misunderstanding? Can I respond in a way that doesn’t invite shame, defensiveness or counterattack?
- CALL A TIME-OUT
When one or both of you cannot handle a stormy issue, things can turn into a screaming match fast. The best practice might be to say, “This is going nowhere good – we have to stop.”
Agreeing to take a time-out works best if you discuss this option at a time when you’re both feeling calm. If you agree in advance to use the time-out strategy when things get overheated, it can be very effective. This method respects each partner’s limits and emotional space.
A successful time-out includes a plan to come back to the table later to discuss the issue, even if that means reconvening the next day. Once you’re calmer, you will likely feel proud that both of you took the constructive route – a great foundation for a productive conversation about the issue at hand.
- PUT IT IN WRITING
Sometimes it’s hard to stop fighting. Maybe you’re afraid that “later” will never materialize, so you keep on arguing. If this happens, you can try a written exchange.
Pause the fight to put your feelings in writing gives you a chance to express your point of view and ideas in a less defensive way. On paper, you won’t be shouted down or insulted. The goal is not to dominate your partner. Instead, you try to help your partner understand where you’re coming from.
This can change the tone of the entire discussion and even shift your opinions. Most partners are surprised to see what happens when they adopt sharing, not winning, as the goal.
When used after a time-out, this technique can be very helpful. Each partner writes down what they were trying to say and leaves it on the table for the other to read and simply think about. An invitation to talk later can be included, but you may even find you don’t need it. Understanding each other better can diffuse even the most difficult feelings.
CREATE THE LOVING RELATIONSHIP YOU REALLY WANT
As an experienced therapist working with couples throughout the Edmonton area, I am ready to help you. Together, we can explore effective ways to manage conflict and anger, turning healthy conversations into a channel that will strengthen your relationship. Get in touch with me today to schedule a counselling session at a time that’s convenient for you.